Scooby-Doo as Secular Kids Show

Over at Comics Alliance, an intriguing theory regarding Scooby-Doo:

Michael Ryan recently wrote a really interesting article that suggested the decision to keep real monsters off of Scooby-Doo was originally done in order to appease parents who wanted something that was just scary enough to keep a kid’s attention without being so scary that they wouldn’t actually get “excited.” They wanted to have the fun of monsters without the consequences of having to deal with nightmares like the parents of those kids who saw Simon Belmont hoisting up Dracula’s severed head on the cover of Nintendo Power. It was all meant to be like the televised equivalent of a Nerf Dracula, taking something that was supposed to be scary and blunting it down until the the big reveal at the end of every episode, which would show kids that the monsters they were scared of were just normal dudes.

It’s certainly possible to look at the show like that — as Ryan points out, there were critics when the show premiered back in 1969 that saw that as a selling point — but whether or not it was the intent of the creators, what they ended up with was something that went far beyond that idea.

Because that’s the thing about Scooby-Doo: The bad guys in every episode aren’t monsters, they’re liars.

I can’t imagine how scandalized those critics who were relieved to have something that was mild enough to not excite their kids would’ve been if they’d stopped for a second and realized what was actually going on. The very first rule of Scooby-Doo, the single premise that sits at the heart of their adventures, is that the world is full of grown-ups who lie to kids, and that it’s up to those kids to figure out what those lies are and call them on it, even if there are other adults who believe those lies with every fiber of their being. And the way that you win isn’t through supernatural powers, or even through fighting. The way that you win is by doing the most dangerous thing that any person being lied to by someone in power can do: You think.

But it’s not just that the crooks in Scooby-Doo are liars; nobody ever shows up to bilk someone out of their life savings by pretending to be a Nigerian prince or something. It’s always phantasms and Frankensteins, and there’s a very good reason for that. The bad guys in Scooby-Doo prey on superstition, because that’s the one thing that an otherwise rational person doesn’t really think through. It’s based on belief, not evidence, which is a crucial element for the show. If, for example, someone knocks on your door and claims to be a police officer, you’re going to want to see a badge because that’s the tangible evidence that you’ve come to expect to prove their claim. If, however, you hold the belief that the old run-down theater has a phantom in the basement, then the existence of that phantom himself — or at least a reasonably convincing costume — is all the evidence that you need to believe that you were right all along. The bad guys are just reinforcing a belief that the other characters already have, and that they don’t need any evidence before because it’s based in superstition, not reason.

Link via Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing.