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House of Mystery

June 11, 2011

All those years of Saturday Morning Worship: who’da thunk it was Mystery School in disguise….Australian TV in the 60s and 70s was a virtual carbon-copy of American TV when it came to cartoons.  My edumacation was rounded out on Sundays by the morning-early afternoon worship of World Wide Wrestling (essential for dealing with pesky angels) and Epic Theatre, where all those great Sword-and-Sandal Italian made biblical and historical epics were the mainstay. 

All those half-naked masculine bodies and violence.  Perfect preparation for the Australian culture of blokey boofheads.

Would You Do it for a Scooby Snack?: Shadow Encounters in the Saturday Morning Psyche of Scooby-Doo

By Craig Titley

“Saturday morning cartoons are regarded by most American adults over the age of forty as having marginally more redeeming social value than hard-core pornography.”

Thus begins Timothy and Kevin Burke’s examination of cartoon culture, Saturday Morning Fever. Yet despite this commonly held PTA watchdog sentiment, beginning in the mid-1960’s kids all across America, myself included, shared a weekly ritual of waking up at the crack of dawn, grabbing a box of sugar-coated cereal, sitting in front of the television set (the closer the better), and watching cheap, and often badly drawn, cartoons for six straight hours. Saturday morning became a “generational rite of passage for the children who consumed it, a goldmine of in-jokes and cultural reference points” . For nearly everyone else “‘Saturday Morning’ has long served as a shorthand epithet for culture judged to be juvenile, low-quality, moronic, mind-numbing, or cut-rate”. Too bad for them. And too bad for all those who were unwilling or unable to enter the Saturday Morning temple and discover the vast treasures buried therein.

“One of the reasons we like to go to movies and plays,” according to Joseph L. Henderson, “is that they also give us the psychic exercise that our dreaming life gives, only more so”. And even more so still: cartoons. With their disregard for the rules and laws of the physical world, cartoons truly are dream-like in their very nature. And as with dreams, they can offer glimpses into the inner workings of the psyche and into the depths of the unconscious. Those that have endured have endured for a reason: they have a resonance which points to a deeper well filled with mythical and psychological truth.

The most enduring Saturday morning cartoon (ergo, in my opinion, the one with the deepest well of truth) is Scooby-Doo. Debuting as Scooby-Doo Where Are You! in 1969 with an 11.6 rating “that had never been equaled in Saturday morning television”, Scooby-Doo in its various incarnations ran until 1991 “making it the longest running [Saturday morning] cartoon in history” . Since then Scooby-Doo has remained in syndication and has spawned a merchandising empire as well as two successful live-action feature films (the first of which was written by your most humble author). The reason Scooby-Doo continues to captivate the attention of children, stoned college students, and nostalgic adults is because it resonates with a basic psychic truth. Beneath the vibrant colors, the sight gags, the Scooby-Snacks, and the Mystery Machine, lies the key to understanding and confronting our personal shadows.
The shadow, according to Jung “represents first and foremost the personal unconscious”. It “personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly–for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies” . Henderson calls this personal shadow “self doubt”.

Robert Bly calls it the “the long bag we drag behind us” filled with “so many of our angers, spontaneities, hungers, enthusiasms, our rowdy and unattractive parts” .

Hunger? Self doubt? Inferior traits of character? In the cartoon world of Scooby-Doo, these descriptions clearly point to the lazy, cowardly, gluttonous duo of Shaggy and his inseparable Great Dane sidekick, Scooby-Doo. However, before we dive much deeper into the animated psychic “ink” well of the Scooby-Doo shadow world, we must first review all the characters and the machinations of the standard Scooby-Doo mystery/plot.

Originally slated with the very Jungian-sounding title “House Of Mystery” , Scooby-Doo Where Are you!, as it was re-titled, features a cast of five: four teenagers — Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy — and Shaggy’s dog Scooby-Doo. In each episode the gang, usually in Fred’s van “The Mystery Machine,” ventures from the safety of their Malt Shop world into the great unknown where they encounter a spooky ghost or monster. After splitting up to solve the mystery — Fred, Velma, and Daphne on one team; Shaggy and Scooby on the other — the gang reunites and the monster is unmasked (usually in spite of a best laid plan run amuck) and revealed to be an all too human “local” who was trying to scare people away from some secret treasure. And, of course, he would have gotten away from it if it weren’t for those meddling kids…and their dog.

Although on the animated surface the show stars a cast of five, when the depths are sounded we find only one psyche. When Shaggy and Scooby are considered as one inseparable entity (as their similar names and dispositions seem to suggest), the “meddling kids and their dog” become a quaternity that, according to Jung, is the symbol of “psychic wholeness”. But even more specifically, the gang is a quaternity composed of a trinity plus one: the three super-sleuths Fred, Velma, and Daphne plus the super-sloth Shaggy/Scooby.

“Trinitarian symbols […],” according to Edinger, “imply growth, development and movement in time. They surround themselves with dynamic rather than static associations” . This would clearly be the obsessive mystery-solving trio of Fred, Daphne, and Velma. On the other hand, “[q]uaternity, mandala images emerge in time of psychic turmoil and convey a sense of stability and rest”. This accurately describes the often petrified behavior of the fourth entity, Shaggy/Scooby. Jung himself “tended in most cases to interpret trinitarian images as incomplete or amputated quaternities”.

Furthermore, Edinger notes that Jung continually “returns to the alchemical question: ‘Three are here but where is the fourth?’. And now we can grasp the deeper psychic truth in the show’s title. Scooby-Doo, where are you, indeed? The three sleuths are incomplete without their Shaggy/Scooby fourth.

Retrieved from the vaults of Cosmos and Logos

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