me, satire is a powerful tool and it's not sufficiently used; it's not
just for late-night jokes but really to promote fundamental change.
And it's inevitable that when you attempt to change the status quo,
you're going to make some people upset. That's the price of change."
music business is run by lawyers and accountants, and they don't really
care about the integrity of art."
can make nicely crafted things, whether they're poems, sculptures, paintings,
records, CDs, whatever. But they'll just be that -- nice. They won't
be unwieldy as personal expression often can be."
do a toilet bowl and a woman's vagina have in common? They both need
to be cleaned with Lysol."
a done deal. By the end of 2003, Saddam Hussein will either be out of
power or out of the realm of the living. So who's next in line for the
coveted position of dictator -- uh, leader -- of Iraq, home to the largest
supply of crude reserves on Earth? Here's the list of nominees."
a segment that seems designed to honor yet another one of rock and roll's
seminal yet fallen heroes, MTV just can't help talking about why it,
not Nirvana, mattered so much."
white people, it will be different. They will be advised to refer to
the U.S. Federal Standard 595B Color Chart (or the Ralph Lauren color
chip guide at Home Depot) to determine the range of colors permissible
in a potential spouse."
that's where some of the roots of this are: bizarre delusions in the
minds of people with too much time on their hands that somehow I deprived
them of being major label rock stars."
other words, Heavy Metal 2000 is a movie built, like Julie Strain,
to satisfy the pleasure of our friend dick. Its depth, as postmodernists
used to enjoy arguing, lies on the surface; that's where its signifiers
float and that's where the horny eyeballs land."
Lesson On The Concept of "Relatability": Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein,
have a calling, and when it comes to the dynamic duo of Bill Oakley
and Josh Weinstein, there can be no doubt as to what it is: comedy.
Their partnership dates back to St. Albans High in D.C., where they
founded the Alban Antic, a humor magazine. From there they landed writing
stints at the infamous SPY Magazine (also the
satirical homeland for frequent Morphizm contributor, Tom McNichol)
and National Lampoon, before hitting the creative motherlode in 1992
as writers for that venerable comedic institution, The Simpsons. Their
tenure at the House of Homer included gigs as story editors, supervising
producers, as well as executive producers for the seventh and eighth
seasons, before they moved on to Matt Groening's red-headed brainchild,
Futurama, and then, of course, their own hilarious, clever, satirical
and kickass show, Mission Hill.
Airing on the
WB for one season before the fools cancelled it, the underrated satire's
thirteen episodes were wisely
resuscitated by Cartoon Network for their daring Adult Swim bloc.
To date, Oakley and Weinstein have another five episodes partially completed
and are hoping for a relatively modest investment from the network to
keep the ball rolling. Cartoon Network has so far held off on the creation
of further installments, but if you dig Mission Hill as much as Morphizm
does, send them an email.
whatever you do, check out this interview with two of the nicest guys
you'll probably ever meet. And remember to keep your eyes peeled. Like
I said, some people have a calling.
Sandra Fu: Would
you characterize your show as adult animation vs., say, cartoons?
Bill Oakley: I think that our show is the definitive adult animation.
It's not appropriate for kids and has the equivalent of a TV R rating,
even though it aired at 8PM when they first put it on the WB. They were
Josh Weinstein: It's also unlike The Simpsons, which has
kids and adults. Mission Hill has very little for young kids.
For teenagers and up, yes, but nothing for the under 12 set.
Weapon of choice. "Satire
requires you to know what is being satirized. And we basically
to satirize all the stuff that wasn't being tackled on The
Simpsons, which is mostly alternative lifestyles, youth culture,
the underground, MTV, videos."
Like, for example, when Kevin is lying in bed listening to Gus and Wally
argue over condoms. Not really for kids.
BO: Plus -- though there's some slapstick -- there's not nearly
as much as there is in a show that appeals to kids. However, it also
teaches us a valuable lesson about why adult animation doesn't seem
to really succeed on prime-time network television.
JW: You have to get the kids involved.
