Monday, July 23, 2012

American Gothic: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!


Well, that's actually a very good question.

“Scooby-Doo” is a denotative phrase that has multiple levels of reference. It is at once the name of the dog belonging to the group of four young adults once known as the Mysteries Five and also that of the larger franchise of television series, movies and merchandising they are all a part of. Even though right now this phenomenon consists only of one TV show, by sharing his name with it Scooby-Doo (and that is his name, not Scoobert of the House of Doo, at least at this point) is also, in a sense, being labeled from the very outset as sole element of it worthy of note. We of course know it wasn't originally meant to be like this, the dog in question originally intended only as a comedy relief supporting character, but that is the artefact of a show that no longer exists: Too Much may have been a supporting character, but Scooby-Doo is the focal point of his series and who Hanna-Barbera wants us to pay the most attention to.

If this is to be the case however, then it's fitting Scooby-Doo should also come to represent the core values and themes of his show. If he's meant to be the most important innovation this series has, then it's fair to expect him to in some sense embody its textual heart and soul. Whether or not the rather charming dog onscreen is actually capable of bearing this kind of metafictional weight (and I posit a very convincing argument could be made he isn't) his name is the one indelibly linked with whatever this show does from now 'till eternity: He's the one and only irreducible part of the series now, for better or for worse.

The title, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, as is probably obvious, is a question. More to the point, it is a locational question: The questioner does not know where Scooby-Doo is and needs to find him. Given the classic horror motif that permeates the series, no matter how toothless it at times becomes, one could easily come to the conclusion this question carries a twinge of urgency, as if the situation has grown somewhat desperate and the dog's absence is a matter of some stress. Does this mean Scooby-Doo is meant to come in and save his friends from disaster, as his new-found centrality to the narrative might now suggest? Not necessarily-they could just as easily be trying to find him in order to protect him from something. The only thing we can discern for certain without context is that there is, at the moment, a pressing need to find Scooby-Doo.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is a question, but it is also, thanks to the inexplicable grammatical error, a poorly phrased one. For want of the traditional question mark, those in charge of the show's branding made the puzzling decision, almost certainly a mistake, of inserting an exclamation point at the end of the sentence instead. This hinders reading; the formerly easily understandable question now carrying muddying associations with excitement and certainty. Are the gang meant to be shouting the question, an act of abject despair? Are they subtly unnerved, half-giggling the question because they're unsure what to make of an eerily disquieting, though not necessarily despondent, situation? Or is the show trying to tell us Scooby's disappearance isn't really an issue worthy of much concern and that he'll be found soon, everything is going to be alright and we should all just move along with our lives?

Earlier I stated that invoking Scooby-Doo's earlier role as Too Much was digging up the remains of a dead show and implied it probably bears little relevance on reading the show as it exists now. However, there's a sense in which this is unavoidable-Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! brings enough with it from its previous life as Mysteries Five that comparisons between the two are almost a required starting point for discussion, especially when the two things it does bring with it are probably the two most important ideas either show ever had: The characters and the visual iconography, both conveyed through Iwao Takamoto's hauntingly beautiful art design and both used as the halves of the fundamental juxtaposition that, in my view, just about defines Scooby-Doo as a work of fiction. Both are also the very first things viewers are hit with as the original theme song begins, although it's the world we see first of the two. It's pretty clear where I have to start then.

Still the boldest and most intriguing decision Joe Ruby and Ken Spears made when given the dictum to create a modern, hip supernatural-themed mystery show was to, through the setting, deliberately invoke the Expressionist films of Weimar cinema. It would have been very easy, and indeed expected, to just do a tongue-in-cheek monster romp full of Lon Cheney, Jr. Werewolves, Boris Karloff Frankenstein monsters and Bela Lugosi Draculas, paying lip-service to the ubiquity of Universal Horror (it's telling that when Scooby-Doo does eventually do this, it does it with far more style, cleverness and layered meaning than really should be expected of it). If they were feeling a bit more adventurous, we might've expected Ruby and Spears to bring in some Hammer influences, a tack employed even by Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes in their horror-movie-for-kids interpretation of Doctor Who. This is just what people who pastiche horror films do: Pick one of the above and do a fun runaround full of family-friendly scares. This is also explicitly not what Joe Ruby and Ken Spears do, and that choice has tremendous ramifications.

