Ink and Paint: Thoughts on a Curious Fandom

I have a deep guilty fondness for Captain Planet. It's cheesy, super-simplified with how it handles major issues (especially the social ones), and it wears its intentions not so much on its sleeve as on its chest in day-glo neon. But there's something about it I always enjoyed. I don't know if it's the "international team" setup (which I've had a fondness for from reading years & years of X-books) or the sheer sincerity of it all in trying to teach complicated things at all. Or maybe I like a lot of the VAs they used to replace most of the celebrities once they got bored. But it's something I like, and its reputation as a cultural laughing stock even among those of us who agree with its messages kind of makes that embarrassing to admit.

When I was trying to do MSTings (back when they were formatted like USENet conversations) back in college, I'd go through different fandoms that weren't being used as regular subjects by other writers, and this naturally led me to Captain Planet.  There wasn't much (most of it was sappy Wheeler/Linka romance stories, of course), but what there was could be usable. Unfortunately, this was right around when Website Number 9, the main MSTing community hub, went down, so the project was eventually dropped.  But I realized I was seeing a strange trend among the fanfic writers for this show, one I highly doubt you'd see today:

Most of the Captain Planet fans who liked it enough to write about it were young Evangelicals.

There were only a few hints of it in stories - new characters that were author proxies mentioning how they preferred Christian rock bands and such - but the bios of the authors usually revealed their faith and its prominent role in their lives.  There's nothing wrong this at all; it just always struck me as odd that a series like Captain Planet had such a noticeable following among a demographic that I would think would be discouraged from viewing it.  (Sidenote: many of these authors also enjoyed the old Zelda cartoon that was part of the Super Mario Bros Super Show back in the day, so maybe there was a tendency to enjoy shows where an obvious couple communicates largely in bickering...?)

There is a strong Evangelical line in my own family, and they're usually discouraged from viewing things that have:

  • A. magic, implied or obvious stated, as a part of the world;
  • B. a theology that isn't expressly Christian & even then expressly Protestant;
  • C. an emphasis on multiculturalism; and 
  • D. environmentalism of any kind.

All of these are pretty much baked into Captain Planet as a series. The existence of Cap & of the kids' rings is pretty much magic; Gaia is "the spirit of the Earth", which could be interpreted as espousing an animistic faith/philosophy; the kids are all about respecting each others' cultural differences as part of their mission; and teaching about environmentalism is the entire point of the show. (There's also the fact it's a superhero show of sorts, which automatically equals "too violent" to them, but that's not as major as the other reasons.) There's no way (at least with my relatives) that they would dare let their kids watch this. 

I don't think that these complaints (except maybe the last one) are unique to the modern times, either. I distinctly remember there being complaints about "forced diversity" and the mere existence of Gaia when the show started airing (along with outright conspiracy nonsense about "brainwashing our children", of course). And anything "magical" of any kind has always bizarrely been considered a gateway to evil by Evangelical circles - remember the anti-D&D stuff of the 80s? So why were so many of these Evangelical kids watching & enjoying Captain Planet? Was it something they watched on the sly and only felt safe acknowledging that they enjoyed online?  I'd love to know, since it something that always piqued my curiosity.

It's a strange little cul de sac that my brain revisits every time I think about Captain Planet, and it's something I thought I should share. It just struck me as an interesting contrast.

Comments

  1. Wow that is pretty interesting. I can't think of how the Evangelical angle would work with "Captain Planet". As you mentioned they can find sinister elements in just about any pop entertainment. That said, I watched the show a bit when I was younger. I think it was on before something else, so I usually caught the second half of it. I enjoyed it well enough. I found it cheesy even back then, but there was some creative storylines in there to make sure the environmental message was packed in there nice and obvious.

    The big question is, would you rather watch two episodes of "Captain Planet" or "Ferngully" again?

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    1. Oof. Captain Planet any day over Ferngully. At least there were other Planeteers to offset Wheeler instead of being stuck with a smackable "hero" for 90 minutes. It's a show I give a lot of points for trying, especially when it was obvious that they bit off a bit more than they could chew (for example, any episode handling social issues like racism & poverty). But yeah, like I said, deep guilty pleasure.

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