BO: That's the thing. The Simpsons has a big audience.
Well, first of all, The Simpsons is now an institution, so it
defies all traditional things. However, I think The Simpsons
attracts -- or it used to -- every kid in the universe, some of their
parents and then some grown-ups too. But if kids didn't watch it, the
ratings wouldn't be very good. My suspicion is if adults who didn't
have children were watching The Simpsons, their audience would
be miniscule. And that's the audience we had for Mission Hill,
SF: So it
would be mostly college-age viewers.
BO: And they don't wire colleges for Neilsen ratings. Like the
way Conan O'Brien's ratings go way up when Spring Break hits and college
students are home. The adult audience on primetime television never
worked for adult animation shows. But that's why when Cartoon Network
invented Adult Swim, it became the perfect outlet for our kind
are your thoughts on Adult Swim's offerings? Any favorites?
BO: Well, we worked on Futurama. I love Futurama,
and I'm thrilled that it's on there. It's another show that I think
is perfect for Adult Swim. I have only seen a little bit of Sealab
and Harvey Birdman, but both are very funny.
you had much interaction with Cartoon Network?
BO: Not really. The show was sold by Warner Brothers to Cartoon
Network, who really liked it, and we were sort of on the periphery.
But we're happy to be a part of the family. We like when they put our
characters in the promos and things.
JW: I let my little kids watch Cartoon Network all the time.
They've been so nice to us.
BO: Yeah, we're big supporters of Cartoon Network. I watch a
ton of the children's stuff.
JW: We like Power Puff Girls, and my kids are obsessed
with Samurai Jack, which is actually really good animation. There's
very little talking, but it's a lot of action and it's really beautiful
to watch. There is so much better animation now for kids then when we
were growing up.
SF: So where
did you get the idea for Mission Hill, and how did the finished
product turn out?
BO: Well, we worked on The Simpsons for many seasons,
and one of the things that we always ran into was that there were no
characters between the ages of 10 and 35.
JW: Except for Otto.
BO: Except for Otto, the bus driver, and Jimbo -- who's twelve--
but that's it. Out of the two hundred characters on The Simpsons,
there are no others. We always thought that there are so many stories
that could be told with a smart show like The Simpsons, with
characters of this age group. So we constructed a show entirely out
of the types of people that were not on The Simpsons, the main
characters being Andy and Kevin, twenty-four and seventeen, who are
two different sides of the spectrum -- the hipster/slacker and the high
funny how they riff off one another.
BO: Yeah, they're a good combination, but a lot of people found
Kevin very annoying. Which I felt was a problem, but it doesn't matter
now. I think people don't like to be annoyed quite as much as we thought
they did. So with Mission Hill we chose high school -- which
was something that was never covered in The Simpsons -- crummy
first jobs, romance and dating, that sort of thing. And then we added
Jim, Posey, Gus and Wally, and Carlos and Natalie to, like it says on
our website, "simultaneously satirize and embrace the world of youth
culture." Which is what it did. A lot of the inspirations for the show
were alternative comics, like 8-Ball and Hate, which we
used for the design and the writing. But we learned after the show was
already cancelled that there's only about five thousand people in all
of America that are familiar with that stuff!
This ain't your father's Tom and Jerry. "The
WB didn't have any problems with Gus and Wally, because it was
a cartoon. Although nobody knows this, we actually had network
televisions first gay male kiss in the first episode. That was
the first gay male kiss ever broadcast on television and nobody
cares because they didn't see the show."
SF: But even
if you're not familiar with those names, you can appreciate the comedy
anyway. How about the setting? I immediately thought of San Francisco.
BO: Yeah, it's like the Mission District. Every big city has
a neighborhood like that. But I think a lot of people didn't know what
we were doing, who we were parodying or satirizing; they weren't familiar
with the setting, didn't understand the comedy and didn't know what
was going on. And with primetime television, where you've got to have
an audience of several million people, it didn't cut it. But with Adult
Swim, you don't need to worry about that.