The history of German Expressionism and the meaning behind its distinctive and incalculably influential look is inexorably bound up with the environment into which it was born. GreenCine has an outstanding two-part introduction to the genre, and it really ought to be required reading for anyone who has a passing interest in teasing out what Scooby-Doo the work of fiction is really about. In brief, German Expressionism is a reaction to the devastation The Great War wrought across Europe and the ensuing runaway societal breakdown that it left in its wake. This was particularly gruesomely noticeable in Germany, the country deemed wholly responsible for the war by a world sociopolitical order left shell-shocked by the scale of the meltdown it had just lived through, bringing it face-to-face with the limitations of Modernism for the first time and desperate for someone, anyone, to hold accountable.

Though certainly not blameless during the war, the resulting effect on German culture and morale was frankly horrific and it's a hard person indeed who'd wish it on any people: In the lead-up to the Treaty of Versailles approximately 700,000 German citizens died of hunger partly as a result of a draconian military blockade that surrounded the country. Thousands more died in the revolutions that sprung up from both sides when protestors were shot dead in the streets even as the new Weimar republic struggled to maintain some semblance of legitimacy. Interwar Germany was defined by systemic and catastrophic social collapse the likes of which it's hard for a contemporary viewer to actually conceive of, let alone get a hold on. In a bizarre mirror image of the bloodshed surrounding it, Berlin became a cosmopolitan centre and served as a meeting ground for artists, poets, philosophers and radical thinkers of all sorts, the blend of music from the jazz clubs and the gunfire in the streets providing an unnervingly constant background. For many of these intellectuals, this nightmarish juxtaposition symbolized that the world had ceased to make sense, instead revealing itself as a warped, grotesque truism where abject horror was everyday reality, and they felt their art had to reflect this.

And reflect it they did: Films of the German Expressionism school had an extremely unique look, utilising light and shadow to create stark visual contrast, everyday objects warped and distorted almost beyond the point of recognition and unorthodox set design techniques to make utterly singular cinematic worlds that turned familiar settings into threateningly alien and unearthly landscapes that instilled a constant sense of foreboding. Nosferatu, for example, adapts Bram Stoker's Dracula in a way that would be unfamiliar to those only acquainted with the Bela Lugosi film; overtly playing up the concept of the vampire as a diseased undead neither of one world or the other in a permanent state of decay. The best, most vivid example of German Expressionism's link to the everyday life of Weimar Berlin is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, taking place in a haunting dream world comprised of unnatural shadow that refuses to return to normalcy even after the protagonist awakes and it's revealed to be a dream (because, of course, the grotesque dream is normality) and that concerns a silent killer who stalks the night. A little-known fact about Caligari is that the original ending would have revealed the titular doctor, after having been revealed as the source of the murders, to be in truth a raving inconsolable lunatic who is literally an escaped inmate running the asylum. The ending was changed, at the behest of the studio, to make the protagonist the mental patient and the obvious toothy commentary about the state of authority and social structure in interwar Europe was lost. How fitting then that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the work of German Expressionism that the visual aesthetic of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! seems the most inspired by.

So, you know, that sounds like the perfect thing to base a Saturday Morning Cartoon Show aimed at 7-12 year olds off of.

