Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BHM 2012 Saturday Morning Cartoons

The most influential Saturday morning cartoon for race relations as far as I am concerned is JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS.

Now hold on....think about it. When this cartoon made its debut in 1970, there were NO other cartoons with any minority characters. Sure, JONNY QUEST (1964) was a blonde, blue-eyed American boy whose best-friend was an Indian boy named Hadji. And FAT ALBERT, everyone's favorite African-American cartoon (atleast until THE BOONDOCKS came along, haha), didn't start until 1972. Other than that? Nada. Think about how great it would have been if one of the Scooby Gang had been African-American or Asian...! The world today would have been a better place.

Unfortunately, TV executives in the 70s were just as cowardly as they are now, so even after THE ARCHIES were a *huge* success and so was spin-off SABRINA and spinned-off spin-off GROOVIE GOOLIES, executies still didn't want to keep Josie, Melody, and Valerie in tact: they wanted to make Valerie white!! Luckily Archie Corp executives said no, and we got our very first African American cartoon super-star!

Sure, it was a stupid show. But it had music, some romance, and hijinks. Those were the three requisites for Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s. And in the larger scheme of things, it helped millions of little kids realize that blacks and whites COULD get along. I mean, if The Pussy Cats could do it, why couldn't we kids?

This show actually had a very long shelf-life. It premiered in 1970, and was still on the air in 1976. It had been updated as JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS in OUTER SPACE, but there was obviously enough fan support to keep it on the air. Those singing women were doing something right!

The early Seventies were a good entry point for minority characters in cartoons. For some reason, lots of cartoons suddenly added minorities to their casts. There was an African-American Bugaloo, for crying out loud! (or was he British? I didn't really watch that show, haha...) Besides JOSIE, in 1977 SUPER FRIENDS started adding minority characters to their rotating mix of "guest" characters; "lead" Super Friends Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman teamed up with new characters like Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, and Samurai,  along with established characters like The Atom, Green Lantern, and Hawkman & Hawkgirl. Then in 1979 with CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS these three "guest" heroes were bumped up to full Justice League status, in place of established characters like The Atom, Green Arrow, and Plastic Man, who, it must be said, are all white male Americans. Although nothing was ever told about the origins of these three new characters, Apache Chief was obviously a Native American (first Native American lead cartoon character ever? when did Tonto finally get animated?) and Samurai was Japanese (or Japanese-American). Black Vulcan was given even less background, although he was voiced by the American actor Buster Jones, so I am going to say he was an African-American. In that case, he was the first African-American super-hero to make it into the cartoons. Of course, he was followed very quickly by rising star Cyborg (voiced by Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson) in 1985. There has been plenty of talk that Black Vulcan was made up by producers Hanna-Barbera in order not to have to pay DC royalties for Black Lightning, a very similar character who had made his debut in 1977 (created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden, it must be said). That may be, but it's more likely that the staff writers came up with these characters out of whole cloth; I mean, come on, look at them...they even *look* similar!

Anyway, these two trios are part of Cartoon History, and I for one am wanting to celebrate that! So here are their TV theme songs...go ahead, sing along if you remember the words...or get a chill down your spine as the narrator introduces the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Good stuff!!!

This is the intro of the cartoon re-played against "the single" from their 1970s LP. Groovy! Best quality animation I could find, so....haha, cut off after 1 minute if you don't want to hear and re-hear the chorus. :-)

(By the way, Black Manta was shown to be a African-American in 1977, as well, so we also had our first African-American super VILLAIN here, although he never took his mask off, so...never mind, I guess)

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