April 11, 2013

Minorities in cartoons: "Schoolhouse Rock"

Minorities in cartoons: "Schoolhouse Rock"

Schoolhouse Rock (Verb)This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the classic educational TV series “Schoolhouse Rock.”

Background

“Schoolhouse Rock” was a series of three-minute animated shorts. They ran on ABC’s Saturday morning lineup (during commercial breaks) during the 70s and 80s.

Devised as a way to give kid viewers a bit of educational information, each short taught its lesson via a catchy song.

The shorts came branded under one of the following sub-series:

  • Multiplication Rock: Various math lessons. Memorable songs from this series were “Three Is a Magic Number” and “My Hero Zero” (about the numbers 3 and 0 respectively, the latter as a superhero).
  • Grammar Rock: Probably the most popular segments of the series (other than “America Rock” below). Various grammar lessons. “Conjunction Junction” is probably the most famous song from here.
  • America Rock: A series covering American history and government. The best known song from this series is “I’m Just a Bill,” which has been much parodied (including a “Simpsons” one I didn’t much care for).
  • Science Rock: Science facts. My favorite song from here is “A Victim of Gravity,” sung as a 50s-style doo-wop song.
  • Computer Rock: AKA “Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips.” Several shorts about computer facts, as things stood in the early 1980s. The most quickly dated shorts of the series.
  • Money Rock: A revival in the 90s brought a new batch of episodes, meant to teach viewers facts about money. “Tyrannosaurus Debt” was a pretty decent song, about the state of the US deficit/debt.
  • Earth: A newly produced series of shorts released to DVD in the 2000s about the environment.

Currently, Disney’s the owner of the “Schoolhouse Rock” series. The shorts haven’t aired much in recent years, given the changes in broadcasting since “Schoolhouse Rock”‘s heyday. However, a DVD set of the entire series has been released. YouTube also has some of the shorts.

One short of particular interest is “Verb: That’s What’s Happenin’,” from the Grammar Rock series. This song, which covers the subject of verbs, shows an African-American youth going to the movies to see his favorite superhero, “Verb” (“Verb-Man?”). An entertaining, and very 70s feeling, song. Like the youth, Verb’s also African-American.

Unlike his fellow 70s heroes Black Lightning and Black Vulcan, Verb (or Verb-Man) seems to have powers more like Rocket‘s mentor Icon (a fellow Superman pastiche) rather than electrical-themed ones.

YouTube features the song (at least as of this writing):

(Updated 11/17/16)

Tags: ABCAfrican-AmericansanimationMediaminorities in cartoonsSchoolhouse Rocktrivia