The undiluted Expressionism of the show's art style is just the half of it, of course: In a juxtaposition worthy of Weimar Berlin itself, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! stars four cheerfully groovy youths and a goofy dog who travel around together with no immediately clear motivation beyond trying to have a good time and to enjoy being young, seemingly oblivious to the shambling disarray and general disorder that apparently surrounds them. Except they're not. In fact, the real genius at work here is how Ruby and Spears quietly made the cast of their show some of the most blatantly radical and progressive characters to ever appear on US television, and it's in truth their revolutionary interaction with the world around them that's the entire point of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. Perhaps we should finally meet them, then.

One thing should be made perfectly clear from the outset: The gang are not hippies. They are in no way, shape or form designed to resemble hippies, nor does anything about their appearance, mannerisms or general look invoke the hippie subculture of the late-1960s United States at all. For a supposedly-timely shout-out to the youth this might at first seem puzzling, though I have a theory as to why this may be the case I'll outline later. The bottom line for the moment is that no-one in the core five is meant to represent hippie culture: In fact, really the only thing in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! that remotely calls to mind the hippies or psychedelic street performance is the Mystery Machine itself, with its flower-power paint job. If not hippies though, who are our protagonists and what are they supposed to symbolize?

Comics and animation veteran Mark Evanier is on record saying the gang was based on the main cast of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, with Fred as Dobie, Daphne as Thalia, Velma as Zelda and Shaggy as Maynard. This would of course fit with the information we have from Ruby's and Spears' earliest brainstorming sessions with Fred Silverman. However, and with all due respect to Mark Evanier, who knows more about Hollywood and the cartoon business than I could ever hope to and who actually wrote for the show and ran its comic adaptation for a time, if this was the intention than, the way I see it Ruby and Spears pretty decisively missed the boat: The gang no more resemble the teens-by-committee of Dobie Gillis than they do the hippies. No, the gang are something far different and far more interesting than either of those.

Let's take them one at a time, starting with our new star. Scooby-Doo, as we know, was from the beginning written as a large, silly, cowardly Great Dane. However, as easily spooked as he is, the core of his character is that he'll always summon up the courage to do the right thing and help save the day in the end. He was, in truth, modeled off of Bob Hope's various comedy performances in the “Road To...” films in which he starred alongside Bing Crosby. So Bob Hope then: Not other cartoon dogs or a calculated metaphor for drug culture or whatever, Bob Hope. Not exactly radical youth movement material there, but let's remember he was supposed to be a comedy relief supporting character and what we see now is what happens whenever comedy relief supporting characters are suddenly thrust into the spotlight and given the responsibility of carrying the whole show. Not much good, in other words. But Scooby's charming enough and because much of his initial characterization carries through he works (at this point at any rate), so let's move on.

More interesting is Scooby-Doo's evergreen companion and now second half of a shared double act, Shaggy-The character subject most frequently to lazy readings that write him off as a mere hippie, or, more recently, a representative of cannabis culture. It should be clear by now none of these were actually intended by Ruby and Spears (the fact that it's become easy to read him this way is another story). No, what Shaggy is, as can best be determined by the larger social climate in which Ruby and Spears could reasonably be expected to have been working, is a Beat. Crucially however, Shaggy is not a “beatnik”, that hegemonic parody designed to marginalize Beats and render them irrelevant who is exemplified by Maynard G. Krebbs; Shaggy is closer to the actual spirit and ethos of the Beat Generation than really anything seen on US TV before, and arguably since.

If we look at Shaggy in the earliest episodes of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (later developments move the character, like everything else, further and further away from the original ideals) we might be surprised to find that his defining character trait is not, as we perhaps might expect, cowardice, but rather a world-weary and tired cynicism and a dry, jaded sense of humour. In fact, he's often the one who is tasked, to his exasperation, with coaxing the nerve-wracked Scooby into action. Shaggy's role here is to appeal to caution and try to prevent his friends from making any rash decisions, shockingly speaking as if from a position of age and experience. He's proven wrong as often as he's proven right of course, though this doesn't take away from what he seems to be doing, and he freely goes along with whatever the rest of the gang comes up with and is just as useful and willing part of the team as anyone else. In other words, Shaggy isn't just a token Beat, he seems to be a deliberate, if caricatured for animation, stand-in for, say Jack Kerouac.

