Of course you know THIS means war!

The headline, of which everyone should know the source …

… is the only possible headline for what IJ Review reports:

A generation of obviously warped and demented now-functioning adults can remember laughing at Wile E. Coyote being blown up by TNT over and over again before magically reappearing, as though there were no consequences to violence. A writer at Slate, though, believes that:

To modern sensibilities, of course, the gun violence is especially startling—particularly the blasé approach to gun suicide, a rampant problem across the United States.

Murder and suicide is sure a problem among animated wabbits, ducks, and hunters, and I’m sure today’s kiddos aren’t capable of figuring out that “Looney Tunes” is fake. I mean, you run into talking wabbits all the time.

In any case, isn’t the blasé approach to carjacking and murder of innocent citizens in “Grand Theft Auto” worse?

I don’t doubt that most children in America are constantly exposed to violence on TV that’s far more disturbing than anything in Looney Tunes. But no kids’ show today would ever treat firearms or gun deaths so lightly, with such zany exuberance, as Looney Tunes once did.

*

That jaunty disregard of the consequences of violence is part of what made the show so bizarrely delightful. In a post-Newtown world, however, what was once strangely funny now registers as appallingly macabre.

Entertainment has long been filled with “macabre” stunts – anyone remember “The Three Stooges”? Oh wait, they’re probably next on the outrage list.

Someone put together a compilation of the horrors of which Slate wrote …

… and someone on YouTube observed: “When cartoons were funny and liberals were the minority.”

James Lileks believes those liberals have it all wrong:

Somehow Slate came up with a piece called “Looney Tunes cartoons were more brutal than you remember,” which concludes:

But no kids’ show today would ever treat firearms or gun deaths so lightly, with such zany exuberance, as Looney Tunes once did. That jaunty disregard of the consequences of violence is part of what made the show so bizarrely delightful. In a post-Newtown world, however, what was once strangely funny now registers as appallingly macabre.

Yes — if you’ve had your sense of humor surgically removed, and replaced with an oversized gland that produces chemicals responsible for compulsive frowning. Otherwise you might continue to find them strangely funny, oddly funny, audaciously funny, or perhaps just hilarious. There are still some, I hope, who can smile at the sight of Daffy’s beak blown clear around to the other side of his head after Fudd loosed a blunderbuss blast. There is no pain involved; only irritation and annoyance. He readjusts his beak with an audible squeaking sound, and stomps off to yell at Bugs, instigator of the incident.

But that very episode — “Duck! Rabbit, Duck!” — contains messages that should hearten the heart of a Slate writer, for it contains a very modern message about identity. As you may recall, the plot concerns Fudd’s confusion over which season it is: Wabbit, or Duck? The signage is confusing. Daffy self-identifies as a duck, and this being the ’40s, he is locked in a fixed identity, a product of a culture that says if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it is a duck. But as we now know, “species” is as fluid as any other form of identity.

And that’s something Bugs reveals in a very subversive sequence. Daffy uses colloquial expressions to describe his mood, noting that he feels like a goat. Whereupon Bugs produces a sign that says it is Goat Season. Fudd unloads accordingly. It may look like violence. But it’s really acceptance. If Daffy says he is a goat then he is a goat. He may suffer the consequences, but Fudd has affirmed his statement of identity. Over the course of the cartoon Daffy identifies with various species, and in each instance Bugs has an appropriate placard to nudge Fudd toward accepting the fluid spectrum on which Daffy may choose to locate himself.

Half a century before Facebook’s 57 genders, Warner Brothers was laying the groundwork.

It’s not an isolated example of progressive themes in Looney Tunes. “Hillbilly Hare” contains a wealth of sociological insight. The main characters are two rural archetypes mired in poverty, wandering the backwoods shoeless, engaged in a pointless blood feud. You could almost call it “What’s the Matter with the Ozarks,” for instead of concentrating their enmity against the 1 percent that has exploited their labor and resources, they are pitted against each other in a pointless struggle.

