Tuesday, January 31, 2017

-and We're All Really Puny

"It's big and black and inky
And we're all small and dinky
It's a big universe and we're not"

I loved watching Animaniacs when I was nine or ten. I loved the unabashedly goofy parodies of movies my parents watched, the overextended puns (polka, Dot?) and especially the little half-minute interludes like Useless Fact and Good Idea, Bad Idea. Like most, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the show's take on "educational" content, segments created not so much to make children memorize but to make children think about a certain topic. You may or may not have committed Yakko's virtuoso rendition of the countries of the world to memory, but you sure as hell walked away thinking "wow, there's like soooo many freakin' countries in the world" and it made you more likely to pay attention when the topic of geography came up in class or (heaven forfend) crack open an atlas on your own time.

I maintain though that the real high point of the whole show was the "It's a Great Big Universe" song. Characterizing "the entire human race" as gap-toothed yokels on safari:
- it also dared to enter the Twilight Zone of the truly mind-bending with the line about the universe being "maybe just inside a little jar" but more importantly it didn't try to completely efface the inevitable existential angst of the scale of the universe, of the Total Perspective Vortex. A fan wiki informs us the song parodied Monty Python's Galaxy Song from The Meaning of Life "albeit with a slightly more upbeat ending message" but in a way it works to even more devastating effect to have placed the line "it's a big universe and we're not" in the middle of the song only to follow it up with even greater and greater scopes of universality.

To my shame I never connected the two songs even after I watched The Meaning of Life many years later. In more recent years I'd assumed the cartoon must've followed on the heels of Carl Sagan's famous "pale blue dot" speech but it apparently predates it by a year and a month.

So there prances Yakko Warner, gamboling somewhere between Eric Idle and Carl Sagan, confident that children's minds will not break from the strain of acknowledging their own insignificance. The ending message is more upbeat, sure:
"its a big universe and it's ours"
and in itself that was a crucial message for children to hear, because the universe is not gods' or devils' and it's not ruled by fate or the great cosmic Chi (-a Pet) or any other bullshit. It's ours. As pathetic as we are, we infinitesimal specks of apeshit are apparently the only ones capable of purposeful action. It's up to us to reshape infinity.

Can you tell children that these days? Do any children's cartoons dare to depress kids into tears one verse with their own insignificance then saddle them with a universe's cares the next? Or have (as it seems to me) we made the mistake of raising millennials with the false impression that their precious fee-feels are the point of all existence, that the universe stands or breaks asunder on the knife edge of political correctness, that all perspective must take a back-seat to the fear of committing "micro-aggressions" against one another?

"And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space
'Cause there's bugger-all down here on Earth!"
Monty Python - The Meaning of Life

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