A great column by Chris Sims at the Comics Alliance.


Because that's the thing about Scooby-Doo: The bad guys in every episode aren't monsters, they're liars.

I can't imagine how scandalized those critics who were relieved to have something that was mild enough to not excite their kids would've been if they'd stopped for a second and realized what was actually going on. The very first rule of Scooby-Doo, the single premise that sits at the heart of their adventures, is that the world is full of grown-ups who lie to kids, and that it's up to those kids to figure out what those lies are and call them on it, even if there are other adults who believe those lies with every fiber of their being. And the way that you win isn't through supernatural powers, or even through fighting. The way that you win is by doing the most dangerous thing that any person being lied to by someone in power can do: You think.

Tim Minchin fans may recall him mentioning Scooby Doo in a similar light in his beat poem Storm, and it's been brought up on Less Wrong before.

When viewed in this light, Scooby Doo really is like an elementary version of Methods of Rationality.

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Hamlet and the Philosopher's Stone exists in part because of Scooby Doo Hamlet.

My scheme blinded them all, as if by fog
But for these medd'ling kids and this their dog.

That version of Hamlet makes more sense than the standard one. Cui bono?

That is really excellent. But poor old Scooby doesn't get a line :( At least he could've said "Rowr?" when the ghost appeared.

The way that you win is by doing the most dangerous thing that any person being lied to by someone in power can do: You think.

Unnecessarily inaccurate hyperbole, probably trying to make someone sound more heroic. There are many more dangerous things you could do, though many of them would be stupid.

In contrast consider this quote:

Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.

G.K. Chesterton

The quote is actually considered by the end of the article:

"To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, Scooby Doo has value not because it shows us that there are monsters, but because it shows us that those monsters are just the products of evil people who want to make us too afraid to see through their lies, and goes a step further by giving us a blueprint that shows exactly how to defeat them".

and goes a step further by giving us a blueprint that shows exactly how to defeat them".

Ensnare them with some sort of Rube-Goldberg contrivance and tear their rubber masks off?

The reason I never made this whole connection as a kid, even one very positively disposed towards skepticism and rationality, was because the methods and skills used in Scooby Doo seemed so inapplicable to real life.

It's been a while since I watched much (any) Scooby-Doo, but IIRC, isn't the Rube Goldberg contraption only the start (a dramatic opening demonstration), and then Velma etc. explain all the clues and oddities that would have convinced anyone with a brain (of what the contraption forced even the dullest townspeople to realize)?

The Rube Goldberg contrivance (usually not so much a device as an unnecessarily convoluted plan to accomplish a simple task) is generally how they arrange to catch the villain. The plan usually goes wrong in some way, but ends up succeeding regardless due to dumb luck. Then they take the villain's mask off, and explain the clues that allowed them to know who was underneath in advance.

Once they've worked out that all the supernatural menaces are actually human charlatans, they could deal with nearly all of them (those which aren't some sort of device operated remotely) simply by catching them and taking their masks off, thereby circumventing the need to figure out who's inside beforehand.

Traditional fairy-tales tend to focus more on the idea that if you interact with strangers or do anything out of the ordinary, you will die horribly :P (At least that's what I noticed when reading Aesop's fables recently).

Also the idea that the letter of the law is more important than the spirit, and sometimes the idea that even if you are unintelligent and lazy you'll still win so long as you're obedient.

Note that not all incarnations of Scooby Doo are quite so skeptical; I recall being stunned when I first came across one of the series ("The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo"?) that featured actual supernatural horrors.

I have three theories:

  1. Some of the later Scooby Doo writers retained the innocence of young children when watching the original Scooby Doo, and simply never noticed that "moneygrubbers making fake monsters to mess with the heads of naive victims" was the pattern of that ficton.

  2. Fake monsters catch fewer eyeballs than real ones, more eyeballs means more money, and the newer Scooby Doo writers were themselves moneygrubbers making fake monsters to mess with the heads of naive victims.

  3. The newer Scooby Doo writers were infected with incurable post-modernism, and the behavior described in (2) was a deliberate bit of performance art, with the actual cartoons relegated to mere story-within-a-story status.

I vote #2. #3 gives them too much credit, and #1 not enough.

Although it may not be so much that real monsters catch more eyeballs as that messing with the formula (in a reboot) catches more eyeballs. By now, I've seen enough direct-to-video modern Scoobies that I expect them to be supernatural (as well as inferior in other ways), so maybe next time they'll go back to fake monsters?

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is probably the worst. It's not just that the witch is real, which as I said I expect now, but its (positive!) references to Wicca are so uninformed and trashy that it's actually an insult to Wiccans too.

Edit: Possibly Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is exactly this return to fake monsters. I don't know, I haven't seen it. Since it has an ongoing story arc, they may decide to make a monster real in the end.

Well, the gang doesn't actually seem to do much updating -- especially Shaggy and Scooby. You would think that after the first dozen monsters turned out to be people in costumes, they might start reducing p(need to run away) upon encountering a "monster", but this never happened, as far as I can tell.

Think of the individual members of the Scooby gang not as separate people, but as separate modules in the brain. Our inner Shaggy and Scooby never stop freaking out, no matter how convinced we are that there is no actual monster. But we do stop taking them seriously and trust our inner Velmas.

You might think this planet would update, and yet it doesn't. That part of the show is perfectly accurate as a metaphor.

Similarly, Wile E. Coyote never figures out that he can fly by harnessing the influence his "not looking down" has on gravity.

On the other hand, talking dogs.


A friend of mine once suggested to me that fundamentalists hate Harry Potter, not because of the occult stuff, but because it teaches kids that books featuring witches and talking snakes should be thought of as fantastic.

There's a good scene in a fake commercial somewhere where it's pointed out that only Shaggy ever talks directly to Scooby, and Shaggy was stoned out of his mind the entire time.

Heh. I almost linked this here, decided against it, not sure why. I liked the article a lot.