Cartoons & Empowered MindsChildren often have something that adults can never quite explain. Yes, they are naive and innocent, but with this innocence comes wonder. Their wonder lies within their perception of the world they live in, a reality where physical limitations are unrealistic, and even perhaps nonexistent.
This view empowers them,; making them believe they can do things that contradict the laws of physics. So, even if they cannot break these physical boundaries, the fact that they believe they can is breaking a boundary in itself. Ultimately, childrens’ worldview is actually quite powerful, and for this reason, in his poem “Cartoon Physics,” Nick Flynn emphasizes the fact that children under and at the age of ten should stay in the world of cartoon animation for as long as possible, and when they are introduced into the real world, ironically, it is through this world of cartoon animation.First of all, Flynn captures the ingenuous nature of children through their distorted yet powerful worldview that parallels the one displayed in cartoons, which (not coincidentally) tend to be commonly watched among children of the ages Flynn is describing. Therefore, when a child sees a cartoon character draw a door on a rock and pass through it, escaping as the door disappears, leaving the rest of the characters with nothing to see but a plain rock, he or she believes that they too can make doors that only open to them (8-11). For children, according to the laws of cartoon animation, anything goes. After all, in their world, they can be heroes at the scenes of “burning houses, car wrecks, / ships going down–earthbound, tangible / disasters” (12-14).
Why is this? Well, in a child’s mind, “You can run / back into a burning house, sinking ships / have lifeboats, the trucks will come / with their ladders, if you jump / you will be saved” (15-19). These examples of the reality children perceive reveals that with their mindset, they can control their surroundings. Kids can lead their lives without worry of danger or failure, for even if they are not heroic, they can always be saved. In this world of cartoon animation, children are masters of their own minds, as they can have control over every little thing in their lives and even beyond themselves. For example, when a little girl plays with a toy schoolbus in a sandbox, she is able to drive “across a city of sand” (21). Flynn illustrates that she is then brought into her own world within and eventually beyond the sandbox, meanwhile in control of it all.
She can determine exactly where the sand she is driving on will skid, when the bridge she is driving on will give way to pressure, and thus who will be pulled down under by sharks and then or who will successfully swim away to shore (21-24).This same girl, who was once the controller of her own mind, and thus, the universe surrounding her, will eventually learn “that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff / he will not fall / until he notices his mistake” (24-27). Odds are we’ve all seen a scene similar to this one, where a cartoon character is in mid air after jumping off the edge of the cliff or platform of some sort, floating in the air for a bit.
This floating proceeds until the moment that character looks back at where they came from, realizes they are in mid air, looks down and thinks to themselves “Aw crap, gravity,” then falls. Indeed, this classic scenario is quite entertaining. However, there is so much more to this example of cartoon animation than merely a delay in the force of gravity. The significance of this scenario is held in the way Flynn describes it.
Rather than explaining this as a delay in the force of gravity (how the common cartoon viewer would perceive it), he emphasizes that the man will not fall off the edge of the cliff until he notices the mistake he made (25-27). As he puts it, the physical boundaries of our world are somewhat characterized by our own mental boundaries.If the laws of gravity state a child will fall right away if they run off the edge of a cliff, the paradox of one even being able to control his or her falling shows the true power of the child’s mind. Children, therefore, with the little minds of theirs have the ability to disregard things like Newton’s law of universal gravitation, for they don’t know what gravity is in the first place (in a figurative sense). Here, the concept of gravity is symbolic of the notion adults often have: people are just a little speck in a universe they have no control over. These thoughts lead to a negative mindset in which adults believe the human race is helpless and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, as after all, “the universe is ever-expanding, / inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies / swallowed by galaxies, whole / solar systems collapsing, all of it / acted out in silence” (2-6). If this process of enormous systems behaving in such ways without us even knowing they are happening, adults wonder, what makes us humans on earth have any control of what’s going on? Children, on the other hand, see the world differently from adults.
They have an unexplainable power which allows them to believe, as the innocence they perceivably have holds a significance beyond itself.When these two worlds described in the poem collide, and in the case when the laws of physics trump the laws of cartoon animation, the person ends up falling, as once a child is bombarded by the harsh realities of this world, there is no going back. He or she turns into an adult, and now holds the mindset of an adult.
The world is unpredictable, Flynn emphasizes, and unfortunately, eventually, most will end up falling. They are not ready for the That is why, for when they still have the opportunity to be kids, let them. It is something our world desperately needs, and perhaps the world would be a better place if more children could be this way.
Kids at and under the age of ten are still learning the rules in the world of cartoon animation, and will learn the rules of the real world through it. For now however, kids cannot be stripped of the lone superiority they have over adults: the power to believe.