Another thing that makes Shaggy such a strong character is that his disheveled appearance is just universal enough he can be co-opted and championed as an icon of any number of subcultures that have cropped up over the years in the wake of the Beat Generation. Just compare him with, for example, the likes of John Carmack or Thurston Moore. However, the character with hands-down the most blatant broadness of appeal has to be Shaggy's one-time sister Velma. Unlike Shaggy, Velma doesn't seem to represent any specific youth movement or philosophy, instead going for generically and cheerfully bookish (though it is worth mentioning she wears a miniskirt, which ought to, in 1969, make her allegiances clear). Her looks, unorthodox for a woman on US television, paired with her unabashed nerdiness and cool competence has rightly made her a hero for generations of feminists and other academics, and that alone makes her an iconic character. In Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Velma is often cast as the third wheel to Shaggy's and Scooby-Doo's buddy comedy act, but not in the sense of the trite and sexist disparaging (and arguably repressed Freudian) female straight man: More often than not she gets wound up in the shenanigans as often as her friends do and contributes her fair share to them as well (cheap nearsightedness gags are her specialty, naturally, as are gratuitous technobabble and comedic miscalculations). This is no mistake-Ruby, Spears and Silverman felt Shaggy, Scooby and Velma were the most inherently funny characters in the cast and took every opportunity to put the spotlight on them as often as possible.

The biggest myth surrounding Velma is that she's the only really productive member of the cast, finding all the clues, putting them together and solving the mystery. While this may be true in later incarnations, it's important to stress that in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! every character has a dedicated role to play: If Scooby is the comic relief main character and Shaggy is the voice of reason, Velma is the analyst. She makes observations and inferences and helps to formulate deductions. She's also the primary expositor, using her wealth of book smarts to help the gang in situations involving science and engineering. She's not, it should be stressed, chief investigator, at least not yet, She's more James Bond's Q than The Avengers' Emma Peel, if you will. That role falls to someone else.

Then there's Daphne. The character everyone says is objectively useless; a piece of late-1960s eye candy with no sense of self preservation or spatial awareness who exists solely to hang off of Fred's arm, fret about her clothes and hair and get stupidly kidnapped every episode to drag the plot out a little longer. Or, as I like to say, the most abjectly brilliant character on the whole show, a triumph of both feminism and youth utopianism and quite possibly the best idea Scooby-Doo ever had. I could write an entire essay on how criminally misinterpreted Daphne is and how she's the one thing in the entire franchise who consistently embodies its core ideals with unwavering elegance but oh look, it appears that I am. Lets table Daphne for now then and come back to her when we can really give her the justice and redemption that she's long overdue.

Which brings me to Fred who is, I'll be honest, difficult to read. He's the character who poses the greatest challenge to my redemptive interpretation of the series, but let's see what I can do with him anyway. For one it seems clear Fred was meant to be the protagonist before he was usurped by Shaggy and Scooby-Doo, which makes sense if we take Mark Evanier's word and posit he was based on Dobie Gillis. It's just too easy to claim this when looking at his design: youth subculture? Well, I suppose we could say he looks vaguely Mod; He's certainly got the ascot for it and the colours are right, but I'm pretty sure we're meant to read that top as a white sweater over a polo shirt and those look suspiciously like blue jeans to me. Not quite a slick Italian suit, then. No, what Fred looks the most like is a generically clean all-American prep school jock or university Ivy Leaguer which, annoyingly, he'd most likely have to be if he was created as the protagonist of a series meant, at least in part, to appease fanatical moral guardians.

