When it comes to entertainment, it’s safe to say we’re living in a new golden age. Whether you’re looking for a TV show or a movie, a video game or a novel, we’ve got everything you could ever need and then some. Larger-than-life dramas like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad have brought us film-level storytelling on the small screen.
Children’s programming is becoming more nuanced. Now is truly a great time for entertainment media, now is a good time for art. While we often squabble about what is or is not art, about what is even capable of being art, it’s safe to say that we all generally agree upon what art looks like, so often when we squabble, it’s purely because someone wants a given work of art to be deemed inferior to protect their own worldview, and I’m here to tell you that art is everywhere. You may even find something better than dressing up in your Saks Off 5th outfit for a night at the movies.
First and foremost, there’s the king (or queen) of “this is not art,” video games. Video games have come a long way from the cookie cutter “save the princess” plots of yesteryear. While the “games should be fun” mentality does open the door to pure entertainment, there’s also plenty of room for more artistic endeavors. For example, there’s the Souls series, consisting of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1-3, and Bloodborne.
These games challenge the notion of fun by presenting the player with an absurd difficulty level and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Pair this with a bleak setting and narrative, and you’ve got a pretty oppressive experience. However, it becomes worth it when your successes are hard-won and rewards you with deeper glimpses into the mysterious world. These games also avoid spelling out the story for you, telling you only what you need to know to complete the game, and sometimes not even then, demanding that players in search of the story are going to have to work for it by reading seemingly innocuous descriptions and looking out for visual cues built into in-game environments.
Then, there’s the revolution in children’s media to look at. Starting, to my knowledge, with Adventure Time, children’s programming has undergone a change. The adventure started out fairly typical in terms of kids’ shows, but it gradually began tackling darker themes, especially those that apply to the children and teenage audiences. This has opened the door for others, such as Steven Universe, to start tackling more complex subject matter from the word go.
If you’re thinking you’ve seen such subject matter in older cartoons, allow me to nip that thought in the bud and say that low-key dirty jokes kids are meant not to understand are not the same thing. Quite the opposite, really. What I’m describing is an example of children’s programming that actually seems to give kids the credit they deserve, because they can, and sometimes must understand these heavier topics, and it’s about time we start recognizing that.