Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is Rainbow Brite Scifi?

(A question from this thread, via the Hathor Legacy)

The thing about "girls don't like [X]" is that they are always redefining what [X] is until that statement becomes partly true.

The Care Bears, My Little Pony, and Strawberry Shortcake are all very much fantasy stories, and, aside from a few fangeeks that are very into one and not the other, most people see SciFi and Fantasy and so analogous to be practically interchangeable. Certainly more interchangeable than Mysteries and Romance novels anyway.

Yet, somehow, I have a feeling that Rainbow Brite would not be on anyone's list of '80s scifi cartoons. I'm willing to bet it wouldn't even be on most people's lists of '80s fantasy cartoons.

Certainly there is a difference between ray-guns and the Care Bear Stare, but the biggest difference between "girl" and "boy" cartoons is not in the storyline or even the amount of action vs. drama (was any '80's cartoon more melodramatic than Robotech? Any 90's cartoon more soap opera-ish than Gargoyles?), but in who the story is marketed to. Which boils down to mostly window dressing and the number of times the weapon of choice is wielded by female characters.

This isn't to say that He-Man was really all that much like Strawberry Shortcake or vice versa, just that they both have equal claims to the fantasy genre, but only one gets used as an defining example of the genre. It gets to the point where The Smurfs and The Gummi Bears are not considered to by definitive examples of fantasy cartoons for kids either, despite the obvious untruth to that statement, simply because they are both less violent and less reflective of stereotypes of adult fantasy than Dungeons and Dragons.

Obviously, all of these strategically shifting definitions make for very circular logic when one then turns around and claims that boys are more into fantasy or scifi.

It's the same kind of effect we get from pretending that women played no part in history until we gained the vote. Ignoring girl's and women's experiences makes it really easy to flat out lie about what girls and women do and like.

Likewise, when one ignores or glosses over the connection between Lord of the Rings and Victorian fairy tales like The Princess and the Goblin, it's really easy to pretend that modern fantasy is completely disconnected from the princess stories my niece likes to act out. Which in turn makes it sound completely ridiculous to suggest that Rainbow Brite was Fantasy (rather than fantasy), much less science fiction.

Kind of the same way that ignoring scientific data makes it really easy to pretend that evolution is all made up.

And yet, aside from the flying horse, is there anything (other than gendered assumptions made by people that never watched the show) that cause us to define it as fantasy, rather than scifi? Or worse yet, fantasy-lite? What makes Teenage Mutant Turtles scifi for kids, but not Rainbow Brite?

Yes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles featured a bit of comic book inspired* radioactive gook in their origin story (which itself is very much a rip-off of the magical elixirs and pools in myths, which is why faatasy and scifi are so often lumped together). But ignore for the moment the rainbows and the martial arts, ignore your prejudices that says that boy = scifi and girl = fantasy. Which of the two characters below looks like they belong in a fantasy? A science fiction story?

Which of these two characters lives on another planet? Cavorts with friendly aliens? Uses technological tools? Fight enemies that use technology as well? Whose story features intergalactic travel? Uses basic physics (light and color) as a thematic metaphor?

Which character uses weapons designed centuries earlier? Whose story features lots of mystical sayings spouted by a Wise Old Man? Who fights enemies that wield mysterious powers? Even the very idea of animals that talk is a very fantasy-like element - despite the scientific origin story.

I like action, adventure, and even violence. And I think that a lot of "girls" cartoons could have done with a bit more actual action and a bit less less running around. More importantly, the writers could have bothered to give their audience more credit for being intelligent. But lets not pretend that quality is what defines something as scfi or fantasy. (If it was, we could simply pretend that the Gor novels have no connection to the genre either.)

Most all, lets not forget that Gummi Bears was not only vastly better than Dungeons and Dragons but also a much better example of Fantasy cartoons for kids.

PS - if anyone feels in the mood to add some more arguments for why Rainbow Brite - or any other "girl" cartoon - was really scifi and not fantasy or anything else, I may feel grateful enough to go digging through old photos and find the one of me all decked out in the incredibly awesome Rainbow Brite costume my mom made for me in third grade. :)

*appropriately enough, since it was originally a comic.


Revena said...

...I want to lick your brain. :-D

(this should be flattering, and not creepy)

Mickle said...

So is it even creepier that it gives me warm fuzzy feelings?

Or is that ok because that was the intent?