However, this reading runs into issues once we realise that Mysteries Five always seemed like it was intended as an ensemble show with no one main character, focusing instead on the dynamic interaction of the gang as a whole (not to mention I think trying to read Fred as the most cheekily Mod thing about Scooby-Doo is frankly insane). There's certainly enough of that in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! that it seems like it renders this take on Fred's role too problematic to hold. So what does Fred do in the show as broadcast? Mostly he just makes decisions and issues orders when it comes time to inevitably split the gang up. He's usually credited as the one who designs he traps used to catch the villain, but Velma has just as much input and on many occasions its implied the entire gang works together on them. He exposits the plot, but not as much as Velma, he finds clues, but not as many as Daphne and he works with Scooby and comments on the situation, but not as well or as frequently as Shaggy. Really, he seems just like a balanced, well-rounded member of the team with no real specialty, symbolism or particular purpose. Puzzlingly, still just like a generic leader would be.

This may very well be the underlying point of Fred though, that he plays the role of leader even when it's not required. After all, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! absolutely needed to not arouse the ire of the media watchdogs again, so what better way to do that than have a token character designed to look as white bread as they come to contrast with the manic antics of our loveable clown troupe leads? Looking more carefully however, and it could be assured media watchdogs absolutely would not, it becomes clear Fred's leadership is redundant, but he doesn't really care because he's only playing the role halfheartedly. After all, he's hanging around with three overt symbols of 1960s subculture, so he must not mind them all that much. What Fred does then is, through his superficial displays of blandness, textually and metatextually allow his friends to be as wild, crazy and countercultural as they can get (it's telling when Fred eventually gets his one major character revision he is overtly assigned a subculture: Conspiracy theorists).

The way Fred seems to play with his narrative role segues nicely into the other major thing Scooby-Doo is known for: A formulaic style of storytelling and characterization that is not just a major aspect of the way it tells stories but fundamentally imbued into the very core of how the show works and what it does. Among the many things that could be said about this approach, included here the minor fact Scooby-Doo seems to have introduced programmatic Glam-style spectacle television several years ahead of the curve, the really interesting thing from my perspective is what ramifications this holds for the show's basic themes and values. For one thing, Fred, Velma, Daphne and Shaggy are not characters in the sense we now understand them: As I've argued (or will argue in the case of one), they're really representatives of specific youth movements and crucially, youth movements from the late-1950s to mid-1960s-Several years before the show's actual airdate. They're caricatured for television animation, of course, but it's very clear what these characters are meant to stand for. What we have is, far from the original brief of a show overtly about everyday teen issues against the backdrop of a detective story or, for that matter, a modern character-driven drama, a show about characters who represent ideals tossed into the world of a supernatural thriller.

What of that world again? Having our 1960s ideals wander through a nightmarish Expressionistic alien wasteland is an essential decision and may just be the central pillar of the entire philosophy of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. In terms of explaining why, the critical year is 1968-The year Joe Ruby and Ken Spears spent creating Mysteries Five and, by association, the fundamental themes this show inherits from it. The year that also, by any measure of argument, marked the death knell for any kind of hope the countercultures of 1960s United States had for mainstream acceptance. Although arguably beginning with Robert Kennedy's assassination in Los Angeles, the shockwaves of collapse reverberated most strongly throughout Chicago where brutal riots sprung from attempts to do psychedelic street theatre at the Democratic National Convention. Mayor Richard Daley proceeded to order the Chicago police force to use whatever means necessary to clamp down on the rapidly deteriorating situation after already issuing a “shoot-to-kill” order on Martin Luther King, Jr. As a result of the ensuing bloodbath, which Daley was able to pin on the protestors despite it being entirely his fault and that of the riot squad, the tide of public opinion was swayed irrevocably away from youth groups leading centrist Vice President Hubert Humphrey (seen by the young left as too close to then-President Lyndon Johnson, whose actions during the Vietnam War made him an enemy of the progressives) to easily secure the Democratic ticket over antiwar favourite Eugene McCarthy and, eventually, to lose spectacularly in the general election to Richard Nixon due in no small part to the young left bailing out of mainstream politics entirely in the aftermath of 1968, retreating in equal parts to third party candidates and cold bitterness.

