Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line up of shows has become a real force in pop culture. It’s ratings now demolish late night mainstays like The Tonight Show and Late Show With David Letterman among 18- to 24-year olds (by 24 and 56 percent, respectively)1. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, created by Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis, is an illustrative example of the kind of programming drawing viewers from more traditional fare to Cartoon Network. In the show, animated anthropomorphic fast food items Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad deal with an equally colorful array of enemies, including the alien Mooninites, Inignot and Err. The three protagonists live in a house in New Jersey, next door to Carl, their human and not particularly friendly neighbor.
The show has reoccurring characters but little in the way of overarching themes, continuity, or logic. It commonly employs foul language (although the worst of it is beeped), explosions, and gross-out humor. It would be easy to dismiss it as yet another artifact of the steady decline of western civilization – although that attitude is probably premature. People have been bemoaning the decline of civilization at least since Socrates was put to death for corrupting the youth.2 There is more to this show than a surface reading would betray, and the characters of the Mooninites provide a good example of why.
The Mooninites are very popular among the show’s fans. Proof can be found in online discussion forums – in one, they are voted funniest villains by four out of nine posters.3 The characters were obviously inspired by early arcade and Atari games. Their spaceship, for example, would fit in perfectly in Space Invaders, and the sounds made when they walk, jump, or fire their lasers seem to come directly from games like Pac Man. Their bodies are squared and pixelated, as if they were rendered with limited processing power. The theme of alien enemies descending randomly from space is seen in many classic games, from Space Invaders to Galaga.