Great Fictional Presidents

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
And forever in peace may you wave.

The U.S. Stars and Stripes: a grand old flag.

I believe I might be going a bit crazy from all of the snow that has been falling in my area over the past few days.  It looked for a while like the snow was going to melt and spring would be here, but apparently that’s not the case right now.  Somehow, this has driven me to write a post about some great fictional United States presidents, even though Presidents’ Day has passed.  Regardless, I think a little appreciation of these leaders and their accomplishments will make me get over my winter blues, and, hopefully, make you feel good, too.

President Scooby-Doo, Cartoon Network

That’s right, a mystery-solving cartoon canine played the role of a U.S. president, or at least the president of a television network.  Cartoon Network held a mock election in 2000 with all of the network’s characters eligible for candidacy.  There were plenty of candidates on the air at the time who I thought would make for a more suitable leader of the free world (President Bugs Bunny, anyone?), but somehow, Scooby appealed the most to voters.  I can’t seem to recall if the administration of Scoobert Doo made any far-reaching efforts to address the economy, healthcare, or any other big issues, but he definitely moved the crowd during his State of the Union address and his push for a bill giving America new airings of old Scooby movies and specials showed that he believed in a healthy appreciation of the arts.  Unfortunately, when Cartoon Network ran another election in 2004, Scooby wasn’t involved, what I feel is a shame considering he was probably one of the most popular leaders in this country’s recent history.  At least he will always be remembered for being the first cartoon dog to be president, as well as being one of the greatest Great Danes ever.

Unnamed president, Fairly Oddparents, “That Ol’ Black Magic”

This fictional president appears only a few times in one episode of this Nickelodeon show featuring magic, wishes, and the hilarity that ensues, but his appearances left quite an impression on me.  In the episode he appears in, it is Friday the 13th, so even though he is being briefed by a general regarding how he shouldn’t touch the huge red button on his desk, the president accidentally tips over a salt shaker and presses the button anyway, launching a nuclear warhead in the process.  Luckily, the warhead lands in a desert without harm.  When the general asks the president what he is going to do now that he’s almost caused World War III, he replies while dressed in full vacation gear, “I’m going to Escalator Land!”  (Sorry about the low volume in the video; turn up your volume as high as possible if you want to hear what everyone’s saying.)  A short time later, the president is seen vacationing at the escalator-themed amusement park and asking, “When do we get to the ride?”  Timmy Turner’s father replies, “This is the ride!”  The camera pulls back to reveal that the escalator everyone is riding on is indeed the main attraction at the park.  I know that presidents are sometimes criticized with being “out of touch” with the American public, but this fictional president takes that sentiment to a whole new low.  I think he is also largely a product of his time because he slightly resembles George W. Bush who was in power at the time this episode originally aired, thus becoming a reflection of the disgruntled feelings the people had with Bush.  I think this character is an interesting footnote in cartoon history, forever tied to a particular time and set of feelings.  We may never see a fictional president like him again.

President Lancelot R. Gilligrass, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

President Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon, a task which was accomplished six years after his untimely death.  Two years after man landed on the moon in the real world, President Gilligrass promised to launch a hotel in space in the fictional world.  This goal was accomplished during his lifetime, but not before it was invaded by an army of Vermicious Knids.  In one of the darkest hours in the short history of space exploration and tourism, the hotel staff and three brave astronauts as well as a strange party of individuals led by eccentric candymaker Willy Wonka fended off the fiends.  The astronauts and hotel staff stayed on the orbiting hotel to clean up the place and prepare it for the exciting new world of space tourism, while Wonka and his party returned to Earth for a special dinner with President Gilligrass.  This exciting adventure was one of the few high points in Gilligrass’s time in the White House, a period marked with numerous accusations that he was letting Vice President Elvira Tibbs, his former nanny, handle all of the day-to-day operations to cover up his general incompetency.  Given Gilligrass’s tendency to work knock-knock jokes into every conversation and the fact that his secretary of the treasury’s idea of “balancing the budget” was to literally balance stacks of money on a scale, I have reason to believe those accusations might be true.  However, I still believe such faults shouldn’t take away from Gilligrass’s main accomplishment of establishing a space tourism business long before such a thing would even be considered practical in the real world.

I hope you enjoyed this examination of some fictional presidencies.  What did you think of it?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Growing Up with Saturday Morning Shows

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
Life in a box.

Remember your favorite shows?

