Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Jubilant Anarchy of Looney Toons

There is a part of me that is still 11 years old. Heck, there's a part of me that's still six years old.

The 11-year-old part is the one that ran across Edgar Rice Burrough's A Fighting Man of Mars and got lost in the wondrous Barsoomian world of Giant Man-Eating Apes and Death Rays and Mad Scientists and Invisibility Cloaks and Martian Babes Not Wearing Very Much At All and all the rest of that Way-Cool Stuff. Who the heck needs drugs when you've got this stuff, I thought. I am reminded of what Sir Thomas Browne said: "All the wonders you seek are within yourself."

The six-year-old part is the one that still watches cartoons. The modern ones, the ones I used to watch on Saturday morning, just plain stink, with the exception of Spongebob Squarepants. But I still watch those old Warner Brother's "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Toons," those exuberant and wonderful ones created by that genius, Chuck Jones. Thank God for modern technology and DVDs. They're why I can tell modern cartoons to go away, get lost, I don't have any use for you.

My view is that all good artists are basically anarchists, or party-down conservatives (which is what conservatism is, in its true sense). It's the bad artists (if you can call them artists), like Karl Marx and Adolph Hitler, who are the socialists. I sometimes wonder if the fact they were frustrated artists wasn't part of their problems, and therefore ours. Marx wanted to be a poet, and Hitler an architect. Neither had enough talent.

These bad artists are the main reason Saturday morning cartoons are so crummy: they're socialist and boring, especially when they're about Evil Capitalists Polluting the Planet, for example. It's bad art in the service of bad political science. Children aren't being taught by this stuff; they're being traumatized ("Mommy! Daddy! Captain Retard told me the ice-caps are going to melt!").

One of the best cartoons I've ever seen is 1936's "I Love to Singa." I just can't see it being made today. A singing owl? Owl Jolson, of course ("I love to sing-a/About the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a/I love to sing-a/About a sky of blue-a, or a tea for two-a"). I taped that one 15 years ago and still have it. After watching it, I decided some creative people are just born naturally high. The aforementioned Spongebob is an example of that.

But those Merrie Melodies and Looney Toons – now those are wild, jubilant, anarchistic stories! They're the best cartoons ever made. There's nothing in any of them about the wonders of the State and how it can take care of you from cradle to grave. Any of the characters who appear to have even a vague resemblance to a politician is treated as a buffoon, like Foghorn Leghorn, or insane, like Marvin the Martian.

One of the things, among many, that impresses me about these cartoons is that there really are no purely evil villains in them, be it Yosemite Sam or the Tasmanian Devil or Marvin. They might be more nuts than sane, even if they appear sane (like Marvin), they might even be frothing-at-the-mouth lunatics (like Sam or the Devil) but none of them are pure evil, which is how people are in real life, even if we like to comfort ourselves with such simplistic views.

There's no real heroes, either. Bugs Bunny is a perfect example of perhaps the oldest archetype of all, the Trickster, but he's no Superman or Batman. He's just a smart-aleck rabbit who has to outsmart those stronger or crazier than he is. He can't fly and he doesn't have a Rabbitmobile hidden in a cave.

I find his attitude in dealing with the State to be the best one: it's stronger than any one individual, so you have to outsmart it. Bugs may not exactly be a hero, but you could call him wise. He doesn't really seem to be afflicted with any of the Seven Deadly Sins: he doesn't hate, or rage, or envy, unlike Sam and Taz or Daffy, all of whom seem more than a tad angry, or Marvin, who's a walking example of hubris. As for Bugs, his Trickster archetype wouldn't have lasted for thousands of years if there wasn't wisdom in it.

A good story is a regaining of innocence, of remembering something we've always known but have forgotten. It's the reason why I consider cartoons to be modern-day myths. J.R.R. Tolkien called this characteristic "recovery," which is described as "regaining a clear view." It's realizing you have to have some innocence in a fallen world, that people are neither pure good nor pure evil, that good stories are absolutely necessary to living well (think of the movie, Big Fish, as an example), while bad stories, if you believe them, will damage you.

I essentially stopped watching TV almost five years ago. It's not because I'm some sort of snob. Television's just not any good anymore. It's full of bad stories. I don't watch the news, and I don't watch the regular programming. I don't even know what's on these days. I've never even seen Survivor, Fear Factor or Temptation Island. I don't think I've missed anything. I find I look at the world a little differently now. It's a better place than the warped view modern-day TV portrays.

I have a lot of tapes and DVDs, though, full of good stories. Fun ones.

I feel a bit sorry for kids today. It's got to the point where I think TV is snatching their innocence from them. There's no more Leave It to Beaver or Gilligan's Island or the utterly goofy Get Smart. And there's certainly no Merrie Melodies or Looney Tunes, with that poor, put-upon Daffy Duck or Henery Hawk trying to drag Leghorn to the broiler by his big toe.

TV, at its best, should be about having some of the magic in fiction rub off on the real world. It hasn't been that for a long time.

No comments: