Maybe people really are just caught up in the nostagia machine, but I bet reading one of those gives you about two seconds of emotion before you remember that we live in a world with 24-hour cable channels with cartoons, and even more importantly, this is the fucking internet. We have the means to access even the most obscure popular media. Trust me, I have.
I’m not even going to bother to address the whole “FCC is to blame” thing, because that shit’s been in effect since the ’70s in one form or another. Frankly, if anyone really wants to ruin their own childhood, go back and actually watch some of those old cartoons. Go check out the incredibly awful (and oddly homoerotic) animation on He-Man. Try watching the Smurfs without sympathizing with Gargamel. Try a few episodes of the original TMNT and try to tell me Michael Bay has ruined it for you.
Look, there were plenty, plenty of good cartoons. But there was also a lot of schlock. And it really didn’t matter for a long time, because like every kid from 1974 through the early ’90s, I was up at 6 or 7 watching Gummi Bears or Muppets or some really odd dubbed anime, and the TV would be on until 11 or 12 whether I was still in the room or not. Eventually, kids around my age started to grow out of it. Some of us decided cartoons were for kids, and we were certainly not kids. Some of us found better quality shows elsewhere. We got interested in video games. And then the internet. In the mid ’90s, Nickelodeon had some unstoppable shows: Doug, Ren and Stimpy, the unfortunately popular Rugrats, Pete and Pete. Cartoon Network was becoming more than a classic Bugs Bunny channel. Prior to that, TBS, TNN, USA, and TNT all had block of various old cartoons at one time or another. There were options if you wanted to watch animated shows. And frankly, the best stuff was shown in the afternoons anyway: Batman TAS, the old Disney blocks (Ducktales, etc.), Tiny Toons and Animaniacs… cartoons that were ambitous, that were given budgets. Not just “make 30 episodes for kids based on this R-rated movie”, or “hey, let’s rip off this other cartoon about pirates/mutants/personified animals”.
My point is, the Saturday morning cartoon ritual is a thing that’s been more or less dead for a long time. But that’s fine. We got better. I’d like to think this is a sign that as a culture we’ve gotten more discerning, more able to appreciate good animation and writing and ideas and went looking for it elsewhere. Or realized that there are other things to do on Saturday mornings. Either way, I think that’s progress.
As an aside, I pointed out that The Legend of Korra ran it’s first two seasons on Nickelodeon, and despite it’s popularity and critical acclaim, the third season was only streamed on their website (they’ll do the same with the fourth season). Which means I get to watch it. Thanks, future.