It's interesting to look back on anything, cartoons included. When I was little we waited all week for Saturday morning cartoons. I am not sure if cartoons were even on during the week. Now I can watch cartoons at midnight thanks to all cartoon stations.
In years past cartoons appealed to young and old alike. Simplicity and humor drew in all ages. Many cartoons didn't even speak. No words were necessary to explain what Wile E Coyote was doing. Now
there are cartoons for kids, cartoons for teens, and cartoons for adults only. I can't really comment on The Simpsons, King of the Hill, etc as I never watch, I never have a desire to watch. I remember how disgusting Ren and Stimpy or Catdog were. Cartoons that aren't rated Y just don't appeal to me.
Does that imply I like cartoons rated Y? You bet. For a while kids cartoons went to almost all educational, at least for the preschoolers. They all taught numbers, letters, shapes, colors, etc. Dora the Explorer opened up the door to foreign languages. Now, not only do cartoons teach academics, they teach manners, science, curiosity, social skills, and more. I do have favorites and I am not sure they are the most "academic". My favorite little kid show is Olivia. Ok, Olivia was a name in the running for my girls. That's not why I like her. But who can resist her striped tights. I also like her creative and spunky personality. Even more I love her parents. They are the fun parents. They don't have a perfect house, they've almost forgotten a kid at the grocery store, they read to the kids every night, listen to the kids opinions, let them make a mess, and I'm pretty sure I've heard them make that <sigh>. It reminds me of home.
The other show I like is Phineas and Ferb. I think I have a soft spot for creativity. It shows unscheduled kids being creative, working together and having awesome outcomes. They are determined and hard working. Almost as determined as their sister is to bust them, classic sibling rivalry. It's a show that appeals to all the kids from 3-15 (and a few adults) in our house. Besides, wouldn't a pet platypus be cool?
You might be surprised to here I am not all that picky. I don't really "hate" any show. Barney doesn't bug me. Dora doesn't drive me crazy. I've survived Teletubbies and Boohbah. Though I do have a peeve with the creators of Dinosaur Dan. Who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea to show kids you can dust for fingerprints with flour? No matter how hard it is to (for them to) clean up, how long it takes, how much trouble they get in, my kids still dust for prints every time they see that episode.
I don't think cartoons have gotten better. I don't think cartoons have gotten worse. I think they're just changed. People seem to think TV is "bad" for kids. Anything is bad in excess. Moderation is the key. I love a laid back movie afternoon, snuggled with the kids on a rainy day. I love how much fun the kids have dancing along with the Fresh Beat Band (and how hilarious it is to watch 3, 4 and 6 year olds breakdancing). A is awfully cute when she says Nei Hao (or for at least a year wouldn't even say "hello", at least in English). When all else fails, sometimes it's The Letter Factory DVD that gets a kid to learn their letters.
I don't know how many conversations were started from a TV show when I was young. I remember "TV night" in our house. I don't mean everyone watching their own TV in their own rooms. I mean everyone sitting in the living room together, watching the same, family oriented, show. Those were the days of Full House, Growing Pains, and Family Ties. Now, a lot of the shows adults watch are not suitable for young audiences. The shows suitable for young audiences don't appeal to adults. We end up watching cable channels together. Cake Boss, Cupcake Wars, Unwrapped, and Chopped on FoodTV. Dirty Jobs or 19 Kids and Counting on TLC. That's not to say that sometimes we don't just need the mindless humor of Tom and Jerry.
We don't restrict TV in our house. Instead we make sure that there is enough to keep them frog vegging out. The kids do some after school activities. We go to the park. We go to the library. We model a love of reading. We provide crafts and Legos, which even our teen and tween love still. We go for walks. We go hiking. We go to the Zoo. We play board games with them. I let them help cook. My kids play outside with other neighborhood kids. The truth is, we don't restrict because we don't have to. The kids might watch an hour of TV on a weekday, if that. Everyone needs some mindless down time, we don't need to deprive the kids of theirs.