Four kids and a dog walk into an abandoned building…
I can’t help but be bothered by living in an era where kids don’t understand Scooby-Doo. Growing up as an early era cable kid, I was saturated with Scooby-Doo. ABC had A Pup Named Scooby-Doo prequel series, most of the cable channels had the original show on repeat. Hell, if you were lucky USA was airing reruns of 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. Yet, modern kids only know of the dog detective from DTV movies and revamp attempts.
That’s not to say that the DTV movies were bad. Hell, the team-up with KISS might be one of my favorite animated films that my kid loves to watch. Yet, the need to downplay Scooby or cut the dog out of kid entertainment is telling. After all, this ghost hunting cartoon series was many viewers’ first exposure to horror. Did you ever think about that?
Haunted houses, creepy lairs, ghosts, monsters and adults never believing what kids have to say? How did you never piece it together until adulthood?
The need for famous familiars
Everyone can name the Scooby gang. Hell, some of you might have dressed up as them for Halloween. Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby are constants in the search for supernatural truth. The lead blonde kid takes charge. Then, you get both aspects of the traditional girl persona. The brainy brunette and the gentle redhead who both want the same things in different ways. Finally, you have the slob and his dog. There are lot more Shaggys in the world than Freds, but this show would never have you put it together.
When the show wanted to ground you deeper in their reality, they would bring in celebrity cameos that don’t make sense. Don Knotts, Phyllis Diller and The Harlem Globetrotters would show up in town and help out the Scooby Gang with their supernatural hunts. Would the townspeople or impacted folk raise a fuss over this? No. Why? Well, it’s because the people of the Scooby-Doo world accept that bad things are going to happen to them.
The Scooby Gang and their familiar pals in that way become a beacon of light in their dreary towns. If they get rid of the supernatural threat, that’s just a cherry on top.
The need for unmasking
The finale of a Scooby-Doo episode always involved the monsters or creep being unmasked. When the true identity was found out, it was either a powerful person or someone who needed the supernatural beliefs to continue. If the amusement park stays haunted, then Person X can cash in on the land. So on and so forth.
When the gang would finally solve the case and unmask the threat, the danger had passed. The gang would hop into the Mystery Machine and not a single soul from that adventure would come back again. The judicial implications of the various crimes in an episode wouldn’t get addressed, but one would wonder how does a town come back from Pirate Ghosts or The Phantom of the Roller Disco?
Having a Pirate Ghost turn out to be Old Man Morris was reassuring that ghosts didn’t exist in this world. However, you still had to accept that something forced Old Man Morris into accepting Haunted Ghost Cosplay as a way to make a profit. How does a court process that kind of crime? What if he gets hard time and has to deal with rapists and murderers? In the quest for justice, what happens if Fred pulls a mask off the wrong guy? These things never get answered, but why?
Why does the dog talk?
Scooby-Doo talking was always accepted. People would joke about it or attempt the voice, but no one questioned the dog’s speech. Hell, no one questioned the Scooby Gang’s quest to debunk the supernatural while embracing a dog that talks. Shaggy would introduce his talking dog to several people and they would accept that their dog doesn’t talk, but the hungry hound in front of them is capable of slurred speech.
The point of a Scooby-Doo episode isn’t to better define the characters or build a world. It’s that Town X has a problem with Supernatural Y and they need Resolution Z. In that way, the Scooby Gang becomes this primal force to set things right. Much like how the Marvel Universe tends to misunderstand Galactus, the greater world doesn’t understand the Scooby gang. There’s no need for these kids to tour the countryside looking for trouble.
But, they always find it on a weekly basis. It seemed like it didn’t happen during the summer, but that’s when the networks let us revisit the crimes of the past year. The Scooby gang never ages and their bizarre trappings are never questioned. Why? Well, it’s because they serve as a counterpoint to the supernatural creeps.
The supernatural world vs. primal reality
The dichotomy of Scooby-Doo boils down to the supernatural vs. the primal. Supernatural belief permeates every aspect of the Scooby-Doo world. Monsters and ghosts exist enough for a sustained belief that allows the Scooby Gang to exist. But, there’s also a drive for rich weirdos and out-of-work businessmen to keep perpetrating these crimes. All of these small-towns accept creepy kids and their dog because it takes a band of supernatural freaks to understand weirdos gone astray.
In a way, you could say that the Scooby gang is a primal force trying to represent a Supernatural force fighting another Supernatural force. I know this is a rant and that might be confusing, so let’s slow down a moment. Are you still with me? Good.
I still have a point
Scooby-Doo is a series about the natural world reclaiming itself from supernatural threats imagined or real. The titular dog is giving human qualities to allow a supernatural quest to be permissible to small town Americana. Good old fashioned and predominantly Caucasian kids are battling the forces of Evil, while a talking dog begs you for snacks. Like some sort of fevered dream or classic myth, you make an offering to the beast to bring normalcy back to your world.
In that sense, classic horror pussy foots around with that sense of terror. Scooby-Doo will use horror elements to bring you into a tale of real crime. But, it still makes you acknowledge a talking canine as being a central figure in crime fighting. Nobody ever gets to linger or question things. You thank the dog, his masters and occasionally the Harlem Globetrotters for helping this inquisitive hound solve that which defies Man’s Law.
Later series ruined this motif by trying to give the characters defined parentage, hard origins and starting points. But, let’s look at how the characters are found at the start of every episode and how America met them. They’re a group traveling the country with no start or beginning, but they are always available to fight the supernatural. They are natural antibodies for the supernatural maladies ruining humanity.
In a time when it was easy to believe and crimes could be committed with the greatest of ease, it only serves that these strangers were accepted as the natural balance because no alternatives were available. Scooby-Doo was a product of its time in the way that things were either primal (natural) or supernatural. The bleed between the definitions only mattered when it was being applied to evil.
Why Warner Brothers can’t keep a continued Scooby-Doo series going?
Modern kids are coddled. A lot of that isn’t by choice, but there’s something to say about comfortable access changing the way that future generations perceive their world. If people grow up in a soft life, then horror doesn’t work the same way. It’s why most people over 40 look at kids needing trigger words with a mix of disdain and raised eyebrows. It’s Laurel vs. Yanny on a socio-cultural level. Tales of horror investigation and discovery don’t work in a connected era of cell phones, websites and people recording everything to social media.
Kids of past generations were looking for a break from the mundane. Something fantastical like a modern Greek myth to float down and break up the monotony of casual existence. Yet, the Scooby gang always showed up to set things back in a correct manner. It worked in a basic primal sense of order. If things don’t work, fix them. The end justifies the means as Machiavelli would say. But, Machiavelli never had to make sense of that dog.
My Peter Falk moment
What horror represents is something that doesn’t fit into the defined models of understanding. Therefore, it triggers modern flight. The modern era demands continuity, follow-through and logic. While these three trappings are skewed by a growing sense of cultural group think, they do represent a bear trap that would destroy Scooby-Doo’s entertainment value.
If a modern kid can’t ‘capture’, understand and define a thing…then that thing is lame. Scooby-Doo is horror and horror is the undefined. When a cultural landscape doesn’t accept the undefined when everything around them has a label and a purpose, then that story doesn’t work. Should this be a cause for concern?
Well, no. On the cultural landscape, we’re starting to hit that point where the trauma of 9/11 and its fallout are falling away from the popular consciousness. The Western World is still indirectly dealing with its fallout, but that imagery that powered works such as “War of the Worlds” and “Cloverfield” is losing its power. Scooby-Doo needs to find what spooks kids again. The further away it gets from defining the scary, the closer it gets to the garbage can of history.
THE END….FOR NOW.