Sunday, December 28, 2014

On Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; I really have to be out of ideas to write something on them – all right, let’s just get to it then:  I was never a big TMNT fan growing up.  They were more eighties, early nineties, while I was a Pokémon, Mario sort of guy.  I had a cassette tape of when they befriended an android (Andy the Android?) and I had a few of the action figures – that’s about it.  But I can understand why it’s a cult phenomenon.  A series full of lively animation, meta-humor and consistency.  The writing however is ungodly awful.  The characters expound to themselves or each other to artificially give the audience information, usually information we could piece together ourselves.  Yes, I know it’s a kid’s show, but there are much smarter kid’s shows out there that don’t treat their audience like slow seven year old chimps.
The meta-humor is great – at-first.  Eventually I get to the point where I’m asking if this guy watched Stardust Memories, Annie Hall or Blazing Saddles before writing every episode.  But, I confess even though they do it a bit often I overall love it and found it a minor thrill that a children’s cartoon (from the eighties no less) would be so blatant and direct with their carefree attitude and having the characters let us know they’re aware (at-least momentarily) that they’re merely players in a fictional creation re-acting the same wild antics each week for our amusement.  There’s a certain intelligence there.  Both in the meta-humor itself and in the mentality it creates.  A kind of vaguely Buddhist, “Hey man, you know nothing really matters” type of acceptance of reality and the silly roles we all play moment-to-moment.  I hold that most of the problems of the world wouldn’t exist if we were all self-aware beings who realized what a farce existence was.  Capitalists wouldn’t feel the urge to exploit, Government men to rule, the religious to preach nonsense, of course such a state of mind is based on material conditions such as leisure, intelligence and psychology, so such an existentialist realization (I went three hundred and fifty words without using the word existential – that’s probably a first) is predicated on other philosophical, political and cultural victories that ultimately would in themselves create the benefits that such a understanding would create in itself.
However, there’s having fun with what you do expressing you don’t take your job too seriously, and poor writing which indicates you don’t give a shit – the first is refreshing and very enlightened, the second is a sign of apathy and a desire to sell toys which contradicts the vibe of the former.  I’ll quickly encapsulate one episode to let the readers know what I’m talking about.  There’s an episode where the turtles need to go to a turtle planet that can turn lead to gold for a fuel source to beat an evil furry hydra.  Okay, why not.  Donatello tells the turtles he wants to be a regular turtle again (or live amongst humanoid turtles) because the humans don’t accept them – even though April in other episodes reports that the turtles saved the day again and I’ve seen virtually no indication that the humans hate or fear them like in Hellboy or X-men.  Shredder spends the entire episode making a giant robot (which is invincible asides from one minor flaw; because apparently he’s never seen Star Wars.  Also Shredder says this as expository towards Krang while April is in the room – twice.  Oh yes, no one shall know the one weakness to your death machine.) and constructing a smaller technodrone – once again bringing Star Wars to mind though the second Death Star was larger than the first if memory serves.  The turtles beat the dragon (surprise!) which turns out to be two greedy turtles who wanted to use the machine to use it for more than just fuel, and the streets and everything else they use it for.  Then why don’t they?  Whose stopping them?  And if there’s some idiotic rule they can’t have gold clothes and jewelry, then how will enslaving the turtles with a giant dragon allow you to wear gold openly?  You’d have to be in the dragon suit to terrorize people, and destroy your civilization in the process.  I would say this is an analogy of what the rich are willing to do to satisfy their lust for money and power, but that would be a stretch.
Donatello realizes that he likes being a humanoid turtle on earth – for some reason.  The plot has virtually no reason why he would come to this realization.  Yeah, the turtles imprisoned him and treated him like shit, but that doesn’t mean the humans magically accept him – when once again besides the fact that they have to wear costumes it never really seems that bad and they never seem to be hated or discriminated.  This is like dumping your girlfriend because she pisses (allegedly) in your mouth, and then your next girlfriend pisses and shits in your mouth, so you say, “hey, maybe piss isn’t that bad.”  They return to earth and it takes them twenty-five seconds (yes twenty-five seconds) to destroy the technodrone they were building up to.  Can you imagine if it took half a minute for Luke to destroy the Death Star?  Or if they built up for three, three hour movies what some bearer of some great burden had to do, and then he destroys it in two min… okay bad example. 
Now, if they had the technodrone destroyed but saved robo-shredder for another episode, this would be tolerable.  Bad writing, but excusable perhaps – but no.  It takes them, I shit you not, fifty five seconds to destroy the giant robot they were building up as well.  I do have more episodes to highlight and deconstruct the hilarious absurdity (or absurd hilarity, take your pick) of, but I think that one episode is enough of an expression of what is more of the same.  I will say however I thought it was a bit supremacist of them to shout “Turtle Power” among their fellow reptiles, especially since it was the dinosaurs who broke into Shredder’s hideout – taking the credit of those who do all the work, you deem to be beneath you and that for without who you wouldn’t exist, what do the turtles make themselves out to be, Capitalists?  Overall, the show is very clever when it comes to jokes and self-aware humor, but shit when it comes to the actual construction of a dramatic plot – which makes me think Kevin Smith wrote it, the constant mentioning of pizza only furthering my case.  Anyone who has seen Chasing Amy or Tusk will know what I’m talking about.  I can even imagine Raphael saying, “I’m not even supposed to be here today!”  Not enough dick jokes though. 
Don’t get me wrong, even though in some respects the show is terribly written I enjoy it.  It’s eighties cheese at its finest.  The most addictive theme on the planet and Raph has sarcasm and a self-awareness that alone is worth watching the show for and is matched perhaps only by Marvel’s Deadpool.  A fine example that though a product is produced almost solely to sell toy it can despite the detrimental soul-sucking effects of Capitalism be something of some quality due-to human creativity, wit and probably the boredom that would have consumed these writers if they didn’t decide to just say fuck it, have fun with it, and have one of the turtles (and occasionally other characters) let the audience know they’re aware they’re (like all of us) just silly dancing figures on the dashboard of this gnarly ride we call life.  Kowabunga and stay cool dudes.
Oh and the new movie sucked.  I just thought that needed to be said.  The turtles were a half-way decent series that was never as great as Batman or Spidey and became far-worse than that relatively quickly.  But again, the show’s Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Timon and Pumba essence should be appreciated.  Happy Thirtieth TMNT.

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