Picked up my “Looney Tunes vol. 3,” and was very excited. Finally: a chance to see if "Hillbilly Hare" was as funny as I recalled. I hadn’t seen it in ten years – used to come around once every few months in the morning Warner Brothers cartoon show in DC. (I would get up, check local Fox TV – the best morning show at the time - then move directly to Looney Tunes.) I put in the disc and was instantly horrified to see Whoopie Goldberg enter the frame, looking like a character cut from “Battlefield Earth.” She brings with her a strange set of implications: in another dimension, people think she is funny, but in private even those people do not think she is funny, but they do not dwell on the matter. Apparently to us yokels her presence is meant to indicate the presence, or at least the imminence, of hilarity. She warns us about the cartoons we are soon to behold. Warns us! It seems – odd as this may sound - they had many unexamined casual racial sterotypes back then, and these images found their way into cartoons. These jokes “hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups.” Somehow I doubt stupid barefoot idiot hillbillies are an ethnic group. But they’re mercilessly mocked – not only for their appearance or lack of intelligence, but their inability to resist the instructions of a rabbit whose square-dancing calls have the force of law.
And it gets worse: Bugs dresses up as a girl in this one – which could be seen as a shout-out to the transgendered-rabbit community, but once again he does it only to deceive and harm someone. From this we all learn the iron lesson of life: boys dressed up as girls are not dealing with the fluid nature of gender, but are attempting to make you flustered and grinny so they can either shoot you in the face or compel you to shoot yourself. (The effect of which usually clarifies the whole gender confusion, as it happens.) So don’t trust cross-dressing rabbits.
You know, I would never expect a cross-dresser to make that argument. But I would expect someone else to make it on their behalf.
Note: "Hillbilly Hare" is better than I remember.
for some reason, this new set begins with a special announcement by Whoopi Goldberg explaining what it is we're not meant to find funny: ''Unfortunately at that time racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in ways that may have embarrassed and even hurt people of color, women and ethnic groups,'' she tells us sternly. ''These jokes were wrong then and they're wrong today'' -- unlike, say, Whoopi Goldberg's most memorable joke of recent years, the one at that 2004 all-star Democratic Party gala in New York where she compared President Bush to her, um, private parts. There's a gag for the ages.
I don't know what Whoopi's making such a meal about. It's true you don't see many positive images of people of color on ''Looney Tunes,'' but then the images of people of non-color aren't terribly positive either (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam). Instead, you see positive images of ducks of color, roadrunners of color and tweety birds of color. How weirdly reductive to be so obsessed about something so peripheral to these cartoons that you stick the same d*** Whoopi Goldberg health warning on all four DVDs in the box. And don't think about hitting the "Next" button and skipping to the cartoons: You can't; you gotta sit through it.
I suppose we should be thankful it's only a moralizing lecture. What with the nannies scared that salt remains unregulated it was only a matter of time before they got around to Bugs. Lest you think this was unforseen, I point you to a prescient author F. Paul Wilson who in 1978 published a story called "Lipidleggin'". The protagonist sells blackmarket butter and opines that he better start saving episodes of Looney Toones for when they outlaw the Wabbit.
Basil and Don, thanks guys.