Saturday, February 18, 2006

Captain Sanctimony

I saw something today that took me back:

... a Captain Planet magazine.

'Captain Planet and the Planeteers', a TV show airing in the early 1990s on American and Australian television, should probably have been renamed 'Captain Sanctimony and the Gormless Gits'. Plot-wise, the show was about five 'special young people' who were out to save the world from environmental catastrophe, with the help of a magical blue guy in superhero underwear (Captain Planet). The young people were said to be 'from all continents of the world', though in fact the Australian continent was somehow missed out. As for the 'special young people', they were actually generic ethnic stereotypes - the pragmatic blonde Eastern European girl (Linka), the fast-talking American lad (Wheeler), the fun-loving Asian girl (Gi), the shy but gentle young native South American (Kwami) and the boisterous African (Ma-Ti). Gi was kind of hot, but she had the disadvantage of being named after a type of Indian butter. The Earth was personified by a bland brown lady in wafty pink gowns called Gaia who was always moaning about some environmental disaster or other, and the environmental disasters were always caused by one of several standard villains with names like 'Looten Plunder'. And of course there was Captain Planet. I'm still not sure where he fitted in, except that he was always the guy that saved the day.

So basically, it was environmental propaganda. The 'evil' of environmental destruction and the 'goodness' of saving the planet were explained simplistically by the help of an over-obvious plot and representative caricatures. The whole idea - which was probably contrived in a North American or Canadian studio as a means of conveying 'environmental awareness' to children - started to come apart at the seams when the 'how' was explained. For instance, 'how' was Captain Planet always there to save the world? Apparently, it was because of the 'five special rings' given to 'five special young people' representing the 'powers of the earth', or something. These rings were able to zap people with colourful beams of light, and stuff, and also do really awesome things like make waves or tornados; so I guess they were kind of magic rings. And the beams could occasionally combine, at which point Captain Planet would somehow materialise out of the earth, or the ocean, or the air, or somewhere like that, with the grammatically ridiculous sentence, 'By your special powers combined, I am Captain Planet!'
Captain Planet was a shit. He had a smarmy American accent: not a real American accent, like a rolling Missouri drawl or a sharp Bronx twang, but the sort that lobotomised news presenters are trained to use*. He was always doing goody-goody things like cleaning up junk and litter and stopping bad guys from doing polluting, and stuff like that. More often than not, this required a bit of biff; and he always smiled and cracked jokes while doing this, as if he were very pleased with himself. Ever heard the expression 'too good to be true'? Well, Captain Planet was neither good nor true; he was an arrogant, smarmy bastard. And he had blue skin.

Captain Planet's best enemy was a guy called 'Captain Pollution'. Captain Pollution was really cool. As his name suggests, he was the absolute opposite of Captain Planet. Except he came out of five magic rings too, although these magic rings were 'polluting' magic rings. Captain Pollution had the slogan 'By your five polluting powers combined, I am Captain PoLUUUUUUUtion!'. It was a witty reference to Captain Planet's slogan, you see. Or at least as close as this show came to wit. Anyway, one cool thing about Captain Pollution was the way he spoke. He made it clear from the start that polluting was his job, and he absolutely and utterly loved his job. He was perfect; his accent was a mixture of melodramatic bad-guy growl, obnoxious schoolboy mocking, and Californian surfer. He had personality, and he actually believed in something. True, it was something bad and nasty and evil, like destroying the planet earth, but it was one thing more than Captain Planet believed in. Captain Planet was all pose; Pollution was real. Plus, Captain Pollution was the only guy who was ever able to kick Captain Planet's arse. Which he did twice, thanks to the efforts of the polluting villains and the scriptwriters (who by the end of the second season must have been running out of ideas anyway.)

So there you go; Captain Planet and the Planeteers, one of the shittier shows to burst onto Australian television screens. I wouldn't mind seeing a spin-off, though: maybe a sitcom called 'Captain Pollution in Hawaii', or 'Captain Pollution Does Something Bad', or something like that.

*Sorry to American readers if I got this bit about accents wrong; I actually don't know a great deal about American accents, so I'm only going on my very brief experience with Americans I've met and TV shows.


rascuache said...

I was once told by an American that most of the news readers in america, doesnt matter what station they were on, were from Chicago. There is something about the chicago accent that is inoffensive and so perfect for reading the news. Think of ben stiller in meet the parents...thats the accent.

