Cartoon shoulder devils and angels have been a staple of cartoon animation as far back as actor Harry Langdon’s primitive onscreen tempter in the Roaring Twenties silent film Picking Peaches and on up to World War II-era Donald Duck shorts, ’60s Tom and Jerry episodes,and more recent movies like The Emperor’s New Groove. But the same general idea goes back centuries in theater and literature: A devil tempts a character to do something naughty, and the angel wags a threatening finger.
I believe in these two entities as much as I believe in talking llamas. And judging by the lack of this trope in cartoons being made these days—from kid-friendly stuff like Adventure Time and Regular Show to more raunchy fare like Bob’s Burgers, Archer, and The Venture Bros.—that belief trend is increasingly representative of society at large. Hurray for humanity!
But I still kind of believe in a certain type of shoulder devil. I don’t “hear” him that much, but when I do he pretty much just tells me I suck at stuff. When he’s being particularly asshole-ish, he tells me I’m kinda no good at being a dad, husband, friend, or human being in general. When he’s slightly less of a prick, he tells me I suck at writing music and playing guitar.
There’s no prosaic “compromising situation” that I’ve put myself in when I’m hearing this crap in my head. It isn’t something Sunday school should’ve prepared me for but I somehow failed to see the smoking-brimstone signals on the horizon. I’m simply taking life, music, or whatever too seriously. And the more serious I get—the more I try to stubbornly power through and get better at whatever I’m feeling bollocks at, the worse it gets. No amount of dwelling on the problem, no amount of practicing or switching guitars or twiddling pedal settings fixes it.
I’ve come to realize these “I suck” moments are often mortality’s way of nudging me toward more rest and relaxation, a different headspace, and/or quality time with loved ones. But a lot of times these fits are simply proof of a chronic humor deficit. Sometimes you just gotta find something that busts your gut. That’s your guardian angel to send that d-bag devil back from whence he came.
The programs mentioned above might do the trick for you in a similar situation, but if you really need something to mess up your metaphorical Mephistopheles, might I prescribe something a bit more obscure, a bit more rock ’n’ roll, and whole lot more off the wall?
You, my friend, need to spend some time laughing at The Young Ones. The four Scumbag College students/flatmates in this terrifically witty, irreverent, and demented early-’80s British sitcom take themselves way too seriously. They’re also some of TV’s most hilariously twisted and moronic misfits—even 30+ years later. There’s toxically boring hippie Neil, a Peace Studies major who strums a beat up Gibson flattop while contemplating new ways to commit suicide. Punk medical student Vyvyan is essentially an über-destructive, constantly screaming Sid Vicious on steroids—he’s got four metal studs embedded in his forehead and a cadaver-leg hood ornament on his Ford Anglia, and he regularly crashes through doors, walls, floors, etc. Mouthy wannabe-anarchist Rick worships the Shadows’ Cliff Richard and fancies his own rubbish oratory grand poetry. And con-artist “ladies man” Mike cares little for school but is quick to hatch a get-rich scheme when he and his inflatable love doll discover Buddy Holly (and a Strat) protruding upside-down from his bedroom ceiling. Then there are the sudden, inexplicable living-room performances by bands like the Damned, Motörhead, Madness, and more. Did I mention talking spoiled-leftovers puppets in the fridge?And that’s just the tip of the flying iceberg that may or may not demolish these freaks’ flat at any moment. Each of the precious few Young Ones episodes is chock-full of more unpredictable humor and scathing social commentary than just about anything made today. And I guarantee you that Vyvyan Basterd will annihilate your own personal shoulder devil in short order.