Scooby-Doo, voodoo and woo-woo
Scooby-Doo and the crime-fighting gang are some of the most beloved children’s TV characters of all time.
The original series Scooby Doo, Where Are You! debuted in 1969 and the show ran for 17 years. Its latest syndication of films and straight-to-DVD movies makes Scooby-Doo the longest lived TV cartoon character.
Scooby has a provable influence on the lives of children, and has had for sometime. A 2010 Yale study examining the influence of cartoon characters on children’s snack preferences not only found that children consumed more snack food when it was branded with cartoon characters, it was found that Scooby-Doo, a then 40-year-old character was able to influence kids to eat the most amount of cereal compared to the other tested cartoon mascots – Shrek, and Dora the Explorer.
Few people have been able to explain why Scooby-Doo has been such an iconic TV show that persevered throughout the years, but I’d argue that food consumption isn’t the only area Scooby and the gang has had an influence on.
And by “other” areas, I mean the influence of religion, and fear of the supernatural.
Part of the reason I loved Scooby-Doo as a child (and still do) is that it consistently disproved the existence of ghosts, and all things ghoulish.
The plot of Scooby-Doo was fairly formulaic, but the half hour cartoon always ended reassuringly with a mummified spirit or ghost being unmasked as the result of some human plot to defraud another human. I credit Scooby-Doo with helping me become the well adjusted atheist I am today.
For those living under a rock for the past 26 or so years Scooby-Doo has been running, here’s a fairly basic outline of every single Scooby-Doo episode ever made:
The “gang”, setting off in their VW traveling through some eerie woods in dark of night for no particular reason, chance upon an abandoned haunted house / mine / tomb / lake / castle / pirate ship / space ship and inevitably come across a ghost / zombie / mummy / alien / Wookie / Golem [insert-miscellaneous-supernatural-creature here]. After following a trail of clues and being chased by said ghoulish demon, the gang ends up unmasking the feckless villain who usually ends up being some money hungry male aristocrat (who almost always spoke in a British accent) – whose failed attempt to defraud his family / boss / friend using just a bed sheet and a gramophone is trumped by the Scooby gang’s problem-solving ability and general aptitude for logic. (Except for Shaggy, who left logic in the 60s where it belongs).
It was ironically reassuring to me as a young girl that the only thing to fear was human greed rather than a ghost or some supernatural creature trying to drag me into the afterlife with them.
With Scooby-Doo, you knew where you stood, except not really.
Here’s the bit that bugs me.
With all the seemingly predictable plot lines, you’d think the gang would get used to it. When confronted with some moaning mummy or fanged werewolf they’d just rip their mask off from the start, hand them over to the police and go on their merry way.
Oh no, in every damned episode a terrified Shaggy – probably paranoid from all the ganja he’s been smoking – refuses to go any further and has to be bribed with food into investigating the soon-to-be-debunked phenomenon.
Similarly, Scooby inevitably lands up shaking and quivering with fear in Shaggy’s arms, Daphne gets kidnapped or trapped or threatened and Velma and Fred are left to clean up their mess – in every freaking episode. (And no, Scrappy-Doo and Shaggy-Dum do not count as cast members, don’t even get me started on those two! We shall not speak of these characters, much like no one speaks of cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch. They’re just there to fill the time between when episodes starting jumping the shark and their inevitable cancellation).
Call me petty but it’s irritating that the gang are constantly duped into genuinely fearing the supernatural when their years of experience has taught them that there is literally – no such thing as ghosts.
I don’t remember every really being scared as a child but I was still naive enough to get caught up by the suspense – even though I really should have known what was coming. I think it’s a little cruel that a show that consistently debunks the existence of any kind of afterlife, a show that constantly highlights the extent of human cruelty, still encourages people to fear the supernatural, or believe in it at all.
Intentionally or not, Scooby-Doo is a neat little analogy for the influence of religion on modern society. No matter how much evidence to the contrary people are offered, they seek out the supernatural, only to be terrified by it, and even after they’re offered proof that their belief is unfounded, they continue to seek it out, in vain. Yet despite this, the fear and trepidation of the supernatural only seems to increase, not decrease.
The ghouls that have graced the Scooby-Doo screens for over 40 years are always man made. There’s always a man behind the curtain pulling the strings. Consider this a neat little example of how people with power can manipulate other people into giving away their money, or keeping them bound to labour for a number of years using just the fear of the afterlife.
Perhaps I’m giving the writers too much credit on this, but if we can speculate about Shaggy’s being a stoner, Velma being a lesbian, and all the other in-jokes and counter-culture references supposedly inserted by the writers, I see no reason why we can’t see the show as having a swipe at modern religion as well.
Then again - maybe I’m over-thinking this one and I’ve had one too many Scooby Snacks.
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