Remembrances Of Scooby Doos Past


First published in The Varsity on Dec 7, 1989, page 4


I remember waking up really early on Saturday mornings, crawling downstairs very quietly so as not to wake anyone, and gorging myself for many hours on that priceless media opiate: t.v. cartoons. I don’t slither out of bed quite that early anymore, but I still manage to ingest my weekly bolus of television candy.

Things have changed, however. The quality of Saturday morning fare and its intended audience have been altered.

I find that the last two decades of animated television readily divides into three defined phases: the Fun Dumb Adventure phase; the Video Game Sellout phase; and lastly the Unimaginative Dumb Adventure phase. Running contemporaneously alongside all three phases are the Pseudointelleciual cartoons.

The Pseudoiniellectuals include classics like The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, George Of The Jungle, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and the unforgettable Underdog.

There is substantial overlap with another type called Cartoons With Really Neat Theme Songs. This fifth heading honours Roger Ramjet, Rocket Robinhood, Spiderman and the first real t.v. comic book, Star Blazers.

The first phase (Fun Dumb Adventure) is what I consider to be the Golden Age of television cartoons, probably because its timeline corresponds well to my childhood years. How many of us lost sleep to watch The Superfriends, just to see how many more visible minorities ABC could hope to cram into superhero costumes?

But the undisputed heavyweight champion of cartoons at this time was the one and only ‘Scooby Doo‘ (and Shaggy, too). Imagine the state of the world without those meddling kids and their dog.

Scooby’s reign came to an abrupt end when the industry big-wigs discovered that, all of a sudden, pre-teens had lots of money to spend. The second era of television cartoons was thus ushered in: the Video Game Sellout phase.

Cartoons stopped appealing to kids’ minds and started patronizing their parents’ wallets. The microchip revolution saw some really horrible cartoon creations like Pac-Man, Pole Position, Care Bears and the truly outrageous Jem.

Japan’s domination of world economics was seen by children first, and mirrored in adult comic book stores. Japanese comics and cartoons were released simultaneously to attack the market on two fronts. Asia is still locked into this obsession with the machine as a source of power and enteriainment.

The robot ruled the second era, returning from the 1950s in a new form machines that turned into vehicles. The Transformers had arrived, along with their sickly first cousins The Gobots. For the first time ever, machines were cast as good guys, their mechanized states now enviable conditions.

Violent Japanese robots were in vogue, as were the toy counterparts to the cartoons that were now just extended commercials. An avid fan could predict next month’s episode by watching yesterday’s toy advertisements. This trend climaxed with the advent of the first animated soap opera, Japan’s Robotech.

Network officials were eager to make existing cartoons more accessible to a new breed of children with expensive clothes and short attention spans. Hence poor old Scooby-Doo was made to look like an illiterate imbecile with the introduction of his highly evolved and eloquent nephew Scrappy-Doo.

It was sacrilege.

Luckily, this annoying new type of child quickly grew larger, discovered crack and semi-automatic weaponry, and joined preppie street gangs. Cartoons were thus free to resume their normal course of evolution.

Europe’s The Smurfs did well with moralistic fairy tales concerned with characters rather than objects. It also provided a brand new drinking game (downing a shooter every time the word “smurf” is heard).

Enter the third and present phase of cartoon evolution. The shows I’ve labelled Unimaginative Dumb Adventures are cued from movies and sitcoms, but are several quantum units better than those based on video games.

The first season of The Real Ghostbusters, featuring the voice of Arsenio Hall, was a terrific romp through high fantasy, science fiction and Lovecraftian horror. It was the best campy cartoon since Underdog himself. Weekly instalments were in the flavour of the original megafilm — except with better plots.

Today’s best fares are Alf (surprisingly) and Beetlejuice, two entertaining offerings based on partly organic counterparts.

Indeed, I believe, for Young Adults, the wise-cracking Alf series consistently presents intelligent stories, reasonable animation and a moralistic edge: many of the stories are clever re- workings of traditional fairy-tales.

Beetlejuice is a rarity. Not only is purgatory the setting, as in the original movie, but its bizarreness has not been attenuated for kiddie consumption. And its hero is a bad guy, a great leap forward for producers of animated TV. Perhaps they’ve finally realized that more adults than kids watch these shows.

The mindless violence continues with Robocop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (despite the great name). Meanwhile our jazz age hero, Bugs Bunny, has been desecrated. While Elmer Fudd still fires his gun at Daffy Duck, Daffy’s head now fails to explode, and his beak fails to spin like a gyroscope.

That’s right, folks, The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show has been censored.


