This week on “Cartoons Today are So Much Better Than in the 90’s”; Nickelodeon’s family-comedy serial The Loud House manages to get the obligatory “modern technology” storyline right! It seems like ever since smartphones ushered in the social media lifestyle, cartoons never managed to get through an episode dedicated to the topic without muttering about dang kids and getting off lawns.
While there there’s usually a begrudging acceptance of modern technology, the Boomer mentality always seems to get the moral high ground based on how social media is supposedly turning kids into zombies/snowflakes/communists. The adults in the show tend to always be the wise ones when the younger protagonists inevitably delve too deep into their vidja-ma-games or Facebook analogues.
So how does The Loud House do it better? To summarize the relevant episode: dad determines the kids are using their electronic devices too much. Bans them. Kids hold a meeting and decide the way to get the ban revoked is to show dad how useful and entertaining the devices are. They succeed, and dad becomes too hooked on everything the kids wanted to be doing. Roles reversed, the kids have triggered the Aesop and now must acknowledge their own shortcomings and work to overcome them in someone else. They succeed, a Healthy and Reasonable Medium is struck. This is the first time I’ve personally seen an Aesop-based show acknowledge the positive aspects of technology, rather than making jokes about teens being “phone zombies” or oversharing everything on social media. The episode was written by people who are actually comfortable with technology and likely grew up with it from a young age, rather than having it “thrust upon them” once they were already an adult. This episode also avoids the equally-annoying stereotype of an adult being completely technologically-illiterate; once Lynn Sr., the father, learns how engaging technology can be, he quickly becomes an aficionado, even using “social media slang” in unironic ways (i.e. not just trying to mock the younger generation, but doing it for his own fulfillment).
Ultimately, the children and parent reach the conclusion together that a good balance can be achieved between online life and offline family time, with no one being the “I told you so”er. The show acknowledges the substance behind older folks’ anxieties that stem from seeing such a dramatic shift in a whole generation’s focus into a digital world that adults at the time had no knowledge of or control over. And then the show addresses that by bringing the adult into that world and showing them why the kids are so into it, and how he can use it just as well as they can. Personal technology and social media ten years ago probably felt like a fad to people who had already been around for decades. It’s almost 2018 now, and copping that attitude now feels trite. It’s high time we adopted more mature and informed standards on digital lifestyles that now connect the world, control markets and influence elections. As always, cartoons serve as an excellent barometer of changing social values.