If you grew up in my generation, you likely had the pleasure of experiencing the exceptional quality of kids cartoon programs throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. To me, spending my Saturday morning sprawled out on the carpet in front of the TV was more than a regular occurrence – it was a ritual.
I fell in love with many shows over the years, but the Pokémon and Batman series will always remain the closest to my heart. They captivated me and many other children as we moved from elementary school to the all-important and chaotic high school experience.
My favorite characters always came the from comic book-based series, beginning my love affair with superheroes at an early age. Superman, the Teen Titans and various Batman series always kept my mind busy, hoping to unravel the plots of villains. Thinking back, these shows were more than entertainment, they were inspiration. My heroes, while fictional, had the power to reach me along with many other kids and guide us through our youth.
The stories of many youthful heroes, while sometimes overshadowed, are incredibly important, because of this great ability to reach and positively affect children. Even as comic characters learn to control their unusual abilities, the heroes experience and struggle with the standard issues and problems of children in the real world. Although I admit, frequently having the responsibility of saving the whole world is not so realistically relatable. When properly introduced to kids, youthful heroic characters can ward them away from dangerous life paths and teach them the all-important lesson that they are not alone in their troubles as they struggle to grow up.
Youthful heroic characters can…teach [kids] the all-important lesson that they are not alone in their struggle to grow up.
The animated series “Teen Titans” comes immediately to mind as a perfect example of how cartoon heroes can be utilized to approach discussing common issues with kids in a way that seems fun, action-packed and accepting of all people. When you break down the basic characters of the Titans, it’s evident that their diverse team reaches out and supports children enduring many different difficulties.
Starfire, an alien princess far from her family and home world, easily connects to the many children that, like me, experienced a move during their developmental years and felt alone and out of place. Starfire’s journey shows children that a new home can bring new friends, and that, in time, things will work out.
Raven, who inherited powers from her interdimensional demon father, struggles with the powerful physical manifestation of her emotions. She can easily relate to children suffering from the pain of abuse, divorce or social misery. Her character struggles to control her emotions to prevent becoming the monster her father is and teaches children that to stop a cycle of misery, one must conquer – not create – pain.
Robin, sidekick and protégé to The Batman, longs to become a leader and prove that he can stand alone as a hero. This makes him relatable to so many people who feel overlooked due to the shadow their loved ones cast. His journey to becoming Nightwing encourages viewers to have the courage to make it on their own and become who they are destined to be.
Cyborg is the son of genius scientists who save his life by outfitting him with high-tech prosthetics after his horrible mutilation at the hands of a massive monster. Disfigured and permanently half-man, half-machine, Cyborg’s success is an inspiration to those who are cast out as ugly or struggle with disabilities. His strength to overcome the shame of his accident allows viewers to see that the social misfortune disabilities create can be overcome.
Beast Boy, the final member of the Titans featured in the animated series, is the character to whom I can relate the most. His inability to appear human and ability to morph into any animal create an allegory for someone who is struggling to find a place for himself in the world. Hiding behind humor, Beast Boy is the most immature yet well-intentioned of the group, often finding himself in trouble for his irresponsible nature. As his character progresses, Beast Boy matures and begins to see the Titans as his family finding a place where he feels accepted.
While the lessons I learned from Beast Boy and many other characters failed to totally solve my elementary and high school problems, they gave me the knowledge that I could overcome them. Finally, upon making my journey through college, I found my team, my family, many members of which have enabled me to write this column for the semester.
Although my favorite cartoons seem repetitive, predictable and silly now, they never leave me with a bad feeling. The positive outlook on life they give us on such a continuously disappointing and stressful world can not only prepare the next generation, but also preserve their youth in the process.
Matt Kirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.