Written July 1995, © Howard Roberts.
It's not often that watching "Scooby Doo" reminds one (rather pretentiously, I might add) of a phrase attributed to a long-deceased English writer and clergyman. In fact, I would have given you better odds on Bernard Manning becoming the next Head of Equal Opportunities at Manchester City Council than Sydney Smith's quotation popping into my head at the unintentional behest of a canine cartoon character. The quotation attributed to this gentleman (I am fairly certain he was a gentleman, though my impressions of nineteenth century clergymen are largely gathered from the works of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy ) is "What is childhood but a series of happy delusions?". At this point I might as well explain just what the hell I'm talking about.
This curious event happened while I was feeding my newly arrived baby daughter. As with all young children she is prone to wild bursts of uncontrollable limb-flailing. This makes it necessary to use both hands while feeding her; one to hold the bottle and the other to try and restrain her more enthusiastic dervish-like motions. Anyway, because both my hands are engaged in the feeding process, I am unable to read a book and I find myself watching television at around the same time each day. We have recently had the dubious pleasures of cable television inflicted upon us and while flicking through the (largely-uninspiring) forty-four channels I came across a little gem named "The Cartoon Channel" showing a Hanna-Barbera cartoon called "Scooby Doo: Where are You?".
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the delights of the mahouts of "The Mystery Machine" let me elucidate. There are five members of this little aggregation. There is Fred, a square-jawed all-American blond hunk with a nifty line in cravats. Next is Daphne, a foxy flame-haired beauty with long eyelashes. The second female member is a frumpy little number going by the name of Thelma who hides behind thick-lensed black-framed Harry Palmer-style glasses. Finally, among the human members at least, is a rather curious individual named Shaggy. Shaggy is a sartorial disaster who appears to be an amalgam of a Vietnam draft-dodger, a member of the Grateful Dead fan club, the Cowardly Lion and Michael Foot. Scooby Doo, is a huge dog of indeterminate breed (though there appears to be a large dollop of hound in his genes) and remarkable intelligence. He understands all the usual ordinances in the established canine vocabulary but also appears to be able to respond in partial sentences. However, his diction is appalling; I have heard more realistic renditions of "sausages" from the pitiful mutts shown on "That's Life".
The gang seems to have no permanent employment but drives from episode to episode in a rather garishly decorated van (the aforementioned "Mystery Machine") encountering situations of paranormal activity with startling regularity (one per episode, in fact). These episodes usually follow a formula where the locals are being frightened away from a particularly gloomy spot. The most popular spots are deserted amusement parks, old museums and abandoned mansions. Someone usually pops up to warn the gang of a legend that the location is haunted, whereupon the apparition promptly appears and splits the gang up. Fred and Daphne become separated from Shaggy, Thelma and Scooby Doo who are chased by the ghost until cornered. Shaggy and Scooby Doo are inveterate cowards who quake and quiver at the slightest hint of the supernatural. Their being cornered is the cue for Scooby Doo to be offered a "Scooby Snack" (a rather suspicious-looking biscuit) if he can get them out of trouble. These snacks must be the modern equivalent of Popeye's spinach as Scooby Doo becomes a Victoria Cross nominee once he swallows one. He bamboozles the hapless apparition and they all escape and run into Fred and Daphne. At this point they discover a clue and begin to suspect that the ghost/werewolf/alien monster is not the supernatural being it appears to be. They work out an elaborate trap for the spectre and lure it in. The trap always has a weak spot that seems to let the beastie escape until Scooby Doo, in the midst of a fit of cowardice somehow accidentally traps it and renders it helpless. At this point the police arrive and help to de-mask the villain who turns out to be the person who attempted to warn the gang off when they first arrived on location. The scoundrel is usually a nearby neighbour or close relative of the owner of the location who has been trying to scare them into selling it to them so they can sell it themselves to shady developers who want to knock the construction down to build a supermarket.
Now, after this rather sketchy plot synopsis you may be entitled to wonder whether there is a point to this rambling discourse. If you cast your eyes back approximately 700 words you will recall that I mentioned a certain Sydney Smith's inquiry; "What is childhood but a series of happy delusions?". Now the last time I saw an episode of "Scooby Doo" was probably in 1975 after a day at primary school. I loved Scooby Doo and his friends then, and looking back, all my memories are of the chases and the trapping of the luckless neighbour/cousin. Now, when I watch, I notice that Fred and Daphne disappear out of the story for a whole ten minutes and return into the fray just in time to help the rest of the gang capture the villain. What are they doing when they're alone? Are they taking advantage of the empty "Mystery Machine" to test the suspension with a bout of energetic carnal relations? Why does Thelma's body language seem to imply a suppressed fear whenever a man comes near her? Furthermore, Shaggy is clearly an LSD casualty. His vacant eyes and surreal quips are a dead giveaway. And just what do these "Scooby Snacks" consist of? Has Shaggy, in a psychotic flashback, baked berserker mushrooms into them? Has anyone informed the Animal Liberation Front?
When you watch a familiar children's program from a distance of twenty years and end up wondering about the sex life of two of the main characters, you begin to wonder what two extra decades of life experiences can do to your perceptions. Is "Scooby Doo" just a TV "series of happy delusions" for children or did its creators intend a darker adult side to their stories? Whether I'm reading adult meaning into a childrens' programme all I can conclude is that if someone offered me a Scooby Snack, I'd think twice about it.
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