JW: I think if you're a young, disaffected person between twenty
and thirty living in a city, then you can relate to Mission Hill.
But people outside of that world just didn't get it. That's what we
find from our fan mail, that's always who it is.
BO: It's a big lesson on the concept of "relatability", which
we didn't really believe in until Mission Hill. People like comedy
that they can relate to on some level. Because most of our emails are
from people who are either struggling cartoonists like Andy, have brothers
like Kevin, or are stoners like Jim. And that's it. I would say that
seventy percent of our several thousand cult fans fit that profile.
SF: Did you
run into any problems with the WB because of Wally and Gus, a gay couple?
BO: They were really lenient in terms of censorship. They let
us get away with everything. But they had a little bit of a problem
with the episode three, "Porno For Pyro", because it was all about pornography
and masturbation. They made us cut down the number of times we mentioned
pornography and were very specific about where we had to edit the scene
where Kevin was masturbating. But they were still incredibly liberal
about it; it was surprising. And they didn't have any problems with
Gus and Wally, because it was a cartoon. Although nobody knows this,
we actually had network television's first gay male kiss in the first
episode. That was the first gay male kiss ever broadcast on television
and nobody cares because they didn't see the show.
We did receive a lot of attention from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance
Against Defamation (GLAAD). They actually helped promote the show for
us, showing a clip of Gus and Wally at the GLAAD Awards that year. They
were very supportive.
you consider Mission Hill to be subversive?
BO: Well, it's all about satirizing parts of American culture.
There's only about 30 percent that is goofing off and zany stuff. The
whole construction of the show is about satirizing culture, from the
characters to everything else.
the Real World episode, which was excellent.
BO: The Real World episode was probably way too much for
popular taste, because satire requires you to know what is being satirized.
Like when Andy is reading zines in a coffeehouse or the Japanese hot
pants trend. But basically we wanted to satirize all the stuff that
wasn't being tackled on The Simpsons, which is mostly alternative
lifestyles, youth culture, the underground, MTV, videos.
JW: We had a whole advertising thing going too, because part
of the track of the series is that Andy was going to go into different
jobs -- just like people in their twenties really end up doing -- before
getting his job at the advertising agency.
BO: Yeah, the idea - and this has never been publicized before,
so it's a scoop for you! -- was always that Andy would change jobs about
every eight episodes, because that's what people are doing at that age.
He would gradually have a better idea of what he wanted to do. Because
the second eight episodes were about him being a grunt at the advertising
agency, and some of the five episodes that were partially completed
were about that. You can look at the scripts on our website -- one is
all about them at the agency working together on a campaign satirizing
American advertising culture. Then he was going to get fired and get
a job at Tower Records, because the people there are very ripe for satire.
But at a signing, he was going to meet one of the alternative cartoonists
that he admired, who would convince him to pursue his art. Then he was
going to start working for him and the real idea was that by the fifth
season, he would actually be successful. And then if the show went on
for many years he would basically become Matt Groening. Of course, that
never happened; we only got to see stage one.
Mission Hill and especially Adult Swim, do you feel that
you're part of a greater movement to legitimize not only animation as
an art form, but television as a functional distributor of art forms,
rather than a home for formulaic entertainment?
BO: I can actually answer that question. There are different
types of television. Broadcast television -- in that it has to reach
the largest audience possible -- will never become a functional distributor
of art forms. However, cable television can, and that's what's so great
about Cartoon Network, because television is becoming more like radio.
Everything is so narrowly targeted. So Cartoon Network, and more specifically
Adult Swim, are achieving what you said. As with regards to animation,
I don't know. I think it's going to take fifty years for people to stop
thinking it is just for kids. It's true to some extent because kids
love cartoons; kids will watch anything animated, no matter what it
is, because they like the bright colors and well -- I don't know why
exactly, but that seems to be the way it is. And actually it's difficult
to get them to try not to watch things like Mission Hill.