Behind the scenes the climate was even more dire: All throughout his campaign Nixon, it has since been revealed, was working clandestinely with the Saigon government to sabotage peace talks initiated by the Johnson administration in an effort to use the worsening state of the Vietnam War as political leverage. The information was relayed to Christian Science Monitor reporter Beverly Deepe in October, 1968 by her contacts in South Vietnam. Although the story was heavily edited, then buried by Deepe's editors, it eventually reached as far as Johnson himself who threatened to go public with the story before it was decided by his aides that it would be too destabilizing on the morale of the country to publish it and that it was now too late to make a difference in the outcome of the election anyway. Consortium News' Robert Parry outlines the full timeline of events here. While it may not have been a matter of public knowledge at the time, Nixon's unabashed acts of treason fit into the general zeitgeist of 1968 chillingly well.

What we have in 1968 then is the youth subcultures of the United States in just about as bad a shape as they possibly could be. Suffering a very public fall from grace bolstered by very powerful political forces who had it in their best interests to silence them, the youth were once again forced underground and, seemingly, forever. Here though, fascinatingly, is where the ethos of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! reasserts itself and finally becomes cohesive enough to read; Its fundamentals laid down during the darkest days of youth utopianism in the US, threatened by hegemonic forces both overtly and implicitly and finally making it to television in a tamed, though still vibrant, form long after the youth had died and faded away. And the thing that makes it such a powerful work given all this context is the very repetitiveness it's so often criticized for.

I've already mentioned how the gang are basically programmatic representations of youth subcultures: Not only are they, but the specific choices of movements to assign the characters are very telling-Beat, Geek, Mod and, arguably, Glam. Two of these date from long before the rise of the hippies and Yippies, let alone their collapse and public shunning, one is timeless and the other hasn't even really coalesced into a visible movement as of this point. Although part of this is most likely due to the creators' need to distance their hip, young modern sleuths from the antiwar activists who had just been jackbooted by the Chicago police force for the benefit of the moral guardians, there's another side to this. The gang not only embody youth movements, they overtly hearken back to a time when youth movements were more accepted. The wisdom behind this choice becomes apparent when factoring in the other great programmatic aspect of Scooby-Doo: “And I would have gotten away with too, it if it wasn't for those Meddling Kids”.

People like Richard Dawkins tend to love pointing out how Scooby-Doo is essentially a show for arch-rationalists: The ghosts and monsters always turn out to be criminals in disguise, ergo the show is teaching us that the supernatural is all make-believe and mass hallucinations. I would humbly suggest Dawkins and his ilk are completely wrong in this assertion-Scooby-Doo, I argue, not only has nothing to do with arch-rationalism or the supernatural, in point of fact the supernatural exists teleologically within the series to such an extent it's taken for granted. Later series canonize this by doing stories overtly about a physical supernatural world, but this is really a strong undercurrent that dates back to the show's origin. It's the favourite tool of the New Atheists themselves, Occam's Razor: How many paranormal-themed mysteries have the gang solved in their time? How many turn out to be a dude in a rubber mask in the midst of a land-grab job? How often are they surprised by this revelation? (I'm mostly looking at the original series here; Anything post-A Pup Named Scooby-Doo is a different matter).

The answer is always-Every single time the gang, and not just Shaggy and Scooby, treat the situation as incredibly grave and do nothing that would suggest they think something suspicious or earthly is going on until the clues start piling up. They remain convinced, or at least very open to the possibility of a paranormal explanation up 'till the very end, and are usually frightened to the point of despair as a result. If the gang were truly arch-rationalist skeptics why wouldn’t they go into every case with the presupposition that it's going to be a guy in disguise from the get-go? Are they really that thick? The answer, it turns out, is very clear and very simple: The gang are not arch-rationalists because pretending to be an otherworldly manifestation to hide your unethical tracks is an extremely effective criminal plan. The reason? The realm of the supernatural is very real and something to respect and fear. This ties into a thread I really ought to cover more regarding how Scooby-Doo overtly operates according to and within the parameters of horror movie logic, but that's for another day (oh, let's say, round about “Hassle in the Castle” at the earliest, though most likely in more detail during “A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts”?).

