A year ago I started to think about how child or adolescent characters existed in mystery stories. I saw Brick and Veronica Mars as the two main source texts for adolescents operating inside the usual sphere of the hard-boiled detective, with the Hardy Boys and Three Investigator series lurking somewhere nearby, and Blyton’s child adventurers in The Famous Five and The Secret Seven. I wasn’t particularly thinking about Scooby Doo, but once mentioned, it is obviously the lynch-pin of understanding the relationship between Noir and Pedonoir.
Just in case it’s not obvious, here’s why.
Traditional detective stories a la Christie, are symbolically about the correction of an individual aberration, leading to the restoration of an orderly functional society. At least, I have a pile of scholarly articles and close readings which lead me to that broad conclusion. A similar pile tells me that the hard-boiled detective exists in a world riven with systemic corruption, and the detective, at best, selectively corrects, but mostly merely navigates through the pervasive criminality. A gross simplification would be that the Formal Detective acts on the world, the Hard Boiled is acted on – which sounds a tiny bit like Robin Laws’ Iconic v. Dramatic distinction, except that both are iconic.
Hold that concept in your mind, and let’s talk about Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
Velma and the gang always get involved in a spooky mystery, where there is a monster or a haunting or something. 100% of the time this turns out to be an elaborate hoax by some would-be criminal genius, and the extent of their crime is almost always “clean crime” – no rape or torture here, obviously.
Another way of looking at this is that when they arrive, it appears that a supernatural presence has caused a disruption to society, which Velma needs to correct. That the disruption always turns out to be a real person has a strong implication that those people are monsters after all; now safely removed from the scene. This would seem to place them in the Christie tradition.
The nature of the crimes however, does not exactly concur. The catch-phrase of all the villains is “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids”. There is no remorse implied in their statements once caught, and moreover, they’re right: without interference, their manipulation of the property would have been rewarded. The villains are also operating broadly within an obviously flawed property system. They always have some quasi-legitimate claim which is being supported by their supernatural shenanigans. The villain in a classic detective story is an aberration operating outside the system, the hard-boiled villain is a subversion of the system itself.
On simple story mechanics too, Velma has a legitimate claim to operating in the hardboiled tradition. While a careful collection and analysis of clues is carried out, the real fruits of the investigation come from a good deal of physicality. They engage in a good bit of rough-and-tumble, and it is often this process of investigating which disrupts the villain’s plans, because those plans are always still in-play, rather than effectively over as they are for the formal detective.
This would place the characters in the broadly corrupt society posited by Hard Boiled.
Scooby Doo therefore occupies a kind of lagrange point when trying to think about the relationship between the classic formula story, the children’s story, and the perspective that hard boiled fiction casts on society-at-large. And the crucial ambiguity is the obfuscation of human criminals via a monstrous visage.
In Children’s fiction, the monster is always defeated by the hero, and so too in Scooby Doo; Velma never fails. The tools that Velma uses are the rational tools of an adult: the collection and analysis of evidence. And what she always discovers is that corruptible humans are always the real menace: monsters are only people in masks. Every episode thus begins in a child-like state of believing monstrous fantasies and ends instead with a revelation about the adult world of property and corruption. It is a complete expression of the tipping-point between childhood and adulthood, with detection as the fulcrum.