I have very fond memories of certain points in my life.  I remember waking up in my crib and, for the first time ever, being aware that I was in my room.  I recall being the ringmaster for a pretend circus in my preschool class, holding a portable microphone and announcing each new act.  I remember spending what felt like ages going through every book in my third-grade class’s computer reading program, astounded by the fact that some of my favorite stories were part of the offerings.  They play out in my mind as isolated incidents, feeling familiar yet distant from where I am today.  I can recall certain parts very clearly while the rest remains forever obscured from my memory.  

However, one area of my life which I remember with particular fondness and clarity is watching Saturday morning children’s television.  There were so many amazing moments which I laid witness to through this type of programming that it would be difficult for me to summarize the whole of it.  Instead, I have decided to address some of the more outstanding moments for me, what they have meant to me, and how they have shaped my life.

Whenever I think of the words “Saturday morning,” I cannot help but recall the opening title sequence to ABC’s One Saturday Morning programming block.  This one was a real eye-opener when I first saw it in 1996-97, and I thought it was the best part of the whole day.  The opening sequence was arranged around a song describing the excruciating torture of working through the week to get to the most fun part of the week, the “five hours of summer, once a week” filled to the brim with great entertainment that, to me, felt like nothing else on TV other than the Fox Kids and Kids WB weekday afternoon schedules (more on those later).  I thought the opening sequence illustrated the idea of Saturday being the most fun day of the week in a very novel way.  The rest of the days of the week were depicted as drab gray buildings filled with homework and assembly lines, signifying how boring and humdrum the rest of the week could be to a kid.  After the camera finished panning past all of these buildings, it zoomed through a dark door and into a sunny meadow where a large colorful skyscraper shaped like a number “1 ” grew up out of a box and a roller coaster expanded and wrapped itself around the building.  The camera then swirled around the “1” and went in through the front door to reveal a gigantic CGI set full of kids bouncing around the place.  This virtual set played host to short skits  in between shows, but I wasn’t as wild about the skits as I was about the opening sequence.  This sequence greatly shaped my perceptions of Saturday morning as a time to forget about my tensions from the rest of the week and have fun for a few hours.  The shows that aired during the morning did not always live up to the expectations established by the opening sequence, but it was still the most memorable part of the morning for me.

I watched the shows on Fox Kids and Kids WB more often than I watched those on ABC.  This was partly because in addition to airing on the weekends, both of these TV lineups also aired on weekday afternoons, giving me an opportunity to watch them more often.  Quite a few of the shows I watched on Saturday mornings were the same ones I watched during weekdays; the Saturday morning airings would usually be new episodes.  There were two shows I watched in this way which I still remember very fondly.  One of them was Histeria, an entertaining and educational show from the creators of Animaniacs which taught history in funny and sometimes controversial ways.  I remember learning a lot from it, and I was disappointed to see it taken off the air after a short time. 

The other show was Digimon: Digital Monsters, a series similar to Pokemon about a group of children adventuring with powerful transforming creatures.  I thought the series had some great characterization and plenty of action and humor which had much appeal to my eight-to-ten year old self.  During my prime days of watching Saturday morning programming, Digimon aired its first three seasons.  Of the three, my favorite was the third, also known as Digimon Tamers.  A more mature take on the show’s premise, this season showed what children with all-powerful monsters might do if they had battles in the real world (surprisingly, a city would not be completely destroyed unless a gelatinous goop with the color and consistency of strawberry jelly invaded).  The first season comes in second for me; it came shortly after I had been watching Pokemon for about three years, turning the latter’s formula completely on its head with humor and action which I thought the other show couldn’t quite equal.   The second season is a distant third in my book; while it was nice to see how the first season’s characters were getting along, I got the sense that there wouldn’t be much else you could do with that particular setting without making some major changes.

As time went by, I started watching less and less Saturday morning television, partly because it didn’t appeal to me much anymore and partly because most of what I had liked I could now find on cable networks.  Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network provided Saturday morning-type programming 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, accessible at any time of day.  Both channels carried old cartoons like Looney Tunes and Alvin and the Chipmunks as well as new cartoons like Rugrats and Dexter’s Laboratory.  Each channel also had unique features which kept me watching, such as Nick with fun game shows such as Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Cartoon Network with the action-oriented Toonami lineup hosting shows like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z.  There was something interesting to watch for seemingly every hour of the day. 

I was actually a pretty lucky kid.  I was able to get all of the major kids’ networks and both of the Saturday morning network lineups.  I watched the best of everything I could wrap my eyeballs around to the point that the way I watched television seemed like programming my own personal network.  In recent years, I have rediscovered many of the shows I enjoyed as a kid, and I have noticed new details and deeper themes in them which have made me appreciate them in a new light.  In a way, Saturday morning can happen for me any time of day now.  Regardless of what may change though, I will still remember when everything fun revolved around “five hours of summer, once a week.”