[Image description: Three plush hamsters standing in a semicircle, each one about 3 inches high. They all have huge, dark eyes. On the left is the only male, mostly white with orange ears and forehead. He’s holding his front paws close to his chest. In the middle is a female hamster, completely white. On the far right is another female hamster who’s mostly white with yellow-tan ears and forehead. She’s wearing a pink scarf. All 3 hamsters are huddled together conspiratorially.]
Penelope is missing.
She’s always getting into mischief. Sometimes she falls behind the computer desk, getting herself wedged between the wood panels and the wall. Sometimes I find her on the floor, rolling in dust, tempting the cats.
A friend gave her to me without realizing what he’d done. “It’s just a hamster…thing!” he said when I hugged him. “No!” I said. “It’s Penelope!”
Penelope is the youngest member of a hamster gang that call themselves the Ham-Hams. They have their own language and everything. While their kids are at school, the Ham-Hams all meet in a secret clubhouse and have parties, play games and help other animals and their people. I know this because I watched them do it all every day in their cartoon, Hamtaro. I was 21 at the time.
While I don’t think there were many Hamtaro fans in college besides me, a lot of people I knew liked cartoons–and not just the ones on Comedy Central or Adult Swim, either. “I didn’t know you were a Spongebobian!” I stage-whispered to someone working in the library, after we’d seen each other’s Spongebob Squarepants shirts and mimed our joy.
Sure, there were people openly declaring their love for Ren and Stimpy or Invader Zim, but that was safe. Those shows snuck so much gore, violence and (homo)sexual innuendo in through the back door that nobody’d question your status as an adult. But the girl who proclaimed to our English Lit class that she liked The Teletubbies? She had guts, man.
“I understand watching adult cartoons like The Simpsons or South Park,” the professor said, “but that doesn’t make sense.”
And this argument is what doesn’t make sense to me. Back in the 1940s when my grandma was a movie theater usherette, there was no such thing as an “adult” cartoon. There were no “kid” cartoons, either. The animated shorts starring Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse that played before the main feature were just cartoons. They satirised current events and popular personalities of the day; they had silly, inimitable acts of violence; they had talking, drinking, smoking animals. Heck, even Snow White had big boobs in a tight dress. There were no lines in the sand. A cartoon was for everyone.
Whenever I hear parents bemoan that their disabled kids like things that are “too young for them,” I think of the parents I know. The owner of the video game store who sings the theme song to JoJo’s Circus and says “I have a five-month old daughter. What’s your excuse?” perhaps tasting the irony. The friend who secretly changes the channel to The Backyardigans although her kids say, “Mommy, I don’t like this show.” People of all ages watch cartoons and read comics and collect stuffed animals and play video games. It’s just that some of us are more honest about it than others.
(Inspired by Ettina’s post here at Abnormaldiversity)