THE UNITED STATES OF GEEKDOM
A podcast by geeks of all trades, for geeks of all trades. We will talk about comic books, movies, TV shows, and all things that make us geeks go tick. Power to the different!

Clothes Do Not Make the Toon

The wholesome look.
JediCole here. Having recently wrapped the latest episode of the USG on which we celebrate Saturday morning programming I have had some of the classic cartoons on my mind ever since. In fact even before this episode was recorded Mrs. JediCole and I had been discussing the particulars of the iconic Warner Brothers as well as Hanna-Barberra and Disney cartoon characters. And there seemed to be a defining factor in both camps. Clothes. Or often the lack thereof.

Part One: To Clothe or Not to Clothe?
It seems that if you are an anthropomorphic animal in cartoon form you can take a liberal, almost Chewbacca-like approach to obscuring your birthday suit with one of a manufactured variety. The laws of man are not those of Nature and as these creatures tend to favor Nature they are exempt from the modesty of mankind. A condition that must certainly be a thorn in the side of such characters as Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd who, being of the more human mold, are obliged to remain clothed from head to toe. Or show the courtesy of wearing a barrel with attached suspenders should their clothes be destroyed in some mishap. Is it little wonder then that they both hold such animosity toward that Oscar-winning, and virtually naked save for gloves, rabbit Bugs Bunny?
No love lost between these two.

And yet within the anthropomorphic animal community there seems to be no hard and fast rule as to how much clothing a toon must don! Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck traipse about the forest au natural while Mickey Mouse sports old man short pants, gloves and even shoes! Then there are the half-clothed tunes. And not in the No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service manner. No, those who, were they human, would be arrested for their choice of partial attire when wandering about in public. I speak of course of the Donald Ducks, the Porky Pigs, and the Peter Potamuses of the cartoon world who wear a vest or shirt of some kind but no pants!

Let it all hang out!
It doesn’t end there either! Some of these whimsical refugees from the Island of Dr. Moreau fly in the face of civilized convention by opting to accessorize despite having no use for clothing that would obscure their otherwise naked forms. Hats and ties tend to be the order of the day with this particular toon species, many of whom flaunt their semi-nudity further by adding wearing a collar along with the tie. It is as if they are telling the world, “This is the closest to a shirt you will ever see me wear!” Wally Gator, Yogi Bear, and Snagglepus are counted among their number. While in further defiance Yogi’s diminutive platonic life partner Boo Boo Bear opts to eschew the collar and sport only a tie.

Is it public lewdness or just Mother Nature?
 Within this phenomenon of rebellion against clothing one can identify three distinct levels of modesty as defined by the particular studios that have employed these toons. Walt Disney seems to have insisted on a greater level of compliance with human standards as his corral boasts the largest per-capita assembly of fully to mostly clothed characters of the three studios. Hanna-Barbera comes in second with their eccentric population that look upon clothing as an accessorizing option. From Top Cat and his gang who elect for every look from the casual “tie-only” approach to the less revealing full length turtleneck to the aforementioned “tie-and-collar” crowd, to those like the old-fashioned old-world monkey, Magilla Gorilla, who goes so far as to give pants a chance!

And then there is the arch culprit in the rebellion against proper civilized attire. Warner Brothers! From the modest to the point of being downright Victorian to those who shamelessly parade around without a stitch of clothing. Those in the Warner camp run the gamut of diversity within the realm of manimal cartoons. And upon closer inspection something truly unexpected comes to light. There is, at least in the Warner Brothers population, a kind of social order that is suggested by the choice of clothing. Or indeed, was there ever really a choice?

Part Two: The WB Caste System
Look doc, no clothes!
Subject to the particular scrutiny of this writer the dark underbelly of the Warner Brother’s cartoon empire is brought into the light of day. At first glance it seems that there is a free-range approach to the characters that people world of Looney Tunes. To each his own (from the standpoint of clothing) would seem to be the order of the day. Yet a more sinister reality is at work that goes unnoticed due to the whimsical nature of the wacky and often violent exploits of these loveable characters. There is an entrenched hierarchy that dominates the characters who entertain us under the Warner banner.

At the bottom of the social heap at WB are the human-forms. While they are no less of the ink and paint origins of their fellow toons, they are forced to cover their shame in elaborate costumes ranging from comfortable hunting attire to full suits of medieval armor. The next highest caste are the clothed animals like Speedy Gonzalez who sports a traditional tunic and a massive sombrero. He bears no more of his body to the world than would a human, and subsequently, were he human, could wander the city streets with impunity. At least from the standpoint of not violating public lewdness statutes. Then come the partially clothed or “partials”. Characters like Porky and Petunia Pig who are compelled to wear at least some of the raiment of contemporary man. And finally there are those who are free to get back to nature. These nudists are the top of the heap at Warners. And as such they are unencumbered by the dictates of polite human society.
Defying the Status Quo!
This could easily lead one to believe that Bugs Bunny, the ad hoc figurehead of Looney Tunes for decades, is the top toon. Indeed amongst the naturist portion of this studios characters he certainly enjoys the warmth of the limelight far more often than his equally placed fellows like Tweety Bird, Wile E. Coyote, and Pepe Le Pew. However, he does lose face within that fraternity for his penchant for “dressing up”. From his drag queen selections (a seeming favorite) to the elegant tux he dons for special occasions, Bugs is a closet clothes horse (or rabbit), and this is a practice widely frowned upon by the naked tune community. Even in the name of self preservation.

