At their best, cartoons are the highest and noblest form of human expression, the contemporary answer to Greek myth and Nordic legend. By “cartoon,” of course, I mean the plastic masterpieces of Chuck Jones or Tex Avery, not the crypto-Christian sing-a-longs of Walt Disney and company. I only use the term “cartoon” here honorifically to underscore the significance of these fifteen-minute nickelodeons of absolute genius. As we are weened from boob to boob-tube, Merry Melodies both map and inform the childhood consciousness. They tutor us by exaggeration. They create by intuition what A. Breton and the Surrealists could only approximate by laborious method. Imagine the Barnum and Bailey, Buster Keaton, Lautreamont, and world history, all thrown into a blender, and then refracted through a high-fever dream: Behold Looney Tunes!
Looney Tunes offers its viewer a concrete and plausible pataphysics (Alfred Jarry’s infant “science of the exception”). A world that teases, violates, and extends into our own. The cliches of the Cartoon Universe become inextricable from the Order of Things: air brakes, alum powder, Dodo birds, duck season, rabbit season, gunpowder, rocket flight, Planet X, Murphy beds, headhunters, anvils, invisible ink, and suspended gravity. By the age of six, it’s fair to say that a child has completed the greater part of his formal education. When kept to the recommended daily allowance, cartoons nurse genius in our children; an impatience for stasis and a loopy disregard for the slow-moving and dull-witted. Cartoons, like the Marx Brothers before them, tutor us in antisocial skills. Any self-respecting family doctor would recommend two hours per week, Rx, watched inattentively while scribbling miscellaneous notes on the question of Being.
Unencumbered by either plausibility or physical law, Looney Tunes are, perhaps more than any other form of visual fiction, a communal dreaming. There are no restraints in their world. They are the subconscious unloosed, pinhole projections of our own inner cinema. They just slap together a plotline consisting of little more than two of God’s creatures literally trying to murder one another and voila: real family entertainment. Even in the thick air of the Eisenhower Era, geniuses like Chuck Jones smuggled in transvestism, suicide, televisual reflexivity, gallows humor, apocalypse, homosexuality, Mussolini, foul language, explosive violence, and enough lunatic notions to keep a child occupied well into middle-age. In the form of gags and slapstick, television, for once in its bleak history, was momentarily redeemed (even now, I ardently believe The Simpsons to be one of the most brilliant American exports).
I say “redeemed” because classic Looney Tunes may conceivably be the only antidote to the saccharine-sweet horseshit shoveled into the mouths of children nationwide by those Orwellian brainwashers at Disney and AOL Time Warner. Okay, “Orwellian” may be a bit strong, but those history-butchers down at the Magic Kingdom really got it coming, you have to admit.
Looney Tunes frustrate the hack Disney ideals of romance, Good versus Evil, plot structure, plausibility, thinly-guised Bible lessons, and farmgirl simplicity. Their solutions are unpredictable, occasionally anticlimactic, rarely sentimental, yet always absurdly fitting. Even with the eyes closed, listening to the compositions of Carl Stallings, or Mel Blanc the wondermouth, Looney Tunes stll convey their fragmentation, their screwball irresolution, their Rube Goldbergian plotline, and their uncompromising refusal of Common Sense. Whenever I tire of my own sanity, I simply peruse my Looney Tunes library (stocked with over forty hours of cartoon barbarism), and spend an hour or two wonderstruck, losing my grip on reality, unlearning all that I have learned. And, if you have any respect for your own derangement, you might consider doing the same. Merry Melodies— ever upward and onward!!