Daiko drumming gives Hart House a shake


First published in The Varsity on Nov 2, 1989, page 11

Varsity Staff Writer

Toronto Suwa Daiko
Hart House
October 26lh

The mythology of feudal Japan is replete with tales of deities drawn forth by the magical cadence of the taiko drums, instruments whose primal beats originally served to mark the boundaries between villages.

Today, taiko drumming is an extremely popular ethnic musical form, with Kodo, Demon Drummers of Sado consistently playing to sell-out crowds world-wide.

Enter the Toronto Suwa Daiko, part time taiko drummers embodying the rural originators of the music. Where Kodo is experimental, radical, and alarming, the Suwa Daiko is traditional, Shinto-oriented and theatrical.

Blending elements of dance, kabuki theatre and, most importantly, flute and drum music, the Toronto Suwa Daiko played to a packed enthusiastic audience at Hart House last week. Eight pieces, several interweaving Japanese with Western rhythms, told stories from Japan’s history, just as they would have been told by farmers of the fourteenth century. Musical tales of religion, war, and ceremony were beat out, passionately detailed by the strained sweaty faces of the young drummers.

Taiko drumming is not for the faint of heart nor frail of body, in terms of both musicians and audience. The fitness level required to play the drums is considerable, as are the levels of excitement to which the listener is drawn.

According to Suwa Daiko Artistic Director Gary Nagata, to join the group, one must first undertake a ten week training programme, then audition. Upon acceptance, the novice is required to dedicate at least three years to playing with the group. Apparently, the strict maintenance of certain traditions is not a factor, since many female and non-Asian faces are scattered throughout their entourage.

The Toronto Suwa Daiko perform several times throughout the year at various locations in the Toronto area. Taiko drumming is an experience not to be missed. It is an Oriental musical form that is extremely accessible to those of us unaccustomed to eastern ways.

The concert was arranged through the efforts of the Hart House Music Committee, to whom we have all paid fees. On November 19, the Committee presents Catherine French. Free tickets become available on the 5th. For information on how to become an active member of the Committee, contact Andrew Lo at 733-2677.


Ball crowd illuminates riotous architecture


First published in The Varsity on Oct 2, 1989, page 13

Varsity Staff Writer

Kawamata Toronto Project 1989
Colonial Tavern Park
Yonge St., north of Queen St.

Okay Blue Jays. They had just won the pennant, and the swarming fans were taking to the streets. A good time, 1 thought, to meander over to Yonge & Queen to examine Toronto’s largest outdoor work of architecture-sculpture.

Pushing through the chanting beer-scented crowds, I puzzled over the many descriptions I had heard of Tadashi Kawamata’s controversial creation…

“…It looks like a hurricane hit the old Colonial Tavern…”

“…A tornado of timber splinters…”

“…A truly exhilirating enterprise.”

The most striking comment of all, perhaps, was “You mean that thing was intentional?”

Kawamata is a world-renowned architect, infamous for his unique blending of Western methods with Eastern motifs. His structures have garnished many major

metropolitan centres throughout the world, including Venice, Sao Paulo, Rome, Paris, Geneva and, most recently. New York.

His sculptures are created for a specific place and time, sayeth his press release. The work is supposed to be influenced “as it develops by the character of the city and its residents.”

But what do I know of architecture, other than it is among the few visual arts that also, presumably, serve a utilitarian purpose? People are supposed to live in buildings, as well as look at them. I would have to approach
this thing as a People, one of us faceless taxpayers who don’t really know very much about art, but do know what we like when we see it.

Despite the ample documentation available from the curators, I would have to see this thing for myself before I could digest a drop of what it was supposed to be.

Through the haze of visible breaths, honking horns and fluttering Blue Jay paraphernalia, the fabled structure came into view. All noises , and other distractions were subtracted from my perceptive field, being replaced by an eerie kind of organ music reminiscent of several Ridley Scott movies. The thing was before me.

It looks very much like a box of giant toothpicks, coated with glue, then dropped and allowed to settle in anyway that gravity saw fit. First impression: tax money was spent on this?

Upon further inspection, however, it became clear that its creator is a true structural master. The beams of timber, while apparently bolted together haphazardly, have been carefully positioned and linked so that it is really quite a solid, safe… thing. It’s a draughtsman’s nightmare!

There are benches here, strangely out of place since they are brand new, while the work resembles a broken down building. There are also a pair of homeless men huddled on one of the benches. I ask one of them what he thinks. He holds his nose and says, “It’s a waste of money. But you college boys seem to like it.”

Soon there are a few more curious individuals poking about, like termites in a pile of wood. They are all dressed like Ontario College of Art students, and are furiously taking notes and photographs. I ask one of them for an opinion. He replies that it is a good ‘thing’, mainly because everyone seems to have some strong reaction toward it.

