By Jerry Waxman
“Nah, he’s a toon. You can drop anything you want on his head, he’ll shake it off.”
Those were the words spoken by R.K. Maroon, the studio head in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.? This is exactly the feeling I’m getting, not just from the goings on in Wisconsin, but in too many states where the same mantra is being played out by Republicans as well as in the U.S. House of Representatives. I feel we’re living in a cartoon world where you can substitute people like Scott Walker or Chris Christie for Judge Doom using funding and weapons from The Koch Brothers (Substitutes for Marvin Acme) to get rid of the toons and Toon Town for their own greedy purposes.
What has been happening is that ordinary citizens have been getting together to push back on these villainous types, but they are resilient and they never stop coming back at you. We need a bunch of our own rapid response people to meet these challenges. Let’s go back to that old 1980’s TV series The A-Team, basically a live action cartoon, which in its first season was loads of fun to watch. They were four renegade former military special ops misfits with various and sundry skills who are pitted against the bad guys at least twice in each episode. In their first encounter they completely defeat the half dozen or so bad guys with a force that would at least break bones or cause concussions. Cars and buildings blow up and all sorts of mayhem happens, yet fifteen minutes later they’re at it again sans bruises or bandages. More mayhem and at the end of each episode the bad guys and their bosses are sent off to jail, at least until the next episode begins.
This is a formula which has worked well for at least a thousand years. The whole Robin Hood legend is a fiction that was generated during the reign of Richard the Lion Hearted. Richard himself was a valiant warrior who spent hardly any time in England and actually spoke very little English. Every society had their legends as well. Cervantes publication of Don Quixote was a push back against governmental abuse, and of course in Mexico and Southern California we have the still popular legend of Zorro. In the twentieth century popular newspaper serial cartoons featuring Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon eventually became movie serials. Rogers and Gordon were constantly fighting Killer Kane and Ming the Merciless whose sole aims were galaxy and universal domination. Let’s not forget that the nineteenth century detective Sherlock Holmes was always struggling to defeat his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty.
Cartoons and the cartoon mentality have become part of our culture. Who can forget the newsreel photos of Mayor LaGuardia reading the comic pages to New York’s children during the 1945 newspaper strike? My generation grew up on them. In Philadelphia back in the 1950’s when we went to the Saturday matinees our heroes were (in no particular order) Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, Mighty Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Road Runner and lots of others. They also had their nemeses (again in no particular order) Bluto (also known as Brutus), Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Marvin the Martian, Black Pete, Sylvester the cat, Wile E. Coyote et al. Each week one of these characters would be facing their arch foe and would narrowly pluck out a victory after some very frantic and violent escapades in which the villain gets clobbered by dynamite or an anvil or falling off a cliff, yet in the next frame they’re back at their pursuits. Those cartoons are still running on cable television. The local CBS affiliate featured a puppet named Willie the Worm who featured Farmer Alfalfa and Toonerville Trolley cartoons from the silent era with Willie’s narration. The local NBC affiliate had a commercial artist named “Chuckwagon” Pete (father of actor Peter Boyle) who introduced us to cartoons as well as Hopalong Cassidy, John Wayne, Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix and Bob Steele westerns on Frontier Playhouse. Those westerns were basically live action cartoon variations on the Robin Hood legend. In the mid fifties we were introduced to the Mouseketeers. Warner Bros and Walter Lantz quickly followed suit with shows of their own.
In 1957 Hanna Barbera introduced Huckleberry Hound and a whole host of characters including Yogi Bear. Most of the character voices and actions lampooned personalities of the day. Jay Ward took it a step further in 1959 when he introduced Rocket J Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose who caused a sensation fighting the evil Boris Badenov, Natasha and Fearless Leader. Ward added satire to the mix which came at the height of the Cold War. He also introduced Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, Dudley Do Right, George of the Jungle and reinvigorated Edward Everett Horton’s career. Hanna Barbera quickly responded with two satiric series of their own: The Flintstones and The Jetsons. Cartoon characters were used in many commercials, notably Bert and Harry Piel for Piel’s Beer. You have to go some to remember Crusader Rabbit and his companion, Rags the Tiger, or Johnny Quest, but they were all part of our growing up. In the 60’s Japanese animation brought us Speed Racer, Astro Boy and Gigantor. Who can forget Josie and the Pussycats or Scooby-Doo? William Windom starred in a series called My World and Welcome to it based on the stories and cartoons of James Thurber. Many people today still buy newspapers mainly for the comic section. God forbid they should miss reading Doonesbury or Dilbert or Blondie or Beetle Bailey. Even eleven years after his death Charles Schulz Peanuts is still a highly popular comic strip. Lest we forget, I haven’t even mentioned Dr. Seuss and his impact on children, or any of Walt Disney’s animated full length movies, which my three year old granddaughter adores. Superman, Batman, Green Hornet, Wonder Woman, Spider Man and The Hulk had their own series on TV. Superman, Batman, and Spiderman became movie franchises along with scores of other superheroes that got their start on the comic pages of newspapers or in comic books. When we became adults we never quite gave up the altruistic goodness of our heroes, nor the dastardly deeds of their arch foes. So, it might be a good exercise to view today’s politicians through a cartoon character’s lens.
Just imagine that today’s generic Republican politician is a combination of Snidely Whiplash, The Brain and Judge Doom. Compare that to the generic Democratic mix of Dudley Do Right and Ferdinand the Bull. Outrageous? I don’t think so. Just take a look at today’s senators and reps and see for yourselves. We know what the Republicans are about, but what are the Democrats about? It’s okay to be well intentioned but it is NOT okay to be inept and impotent in the way you handle it, which is why the Democrats took such a bad beating in November. Our A Team needs to be Bugs Bunny to their Elmer Fudd, Popeye to their Bluto or Rocky to their Boris. The people of Wisconsin need our A Team more than ever in their valiant fight to beat back the regressive forces of Snidely Whiplash and company. This is not a time to shy away from the fight because they are not going to stop. After all, they’re drawn that way (I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist it.) There is no choice here-we either beat them or we get The Dip.