In a perfect world, money would grow on trees, four-day weekends would be the standard and homework would consist of watching cartoons. Although the first two will never come to pass, some lucky students are indeed watching cartoons for college credit.
Ron Russo, an adjunct professor of journalism and mass communication at Kent State University, teaches a course on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, the block of programming that runs Saturday through Thursday nights and is aimed for the 18 and over (24) crowd.
When it began in September 2001, Russo found the Adult Swim line-up a fresh alternative to the lackluster slew of films out at the time.
“I’m a film professor and part of my job is to recognize new trends, and I find that most new film is pretty boring, but not Adult Swim,” he said.
According to Russo’s class syllabus, the aim of the course is to analyze and research the American non-action programs of Adult Swim’s Sunday night block. Russo defines a non-action program as one that doesn’t revolve around things such as superheroes or ninjas fighting, though “Venture Bros.” and “Stroker & Hoop” are on the borderline.
Russo said the value in studying Adult Swim is that it teaches students about film, comedy and animation terminology and it is beneficial to those planning on going into the field. Some of the shows studied in class include “Harvey Birdman,” “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” “The Oblongs” and “Family Guy.”
In August 2005, he published “Adult Swim and Comedy” because there were no books out on the program. The book is used as a text for his class and covers in-depth character profiles, historical research, theoretical, show breakdown and writing style. The class watches cartoons both in and outside of the classroom and have the opportunity to get input from the minds behind it.
“The class has been most fortunate to teleconference with both Mike Lazzo and Keith Crofford, the head producers of Adult Swim and Brendon Small of ‘Home Movies.’ This semester we’ll probably have the ‘Tom Goes to the Mayor’ creators,” said Russo.
While Ohio State does not offer a course strictly on Adult Swim cartoons, classes on animation are available and some do touch base on the more popular Adult Swim shows.
“Any element of popular culture is worth examining and studying. I think it’s popular in its own right and they do have a huge following. I’m often surprised in my own class because most of the students are more familiar with Adult Swim cartoons than others like Hanna Barbara and Bugs Bunny,” said Dave Filipi, Wexner curator of film and video and teacher of the OSU course History of Animation: From Gertie to Aqua Teen Hunger Force for this quarter.
Alicia Notestone, a senior strategic communication major, knows firsthand about the growing popularity of Adult Swim. As a former Adult Swim college representative, Notestone organized events such as viewings on campus of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. She said based on her experience, she believes students would be receptive to a class similar to the one offered at Kent State.
“Personally, I probably would take the course if it was offered at OSU. It’s something I’m familiar with and I think it would be neat to hear feedback on a lot of the politically (and) religiously charged material,” said Lauren Elzey, a sophomore textiles and clothing major. “Though these shows may attract a certain audience, I think they touch on a lot of different perspectives, maybe some economic and social situations we can’t relate to, not to mention the ability of the writers to create what they do from a blank page.”
Chava Wernick, a freshman arts major who wants to direct and edit animated features agrees wih Elzey.
“This sounds like an interesting course. Researching and analyzing professional animated features would give a really good picture of how the industry works and of what is needed to produce a successful product,” Wernick said. “A class like this would help me develop my skills by allowing me to study the works of professionals with the guidance of a classroom setting. This class would provide me with an in-depth look into animated productions, giving me the opportunity to make my own productions better.”