okay, so i'm watching cartoon network, and on comes a show i hadn't ever seen or heard of before - 'duel masters.' the whole premise of the show is that the power of the universe is harnessed by a card game (a la 'magic: the gathering'). it follows the 'adventures' of a few especially powerful card players. that's it.
i don't even know where to begin.
for a long time (i.e., since my childhood), cartoons have been made expressly for the purpose of selling something - usually, action figures. 'transformers,' 'g.i. joe,' 'my little pony,' 'care bears,' and so on. in some of these cases - 'transformers,' and occasionally 'g.i. joe' - the result was actually GOOD. beyond that, however, these shows at least made an effort at trying to tell a story. in the case of 'transformers,' it was actually a pretty good story, too - warring factions stranded on a primitive planet (earth) light years away from the world they're fighting for, trying to acquire energy to bring back to their world. but i digress.
even in the case of the other shows, there was a sustaining narrative unrelated to the buying and selling of merchandise. the cartoons were in some ways half-hour commercials - but cleverly designed, with narrative. you might buy a bumblebee figure, but you weren't just buying a piece of die-cast metal (later plastic) - you were buying an attractive character, someone you could empathize with. to the extent that it's possible to empathize with a cartoon character eight-foot-tall transforming robot.
the thing that's disturbing, then, about 'duel masters,' is it's incredible cynicism. it doesn't even try to exist as an attractive narrative outside of the selling and buying of product - there is absolutely no pretense of that.
instead, it exists entirely within the context of selling and buying the product - the entire show is about its use. i suppose this is only another half-step from pokemon - where the characters from a card game came to some sort of life, and were used in battles more or less identical to card-play - but for me that half-step is a big one. and i suppose it was only inevitable that this sort of cynical exercise occurred, eventually.
but it's still pretty frickin' tawdry - i mean, cartoon network is PAYing for this show, which is not just essentially a commercial, but enTIREly a commercial.
it's especially annoying when cartoon network has so much good original content ('samurai jack,' is one of the best shows on any network, period, and this new 'mucha lucha' show looks pretty sweet).

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