Funny slapstick comedy about a wild dog trying to eat a bird or a treatise on the meaningless of all human pursuits? Sam Brooks watches some Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
Straight up: I had never seen a single second of Looney Tunes until this week. I was the kind of child who watched Absolutely Fabulous and Melrose Place and Friends (so a really annoying child) and was discouraged from watching children’s television because it would apparently rot my brain. And why rot my brain at age six when I could wait until high-speed internet and YouTube to do the trick when I was eighteen, when there’s more brain to rot?
But I digress. During my bed rest this week, the YouTube algorithm provided me with what my mother did not – this video right here:
I laughed. I cried. More importantly, I ended up very depressed and feeling very sympathetic for Wile E. Coyote, the amazingly detailed and animated anthropomorphic dog thing. I ended up hating the Road Runner, so effortlessly smug and blissfully unaware of Wile E. Coyote’s efforts to kill him (her? they? it?) and feast upon his poultry/paltry remains.
You can go deep into the philosophy and the humanity behind these cartoons, as I’m sure many boring men have in the past. I have no doubt somebody has written a PhD or five about how Wile. E Coyote’s constant pursuit of the Road Runner despite his consistent and brutal failure is a metaphor for the human existence and how we chase after things futilely, knowing that we’ll never get them, or something like that.
I watched about three hours of these cartoons on YouTube. I coudn’t stop it. It helps that each of Wile E Coyote’s failures is pretty short, very few of them last longer than a minute, and many of them are around 20 seconds. It’s also – like the most depressing things in our lives like death and cancer and missing a bus – very very funny.
Although I wonder if I would’ve actually understood the depressing side of it as a child, I’m sure it would’ve appealed to me regardless. The comedy is fairly base, but is as refined and technically honed as slapstick could possibly be. The animation is remarkably expressive (the Family Guy-ification of Western animation is truly one of the hugest blows to the art form), the timing is pitch-perfect and it satisfies what I assume is a child’s natural inclination towards animalistic brutality.
On a wider level, I wonder what part of these cartoon’s philosophies filters into a child’s subconscious. Constant failure is not only a standard part of life (at least if you’re a coyote, but I assume even your normal child can draw basic parallels), but it’s a funny part of life. Was Chuck Jones, the amazingly named creator of these cartoons, trying to sneak a dark reality of adulthood into a child’s psyche, or gently trying to prepare them for the cruel world ahead?
I didn’t grow up watching this stuff, so I’m not really able to view it through the lens of a child. Children obviously pick up on things subconsciously (you will be surprised to know I have zero experience in child psychology) and it’s unlikely many of them will watch Wile E. Coyote and go, “That coyote represents me, and all the humans around me.” Even though who do pick up on the themes might not be able to articulate what it means to them, their future or the world around them.
I wasn’t even allowed to watch Disney films until I was 18, which is still a susceptible enough age to want to grow up and become Ursula, who makes an absolutely reasonable trade with Ariel, who really needed to figure out the market value of her voice. I’ve never read a Dr Seuss book, and don’t intend to as an adult. A friend recently described me as not having had a childhood but having had two adulthoods. Please, play the world’s most average-sized violin for me.
These cartoons are hilarious to me for all the normal reasons, but because there’s the secretly painful ring of truth around them. There’s not a single one of us who hasn’t been the Wile E. Coyote to a metaphorical Road-Runner, and while I’m not an unhinged enough person to watch it and cry, there’s as much human truth in this as there is in your average episode of Black Mirror.
Children laugh at Wile E. Coyote because they know he’s a silly coyote that does the same thing and expects a different response. Adults laugh at him because they know that at some point in their life, they’ve been the coyote.
Or maybe they laugh because it’s really fucking funny to see a coyote get smashed by a rock attached to a large spoon.
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