When we look at the cultural contributions made by the summer of 1969, it’s hard not to be impressed. Woodstock, The Moon Landing, and the Stonewall riots changed the way we think about music, scientific achievement, and LGBT rights in this country forever. It was also the summer of Charles Manson, of hippies, and political protest, young adults and teens mobilizing in ways we’re only starting to see again in the mainstream. When we think about horror though, and how it changed thanks to 1969, the influence is more subtle. And surprising.
Put more than one horror nerd together, get them talking, and see how long before the following question is asked:
“What got you into horror?”
Then, the rehearsed stories of watching Nightmare on Elm Street through gaps in the fingers, the Halloween sleepovers where nobody sleeps, the lying kids who claimed they went into their basements with a copy of Cannibal Holocaust and were never the same. We’re all proud superfans rattling off our quasi-spiritual origin stories, times we saw the light, and the light was made of shadows.
Look deeper and the real truths come out, the origin stories that don’t make us sound like badasses: the boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and every single thing about Return to Oz. We compare our kindertraumas like rare Pokémon cards or scars from the swingset. Oddly enough, nobody brings up what is likely everyone’s first detective story, teenagers-in-a-van story, and monster story: 1969’s Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
Laying the Groundwork
Growing up on reruns, I remember episodes of the classic cartoon with visceral detail. The giggling Spooky Space Kook, the mismatched jaundiced eyes of The Creeper, and the spectral ooze of the Green Ghosts still wander the wrinkles of my brain. These beasts and specters, while always nothing more than men in masks, still have an undeniable scariness to them. I remember the feeling of being manipulated by music and the dark color palette as one of my first and formative horror experiences.
Moreover, the four teens and their dog are still enduring archetypes as indelible and relatable as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Smurfs. People are leaders like Fred, bookworms like Velma, empaths like Daphne, or sandwich-powered chaos engines like Shaggy. Perhaps, though, we are the entire gang contained in one. Perhaps we are all Mystery Machines hurtling through life, full of our own inner Freds, Velmas, Daphnes, and Shaggys, trying to make the world better, confront monsters, and pet a dog when we can.
Revisiting the series for this article, I’m floored by the many twinklings of its influence throughout popular culture. In only a two-season run from 1969 to 1970, Scooby Doo, Where Are You? changed American culture, let alone horror culture.
The van full of too-curious teens in a small town feels as close to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th as it does to the members of Mystery Inc. As each episode goes through its well-worn paces, we experience our first eye-rolls at the suggestion of “Let’s split up, gang!” We can read the landscape of every teen horror film thanks to the cartographers of Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
Also, close your eyes and imagine a dog talking. Do you hear “R”s before the words? Does everything have a playful rasp to it? That’s due, largely, to Don Messick’s choices portraying Scooby Doo. The dog could have any voice, any slight alteration from Brooklyn accent (as we later hear in Scrappy-Doo) to lounge singer cool (as we hear in Dooby Dooby Doo, but we’ll get to that later), but Messick made his choice and now that’s everyone’s go-to dog voice. Legacy.
Peace, Love, and Scooby Snacks
Scooby Doo, Where Are You? is timeless, but also surprisingly of its time. Looking specifically at 1969 and Scooby Doo, though, the gang is almost certainly hippies. They have no jobs, no obligations beyond a van, and a willingness to help people. They’re roaming the blasted abandoned towns of America in their flower-powered van, confronting monsters rather than acting like them. Their enemies are, by and large, old white men trying to stop their towns from changing.
Unmasking every small town ghost and monster and revealing feeble men afraid of change and willing to act monstrously to preserve their money and ways of life is the perfect metaphor for the counterculture. In a way, each member of Mystery Inc. stands in for a certain kind of rebellion.
Velma, with her modest sweater and brain, is intellectual in ways women weren’t encouraged to be. Daphne wields her femininity, even relegated to her role as frequent damsel-in-distress, in progressive ways. People don’t end up in vans with talking dogs by following the rules. Shaggy, unshaved and t-shirted, is the most obvious unspoken pothead in the history of television. Even Fred, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, would rather solve problems and change things than simply drive on by, despite looking like the favorite son of any yacht club.
Scoob and the gang put in the work to get the puppeteers of power and fear out of the way of real progress. Looking around at the monsters without masks scaring progress away from our country right now, looking at the modern Creepers and Space Kooks haunting the White House and the Halls of Congress, Scooby Doo, Where Are You?’s theme song springs to mind.
We got some work to do now. We need some help from you now. More than ever. I know we’ll catch that villain.
A bunch of hippies in a van, their talking dog, and easily the catchiest theme song in history, that’s all it took for Scooby Doo, Where Are You? to make history. There are seven different versions of Mystery Inc.’s adventures spanning almost 50 years and countless movies where Scoob and the gang have fought zombies, ghosts, vampires, and a rogue video game A.I. There have been supporting characters from the Harlem Globetrotters to Alvin and the Chipmunks to a child pickpocket named Flim Flam. In small, subtle doses, this show, these characters, have contributed to countless generations of kids who learn to love being scared. I was one of them, I suspect you were, too.
If Scooby Doo, Where Are You? is an actual question in need of an answer, the answer is clear: Scooby Doo is here, in the American zeitgeist, and it’s not going anywhere.
And now, for fun, since you’re here and I’ll likely never get the chance again, let’s talk about the Doo family. There’s more than Scooby and Scrappy. A simple internet deep dive will reveal no less than nineteen apples on the Scooby Doo family tree including the aforementioned Dooby Dooby Doo, a traveling crooner and cousin to Scooby. He sings like Sinatra and dresses like Prince. Other highlights include the mad scientist dog, Horton-Doo with his bowtie and glasses, the clown suited Whoopsy-Doo, and Scooby-Dum, whose only personality trait, shockingly, is that he’s very, very dumb.
In researching this article, I’ve come to learn these things. I must bear the load of this knowledge, and so, now too, do you.