The Great American Trickster: Happy Birthday Bugs Bunny, Part 2
|Well are you comin’? Are You Gonna Be There (at the Love-In?)
And Laura Nyro sings A little magic, a little kindness, and ain’t that sweet-eyed blindness good to me…
And Shep sez A little vaudeville, a few laughs, a real conversation, some insights, some music…
…Take your mind out for spin at the Book LaunchTalkParty for “Tricking Power into Performing Acts of Love”
Sunday, June 5, 2022 at
The Rendezvous’ beautiful Jewelbox Theater (21 & Over)
2322 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98121
Doors open at 6, show at 6:33
Pegasus Books of West Seattle will be there with copies of Tricking Power available for signing and purchase…huzzah!
Oh, so you want a podcast, do you? Well I just happen to have one here, hot off the presses. Please check out Talkin’ ’bout Our Generation! where the excellent team of Julian Simmons and Rob Wilson put me through my paces.
While he was initially characterized with a hayseed country boy persona and accent, Bugs soon adopted a Brooklyn/Bronx accent and more urbane perspective. Bugs Bunny IS the leading American manifestation of the Trickster archetype, and in a miracle of the collective unconscious, he emerged as such through the creative efforts of this gaggle of artists.
Early Bugs appeared in 1938 and 1939, with the first definitive version starring in the 1940 Academy Award-nominated A Wild Hare. Some of the 20th century’s greatest talents shot Bugs, like a cannonball, into the heart of the American psyche: Directors Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Fritz Freleng, Robert McKimson and Bob Clampett; Voice Mel Blanc; and Composer and Conductor Carl Stalling. Ironically, Bugs Hardaway had left the Leon Schlesinger/Warner Brothers studios by this time, and went on to invent Woody Woodpecker for Walter Lantz Studios.
So Bugs was not the creation of any one person but rather represented the creative talents of perhaps five or six directors and many cartoon-writers. In those days the stories were often the work of a group who suggested various gags, bounced them around and finalized them in a joint story conference. Individually a creator might falter, but as a committee of artists, a collective knowledge of what ‘felt right’, what was truly Bugs, prevailed.
One of his very first appearances, in Elmer’s Candid Camera, features the country version of Bugs, and is reminiscent of Native American and African tales. His behavior is morally indeterminate. In one scene he attacks and pranks Elmer, putting him in mortal danger; in the next, he feigns compassion and rescues Elmer from drowning; and then, finally, throws him back in the lake once he has made sure that he’s okay. The only consistency is that Bugs is always pulling our leg. His response to his own endangerment is to fake suffering and pleading.
We like him for his redeeming virtue of refusing to take anything seriously. Including his gender or gender role. In 1940’s A Hare’s Tale, Bugs kisses Elmer. On the lips. Twice. And once on the nose. Bugs, like most Tricksters, wanders alone, but he’s a sexy wanderer where the sex is tricky, too. Cross-dressing is as common as wolf-whistling in Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Elmer’s facile morality binds him, while Bugs is liberated by his lack of one. The nonsensical plot wanderings are characteristic of Bugs cartoons and Trickster story cycles.
Grown adults create these cartoons, grown adults very much in touch with their own child-like capacity for play. Bugs, the consummate modern Trickster, plays in the larger field of Play as well, with nonsense and silliness that connects to all children. In 1944’s The Old Grey Hare, the creative team is well into their stride, and in Trickster fashion Elmer time-travels to 2000, where he and Bugs play out their routine in their creaky twilight years.
‘Eh, what’s up, prune-face?’ hails old Bugs, who is suffering from lumbago. In a tour de force of phony sentimentality, Bugs fakes a mortal wound when shot by Elmer’s Buck Rogers Lightning Quick Rabbit-Killer. He whips out a scrapbook he’d apparently been keeping and we time-travel once again to their first chase as infants. After re-enacting the ‘What’s up, doc?” “I’m looking for a little baby bunny.” “What’s he look like, doc? He looks…just like you!’ routine, the chase ensues, but is suddenly halted.
Baby Bugs says ‘uh-oh’ time for little babies to have afternoon nap.’ The two curl up together and nap. ‘Okay nap over’ declares Bugs, and the chase resumes.
Sure, it’s a typical smart-aleck gag, but it also means these grownups are remembering their own infancies. Sweet and child-like and broadly playful.
The Trickster is most thoroughly profiled by Lewis Hyde in Trickster Makes This World, but beyond and apart from mythology, players/Tricksters shine their light on political and cultural potential. And I offer Bugs as a grounding mechanism. Think Trickster, think Bugs. But also let Bugs open our minds to greater playfields. This begins by returning to our definitions of playing to win versus playing in order to keep on playing, i.e., the play of animals (Tricksters are usually animals) and of infant and toddler humans. The centra query: How do adults who have retained the ability to be playful fare in the worlds of politics and culture?
We’ve come some ways from Jack and the Beanstalk (Petit Jean), Loki, King Lear’s Fool, and Till Eulenspiegel. In the 20thcentury, Trickster makes his jailbreak, led by dada, continued by the hippies, and found today with tricksters like The Yes Men, Sacha Baron Cohen, Banksy, ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ and as yet to be discovered figures. Power required that play’s early showing in Western history be humbly framed as nonthreatening mischief and humor. But our historical arc bends towards a meeting of the Trickster orientation to the world with a radical vision: The Play Society.
So as you venture with me into the complex and paradoxical world of Trickster consciousness, it helps to situate Bugs in the peanut gallery of your minds, as a benign reminder of what trickster mischief looks like.
Bugs is featured in my previous book, “Disruptive Play: The Trickster in Politics and Culture,” and is more of a background presence in my latest, “Tricking Power into Performing Acts of Love,” available for pre-order. and at the Book LaunchTalkParty Check ‘em both out once you emerge from the tunnel.