Livin' in a slacker's paradise. "With
Mission Hill we chose crummy first jobs, romance and dating,
that sort of thing. A lot of the inspirations for the show were
alternative comics, like 8-Ball and Hate. But we
learned after the show was already cancelled that there's only
about five thousand people in all of America that are familiar
with that stuff."
SF: Do you
let your kids watch Mission Hill?
BO: I've let my daughter watch every episode except for the masturbation
JW: My kids are too little to understand them.
BO: My daughter was the model for Carlos and Natalie's baby,
and she did the voice in one episode.
SF: And how
old is your daughter?
BO: She's four and a half. But yeah, she really likes it. She
likes Jim a lot too. But, I don't know if it will ever happen. I think
that probably 75 percent of people, at least in America, automatically
think that cartoons are for kids, no matter what it is. And that it
fries their brains. Which
is why some artists -- no matter how good they are -- like Hayao Miyazaki,
don't get recognition.
SF: Or like
Bill Plympton, whose material is considered very adult.
BO: But overseas that's obviously not the case, because in places
like France and Japan, everybody including adults seems to reading these
comic books and there doesn't seem to be any stigma. But if a guy's
riding a bus and reading a comic book here, people think, "Oh, there's
something wrong with that guy. He's obviously immature," or whatever.
There's still that prejudice about it. Adult Swim is one of the
vanguards in leading the movement against that, but I think it's going
to take at least 50 years.
SF: Why do
you think that American culture doesn't embrace animation as other cultures
BO: I don't really know the history of animation and cartoons
in other countries, but in America it wasn't until about 1970 that there
was anything animated that wasn't for kids. They played cartoons before
movies, but those were always still sort of for kids, like Tom and
Jerry. Until underground comics started in like '67 -- or political
cartoons -- there wasn't anything. In fact, The Simpsons is really
the first mainstream animated show that wasn't just for kids. Once people
who grew up watching The Simpsons are 40 then maybe this problem
will be solved.
SF: So Adult
Swim is working towards that moment?
JW: Yeah, and it adds this whole second level to Mission Hill.
At least we know that there are a few thousand people around the world
who watch it all the time, and it's their favorite show. And it speaks
to them. Were it not for Cartoon Network, that would have never happened.
That's the cool part.
11 March 03
has published articles on everything from bulimia to pissing while standing
up for Melt Magazine, Migente.com, drDrew.com, drKoop.com and more. She's
currently finishing her first novel, Sycamore Circle.and rifling
through a shoe collection than would turn Imelda Marcos green.
Greatest Show on Television
Now that we've watched whiny brats complain about living
together, gold-diggers chase alleged millionaires
and celebrities literally turn into puppets, how can
we redeem ourselves? By watching Adult Swim,
the only show on TV brave enough to push the envelope
and take no prisoners . . . . MORE
the Body Horror Web
From flies to twins to mugwumps and now on to spiders, David
Cronenberg has mastered the art of taking the mind
and body apart. But that primordial split is more
destructive and understated in his latest release, Spider.
Which is why it may just be the best film he has ever made.
. . . MORE
Ways to Prepare for War
Egged on by CNN and Fox News and entranced by war
drums from the hawkish White House, you're probably wondering
how you can ready yourself for the imminent war with
Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Here's a hint: step on the
gas and pray like hell . . . MORE
They've greedily sold chemical weapons with but one purpose
in mind: to kill as many humans as possible at once. Plus,
they've imprisoned thousands of their citizens up without
due process. So exactly who are these civil liberty
party animals? . . . MORE
That Makes People Think
From handily winning DJ throw-downs to jazzing
with Herbie Hancock and Blue Man Group, Rob Swift has been
spreading the turntablist ethic far and wide. But with the
release of his latest solo effort, Sound Event,
he's topped even his own tougher-than-leather standards.
The interview awaits you . . . MORE
Electric Cars to Demon Weed
Did media mogul William Randolph Hearst really initiate
the criminalization of dope to save his own skin? Are Bush
and Cheney destroying consumer demand for hybrid?
The answers can be found in the first installment of the
Conspiracy Corner . . . MORE