American accents are fascinating. they differ from new york to california, georgia to illionois to missippi to kentucky and utah to minnesota and texas to florida...the southern ones have more of drawl, the californians are contrived whilst the boston and new york accents are quite quick and almost aggressive. The midwest are probably the ones with the least amount character. Of Course, never confuse the northern accents with canadians...they will punch you.

TimT said...

Yes, I think a lot of Aussies have the perception that there is an 'American' accent and they just leave it at that, but it's just not true at all. Like I said, I don't know much about them, but I could probably identify a few of the more common: Texan, one or two of the New York accents, Californian ...

There are a few good books that have really given me a sense of an American accent: Huckleberry Finn, anything by Annie Proulx. I love reading American books in general, because of the tone which they have: the way American writers use formal words like 'automobile' and 'street car'; the spelling (simple, but a little curious from an Australian and British perspective); and the colloquial phrases: "It's swell to be here on such a fine day!" An Aussie couldn't say that and get away with it ...

lemuel said...

Ugh. *Thanks* for reminding me about this show. Before I saw "Captain Planet" I was a regular nature loving kid. This show cured me and everytime I was unfortunate enough to glimpse an episode I had to crush a plant or squeeze a bug or something like that just to feel normal again.
Now I feel like cutting down a tree or two again.

TimT said...

Cut down one for me, would you?

I was never a nature loving kid. I used to love kicking ant nests. Maybe I found their stings hallucinogenic, or something.

Jellyfish said...

Oh my god, devastated I did not see this post earlier. My younger brother, the Boy Wonder, and I are like, obsessed with this show. He can do perfect imitations of all the voices:

'Wind!' 'Wah-tah!' 'Hearrt!' etc

and the way they announced the characters. Linka's changed too, it was originally, 'From the Soviet Republic!... Linka!' and then one day it was suddenly the more vague, 'From Eastern Europe!'

If we get very excited we'll even wave our 'magic rings' around and say, 'With our powers combined...!'

We probably need help.

Anyway. It wasn't that bad a show. It had a nice enough little message - I mean, come on, its not propaganda if it's RIGHT* - it was just a little lamely rendered. The animation wasn't crash hot, and Captain Planet was always kind of a let down. He'd rush in to save the day, and then get all poisoned or sapped of energy, and pant, 'I... can't... go on...' and then they'd be all, 'Let's save the day ourselves!' So - why not just save it to begin with! Pfeh! My brother would yell at the tv, 'You suck, Captain Planet! You're weak! You SUCK!'

Also - am I correct in thinking that he originally had mullet hair but then they updated it? You'd think a dedicated charity worker would be above that kind of vanity.

And how about that website. Makes it look all trendy and retro. Hah.

*I am aware that this is potentially a problematic argument, heh.

TimT said...

... and the voices of the character changed too, and didn't Wheeler have a crush on Linka? And Linka was all, 'Get away from me, you stupid American', but she liked him too. Also, one of the baddies was in love with her computer.

It doesn't matter that much that it was propaganda, because kids saw through it.

Actually, I grew up watching G-Force. Imagine calling a show 'G-Force' now, would they be able to get away with it?

Nilk said...

I guess Captain Planet and the gang wouldn't like my version of gardening - I take great delight in pruning.

So far, I've pruned 1 shrub out of the ground, 2 shrubs almost to the ground, and I've begun on the honeysuckle hedge out the front. It's looking good, and fitting in with the neighbourhood nicely.

TimT said...

I'll have you know each blade of grass that is separated from the ground makes Gaia weep! You watch out, those planeteers will come for you next!

Curseman said...

Captain Planet is hilarious in how transparent the propoganda is.

By the way, Kwame is the one from africa and Ma-Ti is the one from south america.

viagra online said...

I loved the show because I felt identified with the characters. I think it is nice to see all they do to preserve the planet. I felt responsible of doing something too.

Captain Planet rules said...

You Captain Planet haters are a bunch of closed-minded, judgmental, biased, and fucked-up liars. His shows may not be my favorite programs. But I have reason to support them. After all, they were created for good reason.

Without the Captain Planet shows to promote environmentalism, lots of people would continue to mess up Earth. Is that the kind of world you haters wanna live in?

As for you TimT, those ants whose homes you demolished the shit out of oughtta do the same thing to you. I mean, how the hell would you like it if they did that to your home?

Think about what I'm telling you.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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