Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Old School (Edited Version 2)

Old School Kicks Ass
By November
Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! Heart!
With your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!
Many 20-somethings amongst us would remember these familiar words from the popular American cartoon series, Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It was created in the 1990s to champion the environmental as Captain Planet battles villains like “Sly Sludge”, “Doctor Blight”, “Verminous Skumm”, and “Duke Nukem”. He is weakened by pollution, radiation, toxic waste and smog just as you would probably imagine our planet is being weakened by these very same things in reality.
However, these pollution-fighting, “save our environment” themed cartoons did not just begin in the ’90s. In fact, they started as early as the ’80s with the Canadian cartoon “The Smoggies” which is about an island-dwelling, environment-loving race called the Suntots, who are fighting a family called the Smoggies who live on a ship just off the coast and pollute the Suntot’s beautiful island and pretty much everywhere they go. When the show was introduced to USA, it was even approved and endorsed by the Greenhouse Crisis Foundation!
Once in a while I get random questions from people asking me when I started being environmentally conscientious and decided that I want to be an environmentalist when I grow up. It may be rather embarrassing to admit this to other consumerism-bashing environmentalists but the truth is… it all began from watching television – the greatest icon of consumerism of all times.
Still, imagine this – constant exposure to cartoons that celebrates the environment and teaches children the importance of protecting your environment from big bad polluting baddies. Surely a child would get the message after a while. In fact, I am proud to say that I am a card-carrying Planeteer, complete with mask and sticker book!
It was a time when air and water pollution were a main concern with oil spills regularly reported worldwide and the ozone hole was a global crisis that captivated the world’s attention. There was definitely a lot more attention paid to the environment back then. In fact, even popular cartoon series such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started including themes like social, environmental and animal rights issues!
Old school cartoons did make an impact. For me, it changed my life. When I meet up with budding environmentalists of our generation from all over the world, almost every one of them has heard of Captain Planet and sing the song proudly. It was almost as if we were brought together, just as the Planeteers were, by the powers of Mother Earth, Gaia, to champion the planet.
On the other hand, I really don’t remember any recent cartoons that have a strong environmental theme as before. What happen to our animated sword-brandishing environmental knights in shining television land? Alright, so recently there was that animated movie Over the Hedge. It was funny and best of all it touched on serious and updated issues like urban sprawl, especially in the US, where animals are losing their homes to our homes. Singapore has long passed the point of urban sprawl to urban domination. The movie would definitely serve as an answer to why the monkey crossed the road. Yes my friends, it is precisely why we find road kills on expressways, especially the one called BKE that cuts right across our Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
The kids of today definitely need more of the vintage heroes we had that kicked some environmental ass. Maybe it’s not so much about oil spills or ozone layers anymore these days but we definitely need more heroes to defend our planet Earth on the silver screen. That will be the day when Barney the purple dinosaur starts giving great big hugs to trees and perhaps a kiss or two to endangered species!
Even the “big kids” of today get our share of environmental programming on our television screens. I recall vivid memories of days when friends begin a conversation with what they saw on Discovery Channel and Animal Planet the previous day that involves the fornication of African Elephants and battles to be the Alpha Male of the herd. Yes, sex and violence sells. However, it also brings to attention issues like conservation of endangered species. Local programs about the little known nature areas of Singapore is also a big hit. Without the media, Chek Jawa would never have been saved without the masses being alerted to its near destruction.
However, if we are just going to sit at home in front of our television sets, watching elephants having sex without batting an eye when people are appealing for help to “save the elephants”, then surely, the media has failed. If people merely indifferently watch on as Chek Jawa was destroyed without actually standing out and speaking up for its preservation, then the media is nothing more than blasé entertainment. It is really a very thin line between apathetic and proactive. As Captain Planet always says, “the power is in your hands”!

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