Some Cartoon Characters Just Aren't Funny In This Economy
min readLast week, I was watching The Critic, which I consider to be the lighter and cartoon equivalent of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night.
Anyway, I noticed that the character of Duke Phillips wasn't as funny to me as he once was. Phillips, the exceptionally rich and charming megalomaniac owner of his own broadcasting company, just seemed to bother me this time around.
And it's not that I've matured beyond cartoons. I assure you that I haven't.
It's just...I don't think that outrageously wealthy cartoon characters are all that funny anymore in this economy. 10 years ago, these characters were great. I laughed at their delusions, their perspective of the poor and their generally overall wackiness. Their sense of business was marred by their senselessness and gracious detachment from societal norms and standards. The salary gap between them and their protagonist counterparts was a laughable observation of poor vs. rich. But the economy was doing better then and there wasn't a reason to suspect that the cartoon employees of these fictional millionaires and billionaires would be facing layoffs.
Even if these characters were created 10-20 years ago, how are we able to laugh at their relevancy in today's economy? Are whimsical firings and layoffs funny these days?
Sure, they're cartoon characters, but even fictional portrayals of today's financial elite have their grounding somewhere. Isn't it infuriating to watch a cracked character throwing money away when you know friends and family that can't find work?
Yes, they're hand-drawn works of fiction, but when they don't show compassion for their working force or the working class, doesn't it feel like you're not in on the joke anymore?
And by all of this, I am of course referring to extremely loaded cartoon businesspeople. Not the wacky mafia or criminal types. The pigeons on Animaniacs and Fat Cat from Chip 'N Dale's Rescue Rangers will always amuse. Or there's small business owners obsessed with money, which are fine. But they're much too small-time to really edge out your nerves. Characters like SpongeBob SquarePants' Mr. Krabs are still funny. In fact, Krabs only has an average of two employees.
It's just the deliriously rich cartoon businessmen and women that have lost their edge. Their antics were once loony novelties. But now, their jokes seem cheap and aggravating.
I decided to evaluate the top five rich cartoon characters that have lost their biting humor to sheer biting that stings. Without further introduction, here are the top five television cartoon characters that have lost their funny edge over the last decade as the economy has tanked.
THE TOP FIVE:
#5: Mr. Burns
Springfield Power Plant
PERSONA: Burns is the classic frail, town hall, businessman villain. He's done everything from blocking out the sun to attempting to make an outfit out of puppies. He has blackmailed and bribed. He has, in fact, actually tried to steal candy from a baby. But failed. The baby was too strong.
QUOTE THAT SUMMARIZES THEM AS AN EMPLOYER: "Get going. And answer those phones, install a computer system and rotate my office so the window faces the hills."
PARTICULAR EPISODES: Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk, Who Shot Mr. Burns?, Raging Abe Simpson And His Grumbling Grandson in "The Curse of the Flying Hellfish"
Hilarity Factor of 1999: 9
Hilarity Factor of 2009: 6
REASONS FOR DECLINE: Burns is so out of touch with everything that what he does can't even be considered business. He runs his modern nuclear power plant with the integrity and insanity of the industrial revolution. The man writes with a quill pen and wears goggles while driving. In all actuality, he should be the least funny on here, as he has accomplished the most demoralizing destruction to his townspeople. But his ability to consistently outdate himself by not only decades, but maybe an entire century, keeps him seeming irrelevant, nonthreatening and generally misplaced. His erratic but calm participation in 21st Century business as a man of the late-19th and early 20th Century prevents him from becoming too relevant today.
#4: Duke Phillips
Phillips Broadcasting (formerly Duke Phillips' House of Chicken & Waffles)
PERSONA: Though maybe the most endearing character on this list, Phillips is still balanced with an insulting ego. He founded a hospital (good) with a robotic statue that announces, "All hail Duke, Duke is life" (bad). Phillips even had the funds once to build a preschool on a dare. He is fierce in his detachment from society, but too realistic to be silly. He makes a conscious effort to flout his wealth and power, once calling Webster to add a word so he could win at Scrabble. On on occasion, when renting a hotel room that resembles a five-star residence in Dubai, Phillips calls it a "tragedy" that they have the wrong kind of tigers in his viewing display. And at one point, Phillips says, "Like other members of America's cultural elite, I worship Pan the Goat God." He is so aware of his crazy that it doesn't count.
QUOTE THAT SUMMARIZES THEM AS AN EMPLOYER: "I'm gonna run this country like I run my company. I'm gonna raid the pension fund, dump chemicals in the oceans and sell our best assets to the Japanese."
PARTICULAR EPISODES: All The Duke's Men, Dukerella, Dr. Jay
Hilarity Factor in 1999: 8
Hilarity Factor in 2009: 5
REASONS FOR DECLINE: Again, although he is the most likable character on the list, he still actively taunts his workforce and is repeatedly threatening to fire movie critic Jay. Profit always surpasses integrity and art to him. He walks through walls with ease and often flaunts his ability to have others killed. He is reckless, but not deranged. Phillips sometimes appears to be a little too close to real CEOs. He micromanages what he doesn't understand and evades taxes as a registered citizen of the Dutch Antilles. He is dishonest to the government and other businesses, but never really to his employees. He's just playfully discouraging. It was a lot funnier when real CEOs weren't micromanaging what they didn't understand and being financially evasive. So Philips loses three points.