Into this world comes Bugs, who draws their attention by dressing up as a seductive female rabbit — a transgressive statement that manages to lampoon heteronormative behavior (transgender Bugs feigns interest in the males) and reinforces the worst sort of cross-dressing stereotypes, as female-identified Bugs is all lipstick and hip-cocking sashay exaggeration. But for the time it was groundbreaking. To a youth who sat in the theater in 1948 it may have said, Yes, it is possible to break the confines of biological gender, and to do so with such confidence and style that people who would otherwise fricassee you for supper would follow your every suggestion.

And what a suggestion! In a hilarious set piece, Bugs calls a square-dance tune whose instructions aren’t the usual do-si-do, bow-to-your-left, but consist entirely of commands to inflict escalating levels of retributive violence. The men, socially and culturally conditioned to follow any command the square-dance caller makes, are not only helpless to assert their own will, they end up dancing with each other. This redefines the courtship ritual of the dance — a means of channeling and controlling sexual energy — into a fiercely homoerotic ballet. Watch:

“Hit ’im again, the critter ain’t dead.” It’s safe to assume Bugs is talking about the stifling hand of religious intolerance and centuries of marriage inequality. With a tidy couplet he brushes away the pope’s objections: Promenade like a bride and groom, he calls, and that they do.

Not to say Bugs wasn’t capable of typical male behavior, but it was often done to reveal the dangers of an ungoverned male libido. In “Ballot Box Bunny,” Yosemite Sam has hauled a cannon to the porch of Bugs’s election HQ, and tied the trigger to the doorknob. Mere seconds later, he opens the door himself. One may assume he is decapitated by the impact, although he recovers quickly enough; the ephemeral nature of injuries in Warner Brothers cartoons can be seen as a comment on the shameful nature of World War II domestic propaganda, which shielded the public from the horrific nature of war wounds.

But that’s not the main point. How did Bugs get Sam to open the door? He said that “Emma from St. Louis” was at the front door, and the promise of sexual favors instantly wiped all other thoughts from Sam’s brain. If a man cannot be trusted with his own well-being, certainly he cannot be trusted with anyone else’s. Or it’s a message for a seven-day waiting period for cannons; interpretations vary.

There’s no mistaking the ending of “Hair-Raising Hare” for what it is, though: a devastating critique of men’s relentless objectification and unthinking response to the female form:

So it’s mechanical! So what! It’s hot! It is not another person Bugs seeks, but a shape, a form, an object he can control. His mimicry of the mechanical robot will be familiar to any woman whose mate seemed to be what she wanted at first, butturned out to be adopting a persona in order to gain sexual favors.

The cartoons are full of political messages — Speedy Gonzales the Undocumented Mouse, the endangered Road Runner escaping the depredations of industrialized warfare. It is unfair to regard their messages as macabre, when the underlying lessons of Warner Brothers cartoons contain remarkably progressive insights into human sexuality and economic interactions. Sometimes the messages are subtle, as with Tweety Bird; it lived in a gilded cage, pursued by a hungry, homeless cat who lacked the class consciousness to realize that Tweety’s owner — a symbol of inherited wealth who did not work but lived off the accumulation of capital — was the real enemy. But there are impermissible elements. The regrettable adventures of Pepé Le Pew combine male privilege with miscegenation panic — the female skunk is actually a cat, zut alors — and xenophobic attitudes toward Gallic hygiene. These should be banned, or at least preceded by a trigger warning.

As long as we’re at it, people who have been mauled by large feral cats might want a Tigger Warning before viewing some Winnie the Pooh cartoons. Piglet is also offensive to some cultures. Eeyore does tend to minimize the ravages of depression. When you think about it, Christopher Robin probably grew up to be a property developer, subdividing the Hundred Acre Wood for cul-de-sac housing, forgetting entirely the lessons Pooh taught him about the heedless pursuit of honey.

I’m sure the Slate writer thinks of himself as …

 

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