Something from a bygone era I don’t exactly miss is the extreme sports craze. I’m sure if you were born before or grew up during the 2000’s you probably remember it. It was inescapable. It was everywhere, and for a kid like me who had absolutely no interest in sports whatsoever, it was annoying. To this day, I still can’t look at the word “extreme” in any context without groaning.
I’ll spare you my opinions on shows and characters created as a result of this craze (I’m looking at you, Rocket Power), and focus more on what it did to characters who had the misfortune of being around while it was popular.
One particular bit of it I remember vividly is the shoehorning of cartoon characters into this craze, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Snoopy, and even Spongebob Squarepants, and the respective supporting casts of each. They’d stick these classic characters made for the purpose of being comedic on t-shirts and juice-boxes striking badass poses, making determined scowl-smile faces, wearing ridiculous amounts of safety gear and trendy sports clothing, looking cool while slamming dunks and skateboarding.
Hell, they even had a photo going around with Kermit the Frog, Gonzo and Animal as extreme skateboarders at some point. It was ludicrous.
Now while out-of-character, it was at least a little believable that Mickey, Snoopy and Bugs would be good at extreme sports, despite the fact that it looked ridiculous and you knew they would never actually do any. (As far as I recall, Bugs and Snoopy never did beyond merchandise, Mickey wasn’t that lucky. I remember the juice-boxes got animated commercials.) It was believable because they’re already good at everything, sports included, and Mickey has little to no personality to speak of, so he can do whatever the hell he wants.
Kermit wasn’t believable in that role to me at all since I can’t shake the notion of a humble, old-fashioned 30-something year old whenever I look at him, so it just looks stupid no matter what.
Sure, Donald and Daffy would probably make sense as well, given their competitive natures. Goofy had a ton of sports related cartoons even before the craze, so sure, why not? Taz only exists to be a “cool” character anymore anyway, so fine, throw him in there too. Same with Animal. Gonzo is known for his love of wacky stunts, so fuck it, give him some knee pads and a scooter.
But what really gave me pause is when they would do it with the Spongebob Squarepants characters. They’d give Spongebob, a character deliberately designed to look like a dork, a skateboard, knee pads, and a badass expression, grinding with ease. They were trying to make Spongebob look cool.
See, this isn’t the weird effect you get from looking at a 60 year old character trying to look trendy, like when your mom starts calling all your friends “dude” in hopes it’ll make her seem cool. Spongebob was new then. This isn’t the Steve Urkel “looks like a nerd but is actually a totally rockin’ individual” kind of cool. Spongebob was a flat out awkward dork in-universe. This wasn’t just out of character, this betrayed the very purpose and essence of the character itself.
Now before you say “But Spongebob canonically likes extreme sports!” Yes. That is true. But the joke is he’s TERRIBLE at them. He gets the shit beaten out of him just trying to keep up with Sandy. I couldn’t take all those shirts with Spongebob slamming dunks and jumping ramps seriously because I, as a huge fan of the show (back when it was good), knew that was something Spongebob could never do, even if he tried. And he would. It would result in him humorously falling flat on his pourous yellow ass. But nope. There he is, giving that stupid scowl-smile that every other cartoon character on a t-shirt had back then.
But hey, it still made a little sense, like before, Spongebob would try these sports out, bad at them as he was. Patrick doing it made a little sense too. Then we get into full on suspension of belief when they had Squidward do it too. Fucking Squidward! Squidward is hanging ten with Spongebob and Patrick. Has this craze gotten so far out of hand that they’re trying to make Squidward of all characters, Squidward, the snotty, art-obsessed, middle aged bastard neighbor, look extreme? What, were you afraid no one would buy the t-shirt if Sandy was on it, so you had no other choice but to put in Squidward? It wasn’t enough to just have Spongebob and Patrick? Was Squidward an absolute goddamn necessity?
I can’t find a picture, but I couldn’t make this up if I tried. They had t-shirts with Squidward skateboarding, playing basketball, rollerblading and playing hockey. Squidward.
I’m incredibly glad that as an adult who shops for cartoon merchandise in the adult sections for that sort of thing, I don’t have to see characters from the 40’s scowl-smiling on roller-blades anymore. I’m not entirely sure if those sorts of merchandise are still around, as uncommon as they are now. I think Phineas and Ferb has dabbled with it early on in it’s history, but stopped in favor of just slapping guitars on every single character.
I suppose I should also be thankful that the extreme craze didn’t go as far as it could have. We could have gotten extreme skateboarding Pikachu, after all. Actually, I bet that exists somewhere. They did have a habit of shoving him on a surfboard all the time.