#3: Scrooge McDuck
PERSONA: Though supposedly loosely based on Andrew Carnegie, McDuck rates low because he's preachy. It's always easier to preach the value of money when one has it, and he expects his employees to live up to his demand, even when he won't raise their pay. And to top it off, he had a temper. He fired both pilot Launchpad and inventor Gyro for minor mishaps. And he flouted his money by turning it into a swimming pool, which was so inane that it was somewhat loveable. But that was then, when his motto for money was always "earn it, square." However, in today's economy, nobody's hiring. So, how are we to earn it? Exactly. Shut up, McDuck.
QUOTE THAT SUMMARIZES THEM AS AN EMPLOYER: "I'm the richest duck in the world."
PARTICULAR EPISODES: Down And Out In Duckburg, Catch As Cash Can - A Drain On The Economy, The Uncrashable Hindentanic
Hilarity Factor in 1999: 5
Hilarity Factor in 2009: 4
REASONS FOR DECLINE: He only loses one point because honesty and hard work is as relevant 20 years ago (when the series ran) as it was 10 years ago as it is today. McDuck's message was strong, but he wasn't fun. He was the universal strict boss, but was still relatively fair. This whole odd balance made him slightly unfunny to begin with, as we've all had bosses like that. McDuck never lets you forget that he has money, and that he swims in it, but he also never lets you forge that he earned it, square. Also, he would always rehire Launchpad and Gyro anyway.
Mom's Friendly Robot Company
PERSONA: In public, Mom appears to be a much older version of Paula Deen (pleasantly plump with a delightful Southern drawl) and uses old-time similies like "squeaking like an old screen door." But in private, Mom is a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed CEO that holds 99.7% shares of Mom's Friendly Robot Company. She only looks out for her best interest with ruthless business tactics. In one instance, Mom stole the entire fortune of nice guy delivery boy turned accidental billionaire Philip J. Fry by stealing his pin code and bank card. She has hosted charity events to cultivate relationships with investors. Also, she tried to kill mankind once by way of her business products: robots. However, it was Judge Whitey who decided that "being poor" was a legitimate mental illness.
QUOTE THAT SUMMARIZES THEM AS AN EMPLOYER: "Conquer Earth, you bastards!"
PARTICULAR EPISODES: A Fishful Of Dollars, Mother's Day, Future Stock
Hilarity Factor in 1999: 7
Hilarity Factor in 2009: 3
Hypothetical Hilarity Factor in 2999: 0
REASONS FOR DECLINE: When the economy was better, a character like Mom was outrageous. She was so mindlessly evasive of the truth and lied straight to the public in wacky and bold forms and forums. She was a saint in the public's eye, but a tyrannical, abusive sociopath in private. Through hostile takeovers and simply takeovers through hostility, she managed to build an empire. The over-the-top business empire of dishonesty and hyper-control was funny in the late '90s. And then Enron happened. And then a slew of other businesses happened. And then the economy tanked. And then Mom didn't seem so funny.
#1: Carter Pewterschmidt
PERSONA: Pewterschmidt is by far the least funny wealthy character on television these days. And he was to begin with. His perspective of the working class has always been uncomfortably mean and discouraging, as well as racist and sexist. He mocks and taunts the less fortunate. He's actually said that the secret to happiness is money and has pushed those poorer than him (asking for his help) to do obnoxious things, like eat an entire pine cone. And Carter's best friends are also mogul mongrels, like Ted Turner and Michael Eisner. Greed loves company (and companies), I suppose.
QUOTE THAT SUMMARIZES THEM AS AN EMPLOYER: "I'm never taking you to my country club again!"
PARTICULAR EPISODES: Screwed The Pooch, Peterotica, Padre de Familia
Hilarity Factor in 1999: 4
Hilarity Factor in 2009: 1
REASONS FOR DECLINE: Pewterschmidt is so relevant because he actively chooses to be a terrible businessman and person. He doesn't recognize his own gardener, even after 12 years of employment. He ignores his own workforce and writes the poor off as beneath him. Pewterschmidt can and will ignore the suffering of those close to him while shrugging it off as their problem, even if it is his responsibility. As long as he has his money and his ability to keep making money, he feels he can ignore the problems of those in his employ. He is also spectacularly dishonest, unsympathetically self-involved and a disaster of a family man. His character was already somewhat brutal in 1999. But that was when the economy was better, and you actually felt sorry for such an awful person. Now, in 2009, nothing about Pewterschmidt is funny. Nothing. Well, save for the occasional good fart joke, which earns him a 1.
And there you have it, the top five cartoons that have lost their place on television as their audience continues to be mistreated, misinformed and laid off.