On the ninth day of Christmas … my cartoon ornaments reminded me of childhood past

My Christmas tree is not your usual Christmas tree.

Oh it has branches, and tinsel on the branches, and some sparkly red and silver baubles, and the most gorgeous blue and white twinkly lights. All the usual accoutrements, naturally and I adore it because it is exactly the sort of Christmas tree I always dreamed of having.

But what it also has, that is a little different from most peoples’ trees, is a profusion of pop culture-themed ornaments. Lots of them! They have been collected over the years and they reflect my great and undying love of everything from TV to musicals to commercial icons to cartoons and characters like the Muppets. The tree is a reflection of what I love true, but what it also embodies is a certain nostalgia for shows and cartoons I watched growing up, and having them on the tree neatly encapsulates a sense of where I have come from and what made me who I am today.

The reason why cartoons have been singled out for this blog post is that they, more than anything else, let me escape into a world unbounded by the constraints of reality, and for a boy with an unlimited, far reaching, and yes, quirky, imagination that was an amazing gift. Of course at the time, I just thought they were fun to watch, with engaging silly characters; something to while away the school holidays lying on the day and night couch in the family room while mum let us eat the unusually banned Froot Loops for breakfast.

They also conjure up memories of who I was with. My siblings and I would slip out at 6 am when we were at my grandparents in Noraville on the NSW Central Coast (Australia), quietly turn on the TV – an act of great skill since it was an old TV and came on at full volume which meant you had to dial down the volume very quickly – and watch cartoons for three hours till it was time to go to the beach with my grandpa. He died quite some years ago so remembering the cartoons means remembering him, and that makes them precious… and still damn funny!

So here are three of my cartoon ornaments and a brief rundown of the show itself, and why I loved them and they’re on the tree:

SCOOBY DOO

What would a morning of cartoons have been like without a great Dane called Scoody Doo, his best friend Shaggy, and Fred, Daphne and Velma? Rather boring that’s what! The show, which kicked off in 1969, and came from the Hanna-Barbera company, featured the four kids and Scooby solving all manner of supernatural mysteries by exposing them as the acts of far more mortal criminals up to some evil deed or another.

Yes it was predictable, and the characters weren’t that deeply developed but I cared not. Scooby was hilarious, Shaggy was goofy and afraid of anything that moved, Velma was nerdy and clever, and Fred and Daphne were, well, they were rather bland. But they gained much from being in Scooby’s company and I loved trying to work out who the baddy was!
Now of course I can guess the perpetrator a mile off but back then, I was content to simply let the cartoon play out, pretend it wasn’t the same story week in, week out, and immerse myself in a world where good won out over evil, and you got Scooby snacks for doing that!

DAFFY DUCK

He was Bugs Bunny’s bete noire, the hapless yin to Bugs’ consummately in control yang, and a delight to watch when he lost at whoever he was opposing which was pretty much everyone. Yes I know we were all supposed to love Bugs more, and I probably did, but there was something about Daffy, who started life as a character in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons beginning in the 1930s, that appealed. I don’t think I would have been able to articulate it when I was younger, but there was a sense even then that the shiny happy characters weren’t always the most appealing.

There was a part of me that loved Bugs for his roguish charm, and the manner in which everything came his way, but deep down my heart was with Daffy who was flawed, frustrated and often angry at life. He was a screwball figure who slipped and slid through life with very little grace and ease, and I am pretty sure even then, lying in that family room, that I knew that I was more like Daffy than Bugs.

Now of course I know I am.

Oh I would love to be a graceful-under-fire adult all the time, able to leap social buildings with a single flawless bound but alas, while I get it right much of the time, I also slip up far more than I’d like. I let my emotions off the leash far more than I should do, and reap less than desirable consequences much like Daffy does. But all that simply underscores that I am human, and that’s not such a bad thing.

TOP CAT

He was another creation of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon factory, but unlike the long running Scooby Doo, his TV series only for 30 episodes ran from 1961 to 1962. I am not sure why he didn’t last longer because he was sassy, fun, and was the anti-establishment figure trying to outwit the law, in this case Officer Dibble. He had a gang – the adorable Benny the Ball (also his sidekick), Choo-Choo, Fancy-Fancy, and Spook – an alley he commanded and wit and sparkle and a joie de vivre that Office Dibble never managed to vanquish.

I loved him. I loved his accent, his cheekiness, and the way he subverted what you were supposed to do. For a pastor’s kid, boxed in on all sides by people who thought they knew better than I did about pretty much everything, and made sure you complied with their take on life, the idea that you could challenge and beat authority was a beguiling one.

Again, I wasn’t self aware at this age to fully articulate the need to stand up for myself, but clearly the embryonic urge to do so was there since this cartoon appealed so much to me. I hope the fact that it only ran for 30 episodes isn’t some sort of message that standing up for yourself is doomed to be a short-lived thing! I don’t think so. Since I grew up, and wised up to what you can do when you are yourself and firmly stand up for who and what you are, I seem to have survived just fine.

And it’s partly thanks to Top Cat, Scooby Doo and Daffy Duck and their ornaments on my Christmas tree which remind me every year that the richness of my present life owes much to what came for.

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