WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SCOOBY DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED
Donald Trump’s aggressive and irrational “criticism” of any bad press he gets has made the legitimacy of mainstream media a constant conversation. Unfortunately his baseless ranting has derailed actual media criticism. News media is a powerful entity- the information it delivers sways opinions, influences the actions we take, and colors how we understand the world. In Trump’s America, criticizing the media now puts you in league with petulant conspiracy theorists. However it’s as important as ever to think critically about the information we receive and where it comes from.
Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed may have been released back in 2004, but it’s message of news media corruption is profoundly relevant today. Within the world of Monsters Unleashed the Mystery Incorporated gang are established celebrities, living their life in the public eye. The film begins with the grand opening of a museum exhibit that celebrates their past mysteries. With the crash of thunder the Pterodactyl ghost costume comes to life and attacks the crowd before a metallic masked figure appears, threatening the gang, “this time you’ll be the ones unmasked for the buffoons you truly are!” When the masked figure flies away with the Pterodactyl ghost, the news media is on the case. Reporter Heather Jasper Howe (Alicia Silverstone) spins the story to put the blame on the gang. She edits a sound bite from Fred, originally, “Of course little ol’ Coolsville can solve its problems without us…but we’ll always be here to help.” down to a simple, smug, “Little ol’ Coolsville can solve its problems without us.” She runs it with a clip of Scooby and Shaggy looking like destructive morons. This narrative device, which the film repeats several times, effectively articulates the power of context (or lack thereof) and the dangers of bias reporting. By showing the scene in full before swiftly recontextualizing it to paint the gang as villains, director Raja Gosnell demonstrates how easy it is to manipulate an uncritical audience.
The gang is wildly frustrated with their misrepresentation, and their combative reactions only exacerbate the public’s now negative perception. When Fred becomes privy to the crooked reporter’s tactic he tells her, “You’re doing that thing again where you take everything I say out of context. You’re trying to make it looks like I think Coolsville sucks!” Of course moments later this plays back to Fred on television, hilariously whittled down to, “I think Coolsville sucks!”
When the gang finally solves the mystery it is revealed that the villain was actually…reporter Heather Jasper Howe in disguise! And then they reveal that she was Jonathan Jacobo (an old adversary, the original Pterodactyl ghost) in disguise! This could be a nuanced metaphor for the structure of mainstream media conglomerates. Fox News, for instance, is owned by Fox Entertainment Group, which is a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, (the world’s fourth largest multinational mass media conglomerate.) The news network’s nesting-doll structure of power and influence is a mirror image of a masked villain. It is also likely I’m reading too far into this. But who’s to say?
Regardless, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed takes a jab at sensationalist, manipulative media. The film teaches lessons of healthy skepticism in the face of power, and it makes media criticism accessible to children. It demonstrates, with great wit and a sense of humor, how words and images shouldn’t be trusted without proper context and facts to back them up.
Donald Trump probably watches Scooby Doo 2 and cheers for the gang when they unmask Fake News as the villain. I’m sure he feels a close bond to Fred, a fellow wealthy man with wispy blonde hair, so unfairly misrepresented by a television reporter. However he would likely miss the greater point. If Trump were in charge of making Scooby Doo 3 it would probably be about Mystery Inc using the case of Heather Jasper Howe to discredit other, more reputable news sources, until the only information the public trusts is the Mystery Incorporated Fan Newsletter.