Growing up in my generation (1980s) and prior, going back to the advent of the television, it was inevitable that our young minds would be shaped by the world around us, including the technicolor world of television. While what we learned wasn’t always the most beneficial to our development (Roadrunners recognize and can escape elaborate traps funded by the ACME Corporation) there were plenty of items that weaseled their way into our general psychology and helped shape our views of the world. It couldn’t be helped. You are a product of your environment; how you disseminate that information is a whole different topic. Since a huge part of our childhood was cartoons, I’ve chosen another childhood classic to geekily hyper-analyze today: The Smurfs.
In Part One of the Psychology of cartoons, I focused more on the individual psychology of certain cartoon characters. This is something that I will return to, but for the purpose of this post I’m switching gears and instead focusing on a large scale (or small scale) sociological study. As you may or may not know — the implication is in its name — sociology is the study of society. It’s a very broad psychological discipline, and there are many conflicting theories surrounding any hypothesis. Since I have no degree in psychology or sociology, and I’m just a geek that likes to pretend I know what I’m talking about, this is going to be one of the broader studies performed.
The Smurfs live in a very tight-knit society. Not only that, but a highly secretive one as well, as far as their existence in relation to the humans. In the original stories from the late 1950s, their village location was described as being in “le Pays maudit” (“the Cursed Land”) and only accessible through magical means. In the cartoon series, in order to incorporate more translatable drama with human interaction, their village was moved to a clearing, but seemed to still only be accessible by humans when led by a Smurf. So basically through some sort of magic, the Smurfs were able to remain virtually invisible to the outside world.
The social structure of the village was pretty cut and dried. You had a leader, Papa Smurf, and from there you had the traditional roles found in any close and contained society, like a fiefdom or even a cult. You had a baker, you had an artist, you had a handyman – every Smurf had a talent (and was thus named to avoid confusion). Role theory plays a heavy hand here, as each Smurf had clearly defined roles and responsibilities and rarely did anything cross over. When caught in trouble situations, the skills needed were not transferred or handled by another Smurf; that specific Smurf was called upon for the mission and performed his duty without question or complaint. Unless it was Grumpy Smurf, whose apparent role in the village was to just be an asshole all the time.
What this taught us kids is something I don’t entirely agree with. While specialization in a role is good for a career, it’s not the best course of action for life in general. The more you know, right? I prefer to live my life as a Renaissance man, learning as much as possible about as much as possible. This has more applications in life than just being able to do one task, and one task only. Thankfully, we were blinded to this fact by their cute little button tails.
[Read the rest of Curtis Silver’s excellent article, published on Tuesday. Please leave any comments you may have on the original article.]
Images: Copyright Hanna-Barbera Productions