Scooby-Doo as I Do
Scooby-Doo as a Model for Social Cognitive Theory
In 1969 Scooby-Doo, Where are You! premiered on CBS. The show, known colloquially as Scooby-Doo, was created by Hanna-Barbera Productions as a non-violent alternative to the popular superhero shows of the time. This paper will discuss Scooby-Doo’s ideas pro-social behaviors and danger in the context of social cognitive theory and cultivation theory.
Social cognitive theory is the idea that as people observe media they learn from and are influenced by the models media presents, eg. a child watching a violent superhero cartoon observes that violence is acceptable, that the good guys do it. What then, does a child watching Scooby-Doo take away from any given episode? Scooby-Doo is about sociability. Each episode of Scooby-Doo has a villain, usually a man in a disguise whose goal is to scare people away from investigating the actual crime they are committing, whether it be larceny, forgery, etc. Each episode of Scooby-Doo has its protagonists, the four teens, Daphne, Fred, Shaggy, and Velma, and their dog, the eponymous Scooby-Doo. These protagonists work together to solve the mysteries associated with each villain’s plot, eg. a suit of armor is discovered in an abandoned truck while a noted professor has gone missing. Then, once each mystery is solved, the villain’s crimes discovered, the teens work together again to create a trap for the villain to capture them before handing the villain over to the police. Each leg of the story that a Scooby-Doo episode tells has the teens working together, whether it be looking for clues, operating a complex trap, or solving a mystery, and ultimately succeeding. In this way the show models social behavior in a very positive light. Compare this to the story of a villain in an episode of Scooby-Doo, a story where the villains typically work alone and often times literally scare outsiders away to commit their crimes in solitude, only to be thwarted by some “meddling kids.” There is a clear through line that suggests to viewers, working together is good and will have you succeed, doing the opposite is a recipe for failure. In the context of observational learning these themes tie into the motivation process. Specifically a child watching scooby-doo will feel vicarious motivation, they will see the gang succeed by working together and want to work with others and succeed in turn.
Along those same lines, Scooby-Doo very clearly suggests that crime never pays. While not unique to Scooby-Doo, this is an important lesson and model for the target audience of the show, children. Villains in Scooby-Doo never succeed, they are always thwarted by some kids and a dog. No sympathy is afforded to a Scooby-Doo villain, each episode has the villain carted off to jail, often saying, “I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids and your dog!” As a child observes this exchange they are confronted with not only the idea, don’t do crime, but the consequences of their actions should they choose to commit a crime. These consequences again tie into the motivational aspect of observational learning, particularly direct motivation. Not wanting to, as the model suggests, get sent to jail, the motivation for children to commit crime decreases.
However, cultivation theory suggests a more damning consequence of Scooby-Doo’s wacky antics. Cultivation theory is the idea that the more media you consume, the more likely you are to conflate your world view with that of the media. In a reversal of the “mean world phenomenon,” where consumers’ violent media has them believe the world is more violent than it actually is, avid watchers of Scooby-Doo may not realize the very real and present dangers the world does present. Because Scooby-Doo doesn’t contain violence, the bad guys never try and hurt the gang, children may not believe that anybody in the real world would want to hurt them. This is simply not true, especially in the context of the gang running into villains who are in the act of committing a crime. Another damnation, not just of Scooby-Doo but of all cartoons, is the lack of danger when it comes to environmental hazards. Whether it be Scooby-Doo flying to great heights with trash can lid wings or Shaggy being strapped to a log in a saw mill, Scooby-Doo portrays some incredibly dangerous environments that children should not be playing in. These criticisms align with the mainstreaming and resonance aspects of cultivation theory, that is to say, heavy viewers of Scooby-Doo could develop a view of reality where people do not present any danger. In a similar way, because children’s play areas are designed for safety, seeing the Scooby gang play in an industrial mill could resonate with the idea that this disparate location is also safe.
Thus, Scooby-Doo presents positive models for observation when it comes to social behavior and crime that suggest, through social cognitive theory, a child is better off watching Scooby-Doo. However, cultivation theory might suggest that an avid viewer of the show will neglect to heed the real dangers of the world.
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Scooby-Doo, Where are You![Television series]. (1969). CBS.
Author's Note: I wrote this essay in September 2018 for a class called Communication Theory and Practice.