Is that how one defines good art? It certainly makes my job easier.

Another man gives very honest appraisal: “It’s horse shit.” But the most thoughtful response is from another bystander who realizes the structure’s true representation of the city: “Toronto is a spectacle, not a place to live. That’s what this thing is.”

Surveying its enormity, a growing urge to amble up and across onto the crossbeams is unavoidable. The thing invites the brachiating ape in all of us: “Climb!”

And, indeed, some young Blue Jay fans heed this beacon and scamper onto Kawamata’s inviting timbers, only to run away before I could accost them for comments.

After the initial shock and indignance has worn off, the creation is seen in a new light. It is a complex work of wastefulness without purpose, yet its complexity demands a silent moment during which one admits to oneself, “I’m impressed.”

Moreover, one becomes thankful for the oasis of peacefulness the shambled walls provide, despite the desert of wild cacophony just beyond.

It was supposed to have taken on the character of Toronto. Instead it has accumulated controversy and a whole lot of graffiti: “Zippo” and “BunchOfFuckinGoofs” occupy areas normally reserved for the artist’s signature.

Another person turns to me and says, “THAT is the real character of Toronto.” I follow her pointing finger to the swarms of ecstatic (and possibly drunk) baseball fans, climbing over cars and hollering “BOOO JAAAYS!” And I know that it is time to go.

Toronto will be here for some time to come, but Kawamata’s strange child exists only till the end of October.

The Kawamata Toronto Project is on the east side of Yonge Street, just north of Queen Street. It was curated by the Mercer Union Centre, at 333 Adelaide W., 977-1412


Performace Art Mad For Lucid Journalism


First published in The Varsity on Sep 11, 1989, page 14

Mad For Bliss
Performance Art by Vera Frenkel
The Music Gallery
September 6 — 9


“Cargo cult: any of the religious movements chiefly, but not solely, in Melanesia that exhibit belief in blessing to be initiated by the arrival of special ‘cargo’ of goods from supernatural sources…”

-small sample of very large inscription on inside cover of programme for Vera Frenkel’ s very strange MAD FOR BLISS

What kind of people strive to achieve a state of bliss? Men, women, heterosexuals, homosexuals, safari ‘bwanas’, yuppies, house-husbands, Messiahs and Melanesian cargo cults — all wearing funky grey pajamas and interchanging hats and roles like inmates of a — a mental ward, perhaps?

And maybe the true attainment of bliss is the synthesis and fitting of artificial limbs, or playing nursery rhymes on touch-tone phones. But, golly, what is bliss? It’s “the teddy bear, but not the stuffing”.

Or so we are told by Vera Frenkel’s gaggle of lunatic performers, as we desperately try to conform to her declaration of ‘the audience as bartender’. That’s right: life begins in a piano bar, baby, and ends only after the apocalypse.

And so what if your pianist (NOT penis) is part aviator and part ballerina — as long as he plays the tunes and keeps plenty of gauze handy. Life (and Mad For Bliss) begins in a piano bar with everyone talking at once, exchanging hats and roles, and singing really really well.

And Act II of Life begins in an Asylum, where three very crazy men vie for sole possession of the title of Christ, and where romance, lunacy and religion get together to dance the tango with cardboard palm trees and fresh copies of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

Then we’re in Melanesia, where The White Man shoots a black man to show him that ‘his life is worth nothing other than to carry our cargo.’ Funny-looking natives (still in funky grey pajamas) build a shrine to the coming cargo plane, adorning it with ghetto blasters, candelabras, bowling trophies and more gauze. O what’s a poor bartender to think?

But the cargo plane doesn’t arrive from Heaven, and the Messiah (aka ‘the Lover’) doesn’t sprinkle the land with shiny new cargo. Instead, we’re back in the piano bar, with everybody talking our ear off while we try to pour drinks in peace. “Sex was just a preamble,” we’re told. “It was my radio he wanted all along.” And we hear about someone’s friend who had writer’s block so he arranged for his desk to be set up in the elevator of an art gallery, so that he could always be moving (as if motion helps one overcome writer’s block).

Meanwhile, the metronomes and the blabbering German television persist. Where did the gauze go?

But while we search for bliss in trivial things, the apocalypse is approaching. The voice in the shopping mall says, ‘You must shop around for the right Messiah with the proper credentials. Shop, or someone will shop for you.’ And a surtitle, almost lost among the maze of further visual stimuli, tells us ‘You have been misled by the title.’ And it’s true, dammit.

And as the cast dances offstage chanting ‘Total Abandon’ with proper primal cadence, a grey cloak of depression settles over this many-headed bartender, until it’s suddenly realized: hey, it’s just a performance. And a darn good one at that.