Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Bugs Bunny: Teacher and Mentor

Exposure to a Mischievous Cartoon Rabbit at an Impressionable Age

My wife likes to remind me to turn off the lights in a room when I leave it. So when I turned off our kitchen lights this evening, I said "Click!"

I didn't think about it, when I said "Click!", but I was alluding to a trick with a light switch Bugs Bunny plays on the Big Bad Wolf in the cartoon titled, "The Windblown Hare." Because I watched Bugs Bunny religiously during my formative years, it's not unusual for me to repeat something I learned so long ago from a cartoon.

From 1940 to 1964, Warner Bros. produced 170 cartoons featuring this iconic cartoon character. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons as well as many others produced under the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies labels. Thursday nights, when I was little, we watched "The Bugs Bunny Show." My father enjoyed watching Bugs almost as much as watching the Pink Panther. When Bugs moved to Saturday mornings, it was the centerpiece and main course of all the morning cartoons.

Bugs is a culturally-recognized example of the "trickster" archetype. On one hand, he's a friendly character who doesn't go looking for trouble. But on the other hand, once someone brings trouble to him, they better watch out! He is quite adept at devising clever tricks to play on those who have wronged him.

Time to Get Serious, and Make a List

Several years ago, I decided to apply my inherited and inordinate fondness for making lists by constructing a list of all the Bugs Bunny cartoons, drawing on information from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons by Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald. One by one, I checked off the ones I had watched. When I needed a few more to watch to complete the list, I found them on YouTube.

Going back to watching many of the old cartoons was spurred in part by a trend that concerned me. Many of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, including Bugs Bunny, were being censored before being shown on Cartoon Network. A shotgun blast to a character's face would be deleted, for example. I surmised that some group of concerned parents were influencing network executives to edit the cartoons for anything that might -- as these parents believed -- have a negative influence on their children's behavior. As I looked into this, I found there were entire cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny that have been banned because they depicted not just violence but racial stereotypes. These cartoons are not shown on TV but can be found on some DVDs or on YouTube. The DVDs released as the "Looney Tunes Golden Collection" are compilations that include, among many of most famous cartoons, some of the more controversial ones. Each DVD begins with a message explaining that while some cartoons on the disk depict unacceptable behaviors such as racial stereotypes, they are included for historical reasons. But then, cartoons such as "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," a World War II-era feature, can now only be found on YouTube. At the time this short originally came out, its treatment of the Japanese as our enemies was dehumanizing, an almost universal sociological factor in wartime. (This cartoon, as well as many others released in wartime, were intended as entertainment for adults, not children.)

What Bugs Bunny Has Taught Me

So what have I learned by watching cartoons like Bugs Bunny over the years? I've learned it's good to have sense of humor and not take oneself too seriously. I've learned that being clever is better than being out-and-out mean. I picked up various expressions (like Yosemite Sam's "Ya' durn idgit" and "Whoa, mule [camel, elephant], I said whoa!"), some of which have become so embodied in my day-to-day conversations that I often don't realize I'm quoting a cartoon character. (As when I say "click" when I turn off a light.) 

Other fans of Bugs have been educated in other ways. One person commented on Twitter that Bugs had taught him that "revenge on my enemies should be quick, clever, and brutal.")

What did I not learn? I did not learn that shooting someone in the face simply turns their face black with gunpowder. Nor did I learn to think in racist terms. And enjoying the antics of an anthropomorphized rabbit who some have labeled a "cross-dresser" has not harmed me.

Like many others, I miss the "golden years" of animated shorts.

This post originally appeared, in somewhat different form, on a previous blog of mine, 12 August 2018.

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