FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (15)
February 18, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite animated TV series.
JONNY QUEST | DOUG WILDEY | 1964–1965
I have a warm and cozy mid-’60s memory of settling in on Saturday mornings to watch Jonny Quest with my brother. Jonny was an 11-year-old boy who traveled the world with his father, top scientist Dr. Benton Quest, adopted brother Hadji, their adorable dog Bandit, and Roger “Race” Bannon, “assigned by Intelligence I as a permanent bodyguard for the Quests,” who also acted as a tutor and friend to Jonny. My brother is eight years older than I am; to have him sit down with my five-year-old self to watch cartoons was a thrilling and glorious event. We filled the Jonny Quest demographic perfectly; drawn in a semi-realistic style, the show was billed by Hanna-Barbera as a kind of semi-educational adventure series, meant to appeal to teens as well as little kids. I think I may have first learned about petrified wood thanks to episode in which the Quest crew are looking for precisely that when they are menaced by a werewolf.
That was then; this is now. Many things immediately leap out at the 21st-century viewer. There is the unsettling resemblance between white-haired Race Bannon and the washed-out mien of the 48th vice-president of the United States. There is dark-skinned, turban-wearing Hadji, who in at least one episode, uses the “Indian rope trick” to effect a rescue. Other cultural and racial stereotypes abound. Talking to the press before the show’s premiere in 1964, Bill Hanna described a scene from an upcoming episode: “Race rescues Dr. Quest from hostile natives by masquerading as a feared ‘water god’ who lives at the bottom of the ocean.” He uses “a red berry to dye his body” and a snorkel to swim near the shore. “When he ‘arises’ at the proper moment, the natives run in terror.”
It’s also obvious that the cast of characters is something of a sausage fest. Jonny, Hadji, Dr. Quest, Race, even Bandit, are all male. This isn’t a new criticism. Writing in 1964, Hollis Alpert was “puzzled” by the “lack of girls” in Jonny Quest and other new shows aimed at younger viewers, and “wondered if girls no longer looked at television in the evening” (Jonny Quest originally aired Fridays at 7:30 p.m.).
The Internet tells me that there was a femme fatale character called Jezebel Jade (two terms that reflect feminine ill-repute), but she wasn’t part of the regular cast and did not imprint on my child’s mind. “We couldn’t put Mother in the series,” Joe Barbera told a syndicated columnist in 1964, “then we’d be domestic again and Mother would be in the kitchen making sandwiches. We decided to get completely away from these homey scenes where even the dogs are obedient. Life isn’t like that.” A Mrs. Quest who fought villains alongside Jonny and Hadji, while Race made the sandwiches, was as yet completely inconceivable.
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Miranda Mellis on STEVEN UNIVERSE | Luc Sante on TOP CAT | Peggy Nelson on PINK PANTHER | Charlie Mitchell on COWBOY BEBOP | Mimi Lipson on THE FLINTSTONES | Sam Glenn on BIG MOUTH | Mandy Keifetz on ROAD RUNNER | Ramona Lyons on SHE-RA | Holly Interlandi on DRAGON BALL Z | Max Glenn on ADVENTURE TIME | Joe Alterio on REN & STIMPY | Josh Glenn on SPEED RACER | Adam McGovern on KIMBA THE WHITE LION | Jonathan Pinchera on SAMURAI JACK | Lynn Peril on JONNY QUEST | Stephanie Burt on X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES and X-MEN: EVOLUTION | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on THE JETSONS | Adam Netburn on NARUTO | Madeline Ashby on AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER | Tom Nealon on TRANSFORMERS | Sara Ryan on BOJACK HORSEMAN | Michael Grasso on COSMIC CLOCK | Erin M. Routson on BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD | Deborah Wassertzug on DARIA | Lydia Millet on BOB’S BURGERS.
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