For another example that also shows off this series' bewildering half-failure to launch, consider the fact that video at the top of the page is not the original intro sequence to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!-This was. Notice how the jazz and funk melodies (beloved, of course, by the Mods) are superimposed on top of a darker, moodier refrain. Notice also the lingering emphasis on Velma's gasp, the unearthly moans of the monsters and Shaggy's repeated invocation of the title question. Additionally, when paired with the identical video reel, the music does seem to cause us to pay more attention to the fact the gang are constantly running back and forth in fear. The effect is muted, of course, by the later iconic bubblegum pop theme song (good bubblegum though it may be), of which I will surely have more to say in the future.

Look also at how the show treats adults in general: They're either criminals (and always criminals motivated by some kind of financial or otherwise personal gain), victims or, in the case of the police, hopelessly incompetent. In any world that subscribes to our model of logic, lawmakers and lawkeepers who are regularly and embarrassingly upstaged by a group of inexperienced young adults who can do their job better than them and effortlessly so would be sacked in a heartbeat, but, in the world of Scooby-Doo, these are the only kinds that exist. The gang are the only proactive characters in the entire show-Authority figures are not to be trusted because they're either evil and corrupt or weak and apathetic. The whole point of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! then, is that the world is full of manipulative, unscrupulous people who will callously play on people's fears to increase their lot in life at the expense of everyone else's. The only way to live justly and freely in it is to jump in with the spirit of the youth, live our life according to our terms damn what anyone else thinks of us, and expose the wrongdoers for what they are. Perhaps most importantly, we have to take up arms ourselves, because no-one will do it for us. And this became CBS' tentpole series for its Saturday Morning Cartoon lineup.

This then at last is when we can finally see the true genius behind juxtaposing the show's visual aesthetic and its narrative structure: The chaotic and surreal nightmare world of Weimar Germany related by the German Expressionists and that Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! so consciously invokes now reflects the traumatic disarray brought upon the United States in the late 1960s by the hegemonic revolution that left the utopian ideals of youth movements in tatters. Those same lost ideals embodied by our main characters, who at the same time express a nostalgic regret for an age long since past even as they seem to subconsciously create an alternate universe around them where the 1960s not only never died, but in fact won by bringing down the same forces that sought to crush them. Of course it's a crook in disguise all the time: After all, there will always be someone cleverly hidden just out of plain sight who will use power, fear and intimidation to harm others, and that person will always be stopped by the youth rising up to point out the injustice of it all. That dream-atmosphere surrounding all the great German Expressionist works is plainly on display here to remind us it is all, in fact a dream. The best dreams, we know, are always made of a beguiling mix of light and dark; that's what makes them so memorably haunting.

A very strong case could be made Joe Ruby, Ken Spears and Fred Silverman had none of this in mind when they first set about creating Mysteries Five, but given the context of 1968, the way the show works at a very basic level and the plethora of evidence on display I find it very difficult to argue they had no idea what they were doing. Even if they didn't though, the fact remains: Ruby, Spears and Silverman have made, almost by complete accident, one of the most enduringly triumphant symbols of the youth and the promises of a better life they can stand for ever created. This is Candide by way of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari reimagined for the downtrodden youth of the 1960s and anyone with a fixation on the macabre and a desire to see the world become a better place. All that and a box of Scooby Snacks.

2 comments:

  1. This is amazing. I salute you, Mr. Marsfelder.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for the kind words! This was a fun one to write.

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