Sunday, February 18, 2007

The most contemplative bumpers...

This is a short post, as I'm busy trying to rebuild my studio into something for better and more frequent Cartoon Geeks podcasts. There are three types of bumpers on the Adult Swim service, and they promote three different mindsets.

The most famous ones are the white-type-on-black-screen bumps, the ones with the wiseass comments and self-commentary about AS programs. These are the ones that made the square-brackets [adult swim] logo famous.

Recently, these have gotten more tame and less outrageous. This should be a cause for concern. These are the simplest things to do, costing perhaps five minutes on a computer, and two minutes in the music library. The only thing I can assume is that the Williams Street facility is too tense to allow the usual jaunty attitude.

The Williams Street folks should be tense. The live-action shows that have replaced animated shows have had a few airings, and they are pretty bad. Saul and the Mole People deliberately copies other children's programming - the Sid and Marty Krofft shows with cheap chroma-key over miniature backgrounds, huge papier-mache heads on the "monsters," and campy dialogue delivered campily. The only thing added are a few blood and sex references. This would have been a forgettable sketch run very late on Saturday Night Live with no sequels. But AS is continuing to make it, because it's cheaper than animation.

Realizing that real animation work is getting scarce around Williams Street, of course they can't be terribly happy. They may also know some horrible things about the forthcoming Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie that were intended to be glossed over by that incompetent Moonanite ad campaign.

Okay, besides those bumpers are the ones done for the "Action" programming block. These are far more abstract, using assorted images and icons moving around the screen. These aren't for specific shows, but just "label" the action shows. These are really attractive, but they haven't been updated in about a year.

The third category of bumpers is what promted this meditation. They are modified photographs of deserted locations. Street corners at three AM, the street lights throwing pools of light onto deserted sidewalks. Mount Fuji at 6:02 AM, overlooking one of the businest cities in the world while it is still struggling to awaken. In this category are also pictures of deserted factories and rural barns, often with the words "Adult Swim" Photoshopped someplace inconspicuous into the picture. These are accompanied with very minimal music, sometimes someone noodling a few slow chords over a piano.

These are the most interesting to me, because they represent a truth about these late-night shows. They are, for the most part, for lonely insomniacs.

I knew this feeling in high school and college, as I stayed up late, too bothered to go to sleep because I felt that I hadn't really accomplished anything in the day. TV stations obliged me, with some of the cheapest and most oddball movies and programs running overnight on Friday and Saturday night. Back when most TV stations signed off sometime during the night, the last entertainment show of the program day was called a "spot carrier," a place to run any leftover commercials. They always seemed like places to meditate, think about your life, and try to sum up the day, as Number Six tried to escape The Village, or some anonymous adventurer was caught in an intrigue with some Middle Eastern model trying to become an actress.

That's the same appeal as the anime action cartoons run by AS late-night. The tragic romance of Cowboy Bebop, the serious struggles in Full Metal Alchemist, even the existential rigamarole of Paranoia Agent, all touch the soul of the lonely insomniac. Not as noisy as American movies, not as intrusive as American TV series. And the photo bumpers? They're very much what we insomniacs would see if we looked out our windows to see the world abandoned by those people who are blessed by sleep.