Saturday, August 24, 2013
A Fanboy Looks at Fifty... From BOTH Sides
(1) My DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE series reaching entry #50 (duh).
(2) Some comments posted by Joe Torcivia in response to my review of "The Right Duck."
(3) My growing interest in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic -- the TV series itself, that is, as opposed to the comic-book title. (You can tell the difference because I typically use italics for TV series, capital letters for comic-book series.)
Joe started the ball rolling in his response to "kenisu" regarding the subjective nature of fans' reviews of their favorite works:
Chris is one of the best reviewers I’ve ever been associated with – and together we go back just about as far as DuckTales itself. He does a magnificent job reviewing this series in retrospect – as he (and I) did back when it was “current”. But, I don’t always agree with him – and that doesn’t make his views any less valid than my own. I find that I am far more critical of DT now, than I was then. A combination of no longer being enthralled with the “mere notion” of such a series after too many years of “bad animated programming”, Disney-decision-making vs. Barks’ original visions, and the fact that other series (mostly from Warner / DC) have surpassed it in overall quality. The great DT eps are still great – but the flaws of the lesser ones have become far more glaring (fairly or unfairly) due to the reasons cited above.
I've gradually come around to the same conclusion as Joe -- that DuckTales, for all its many virtues, has in fact been "passed" by several newer series (I won't be specific). The thing is, it took me a very long while to admit that he was right. You see, my experience with DuckTales mirrors how most people become fans (short for "fanatics," let's not forget) of entertainment products. You start with an emotional commitment to the product. Why did Star Trek become the first and foremost of all "cult TV shows"? Because, at that turbulent time, people desperately wanted to believe that the idealized, cooperative future pictured on the show was possible. The intellectual rationalization for the emotional interest -- all those Klingon vocabularies, character backstories, specs of Starfleet vehicles, and so forth -- followed soon after. In the case of DuckTales, while I had already begun reading Duck comics at the time the show debuted, the TV show was a product that I could literally experience from Day One. I still recall how excited I was when "Treasure of the Golden Suns" aired in its two-hour format, and I still do feel those reverberations. That excitement led to my work with Joe on the DUCKTALES INDEX, and I hope that that same sense of commitment has been visible in the various RETROSPECTIVES columns. I had a similar sort of emotional investment in RICHIE RICH comics, which were the only comics I collected for quite some time. By the time I got to write for Mark Arnold's HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES!, I was ready to subject those comics to an intellectual (well, quasi-intellectual) examination, writing about the different genres of RICHIE adventure stories and so forth. One of the reasons why I decided to do my Kimba the White Lion columns starting in 2009 was to perform a similar dissection of a TV series for which I had always had a very powerful emotional attachment and had "rediscovered" as an adult.
The problem with the emotional/intellectual paradigm is that, depending upon how emotionally flexible you are, you may have trouble accepting that the thing that you love so much doesn't look quite so good in retrospect. Emotionally and temperamentally, I am much more conservative than the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances, so shoving DT several paces back in the queue was not so easy a task. Depending upon how invested you are in the product, this process can be extremely disconcerting. Reading through all those "great" RICHIE RICH adventure stories and having to pick out all the inconsistencies and logical absurdities was annoying enough, but taking DT down a peg or two was considerably harder.
A while back, I mentioned a piece I wrote for THFT! a few years ago entitled "Free DuckTales!" in which I bemoaned the loss of status that the series had (at least in my eyes) endured among animation fans in general. I tried to walk through it in an even-tempered a manner as possible, and I think that I did a good job, keeping the whining (as opposed to the garden-variety complaining) to a minimum. In retrospect, I see what I was trying to do there: come to intellectual terms with the idea of knocking DT off its pedestal. Emotionally, however, I hadn't quite "bought in" yet.
BronyCon, I saw plenty of evidence that the people in attendance had made intense emotional commitments to the series, with the intellectual activity trailing in its wake. The emotional stakes appear to be far higher now than they were to me in 1987, though. Even I never considered writing about "100 Years of Narrative Art" (the title of one of the Con panels) and treating DuckTales as the panel blurb seemed to treat MLP: FIM:
Come on a 100-year journey [through] the history of modern culture from the publication of PETER PAN to the one-year anniversary of MY LITTLE PONY. We'll look at CITIZEN KANE, WATCHMEN, DUBLINERS, and CLANNAD and show how it all leads up to MY LITTLE PONY. (Boldface mine)
Of course, the Internet, social media, Youtube fan reviews, and other technological advances (not to mention Hasbro's very active encouragement of the MLP: FIM fandom) have everything to do with this. This is light-years removed from the days of taking handwritten notes and reading the DT credits realfast because I didn't have a VCR. It's enough to cause a new, middle-aged fan of the thing to throw up his hands in despair, as I seemed to do during my review of the first four issues of the comic-book series when I said, "there's no way that I'm ever going to be anything more than a 'fellow galloper' in their bubbly little world." What I'm discovering -- actually, it's more like relearning -- is that there is another way to become a fan of something, one that reverses the emotional/intellectual paradigm.
Unlike most of my Duck fan-friends, I did not read the Duck comics while growing up, apart from brief exposure to one WALT DISNEY'S COMICS DIGEST. I did, however, learn something about the works of Carl Barks from other sources. In 1985, with RICHIE RICH comics having for all intents and purposes "gone away," my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I bought two sets of the Another Rainbow CARL BARKS LIBRARY. This was first and foremost an intellectual decision; I wanted to examine these works, see what made them tick, and see why they were so popular with so many highly intelligent people. Of course, I found them even better than I had supposed. The emotional "buy-in" came soon thereafter, helped in no small measure by the return of American Disney newsstand comics. At the same time, the manner in which I entered Disney comics fandom made it somewhat easier to "accept" the many changes that were made to the Duck "universe" in DuckTales. I wasn't protecting any sort of primal emotional commitment.
America's Best and the like. My interest started to peter out soon after 2000, however, simply because the emotional commitment was just not forthcoming. The fact that DC was at a creative peak in the 90s, only to slip a few years later, certainly didn't help matters. But part of the reason for the change of feeling was the "gut sense" that superheroes simply aren't my "bag" in the way that humorous comics and TV series and classic comic strips are. In the same manner, I greatly enjoyed Warners' Batman and Superman animated series of the 90s and still respect the hell out of them, but that's pretty much as far as it has gone; I feel no compelling "push" to seriously seek out any of the more recent series and am content to let others show me episodes that they think I might enjoy seeing.
What is UP with that?). Unlike what happened with superhero comics and animation, however, I've definitely started the process of the emotional "buyin." I can tell because (*gasp!*) I'm now willing to admit that the show is actually better than Kimba. It's more consistent and just as "Heart"-filled without the irritating continuity lapses and occasionally jarring animation. For me to admit this would have been absolutely unthinkable just a couple of months ago. It's "demotion of DuckTales" syndrome all over again. The difference this time is that I've been down this road before, and so the process is somewhat easier. By this point, I'm also more at peace with myself about what I truly enjoy and don't really care as much about the sort of impression it makes on others. I'm not going to try to justify my liking of MLP: FIM in the same elaborate manner that I've done for the likes of RICHIE RICH, Kimba, and DuckTales. I'll leave that to the show's original, first-and-foremost emotionally committed fans. If it's good, it's good, "intended demographic" be damned.