An upper echelon toon.
No, Bugs Bunny is, in the end, little more than a front man for the Looney Tunes. Above him, and indeed all others in the Warner camp, is a most unlikely dictator. A toon who quietly pulled all of the strings while enjoying only modest notoriety in the public eye. And sharing with only one other Warner toon a particular dedication to nudity that goes beyond the obvious lack of clothing. I speak of course of none other than Foghorn Leghorn! This hyperthyroid capon (yes, it is one of the best kep secrets in cartoon history), in common with Daffy Duck, takes nudity to an entirely new level, shedding even his thick white down with alarming regularity, revealing his featherless form for all to see. Despite numbering his feathers against such an emergency, this act alone elevates the massive rooster to the top of the toon heap. With the madcap mallard obviously serving as his chief lieutenant as evidenced by the duck’s fierce rivalry with the company figurehead.

Part Three: What Does it All Mean?
Ah the feel of a desert wind!
In concluding these observations I am obliged to explore the social and psychological ramifications of the disregard for decency that has run rampant in children’s programming for over a half-century. The most obvious point of all of this is to act as a subtle reminder to viewers that, as human beings, we have an obligation to maintain the distinction that holds us above all other members of the animal kingdom - the production and wearing of clothing. While at once a necessity as humans lack thick coats of naturally occurring fur or insulating feathers, there is more to the necessity of clothing than protection from the elements. It is, after all, what separates us from the animals after all. And it took cartoon animals to remind us of this!

"This USG article will explain everything!"
Within the realm of cartoons it seems that clothing certainly has little bearing on social status. Rather ironically the Hillbilly Bears, toons one would on the surface expect to bother with a minimum of clothing seem to be the most self-conscious of the Hanna-Barbera crowd as they are all fully clothed! With the exception of their bare feet, but one might expect as much from hillbillies. The more sophisticated of their colleagues seem to see no necessity for clothing, however. Snagglepus, who once enjoyed a vibrant stage career, opts for simple cuffs, collar, and tie. While Huckleberry Hound, who has in his career been employed in nearly every profession in the catalog, tends to favor the collar, tie, and hat approach. Except of course when his particular occupation should require specialized attire.

At least they are all bear-foot.
Then there is the keen observation made on the part of Mrs. JediCole pertaining to gender-specific icons. The presence of a boy in the hair (or on the head) of a character universally signifies the fairer sex. Though at times a flower can act as a substitute as in the case of Floral Rugg’s hat. As most anthropomorphic cartoon animals tend to lack the obvious anatomical cues that are common with their human counterparts, (Cindy Bear for example who’s femininity is indicated more from her tutu than her anatomy), the presence of a bow, flower, or other indicator of female gender is often a necessity. More recent arrival to the WB camp Lola Bunny being a notable exception to this rule (she appears to have "girl parts").

Devil and Devilish
This use of symbolic markers in this way alleviates confusion on the part of the decidedly male-heavy toon population as to which of their number are technically female. But a further indicator was also pointed out in Catherine’s analysis, a signal of sexual maturity. In their own way the anthropomorphic animals still cling to the particulars of the natural world, in this case the clear distinction between mature and fertile individual females and those who have not yet reached that life stage. The method utilized is the liberal application of lipstick on the part of said female characters. What other than a ruby-lipped female of his species could ever hope to stop the whirling dervish of destruction that is the Tasmanian Devil than the alluring, and obviously sexually mature, form of the She-Devil. And being of a very orthodox sensibilities, Taz was sure to see to the proper nuptials before availing himself of the full marital possibilities suggested by those bright red lips!

A cautionary tale.
In conclusion I find that the world of cartoons is far more complex than it appears at first glance. It is filled with subtle intrigues, disregard for the mandates of human decency, and the inevitable reversion to the wild that must occur in all animals-made-man. Wells’ novel was a cautionary tale that was not heeded in the age of the cartoon boom. In Hollywood’s haste to introduce a bewildering variety of man-like creatures it ignored the fundamental flaws inherent in playing God. Moreau’s folly proved his undoing and leaves us to wonder how long until we are faced with a Toon Town red in tooth and claw that will make Jurassic Park seem like Day Camp!  That's all, folks!

"I say...I say, who's the top dog now?!"



1 comments:

Articles like this are the reason I come to the website on a regular basis. I would have to search long and hard to find an analysis on the clothes (or lack thereof) of classic cartoons.


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