Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Over a bleak landscape, an otherworldly vehicle flies across the dusky horizon. Its dilapidated condition creates a haunting sense, amplified by the pulsing red lights from its cockpit and the bizarre electronic sound of its engines. After the craft sets down, a strange figure makes its way up the dirt road towards the viewer. The blue space suit seems to glow in the low light as the being lopes forward with a strange gait. As it nears, a blue skull is visible through the suit’s helmet dome. The dome glows red and the skull screams an eerie laugh.
That scream sent a chill down my very young spine. While there have been many more popular culture frights fired along my central nervous system since then, as the season of scares near, I find myself nostalgic for my youthful first encounter with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!’s Space Kook.
Scooby-Doo debuted on CBS in 1969. Over the next five decades, Scooby would spawn a popular culture franchise, but back then, there were twenty-five episodes that aired in perpetual reruns. Spread out a week at a time as they were, they lasted a bit longer.
Network television for kids would eventually succumb to pressure from public interest groups. While there is an important value to some of the changes made, other shows and even programs in the Scooby franchise would lose a certain courage. The first Scooby series was not afraid to frighten kids with a good healthy scare. And when the various ghouls and ghosts were revealed to be desperate locals, greedy relatives, or unscrupulous real estate developers, well, that taught kids the importance of critical thinking and using evidence. The mysteries were not exactly hard, but they were fun and seemed quite rewarding to this viewer when he was oh so young.
Of all the baddies from those first years, the Space Kook was my favorite simply because he genuinely scared little kid me. Not enough to run away, of course. Just enough to unsettle me and make me want to see what would happen next. I did not realize it then, but that show was training me to love a certain kind of story.
Now that I am older, I like the Space Kook for his moxie. The Scooby Gang inhabited a strange world of abandoned places and foggy spaces. In that world, some adults decided that the best way to get something done was essentially turn an elaborate Halloween decoration plan into an illegal profit project. A popular theory on the internet suggests that the economy in this world is deeply depressed and these creative geniuses, who would normally be employed, are just trying to get by. But I like to think of them as supervillains in training. They have a certain panache that, with just a bit more obsession, could get them into the big leagues. My theory is also supported by the fact that later series would demonstrate that Batman and Robin are real in Scooby’s universe.
Perhaps I should not admire the Space Kook. To me though, there is something wonderful about a guy who could just drive people away from a place with shotguns or fire, but who instead envisions and then commits to an elaborate scenario involving a ghostly UFO and its undead pilot.
So scream on, you crazy Kook! Scream on!