Something’s wrong with my daughter. There’s not a single cartoon character on TV that doesn’t exactly mirror her own experience, and she doesn’t seem bothered by it. But she should. We’ll have to have a talk. I could read her this speech by Gina Davis, who has decided to tackle the issue of long-standing sexism in cartoons:
DAVIS: “Do you remember the kinds of stuff that they made for us, for kids, in the oldie old days? Let’s see, the first animation, of course, was Disney’s Minnie Mouse and… Daisy Duck, who didn’t really do much at all, except ask to go shopping, I think. There were a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons — Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator, George of the Jungle — virtually no female characters. I had a vague recollection that Yogi Bear had a girlfriend, and I searched and searched, and I finally found her, Cindy Bear, as you all remember…”
“…On the Looney Tunes website, they list twelve characters, and only one of them is female, but it’s the great one. It’s the one you all love and remember the best: Granny. She’s the one who owns Tweety, and she has to leave so that the story can happen.”
Maybe Granny had to leave for the action to start, but once she returned and saw what was going on, she usually brained Sylvester with an umbrella. And let’s not forget she took Tweetie to Venice once – obviously a strong, curious, independent woman of means!
If Ms. Davis thinks the WB cartoons would have profited from strong female characters who acted like male characters, that would be an interesting debate. If Daffy had been a girl, would Bugs have tricked Elmer into shooting him in the head six times in a row? Probably not. Such a show of deference would send a bad message: Girls are too weak to withstand several close-range bill-spinning buckshot blasts. Of course, if Elmer did shoot Daffina, it would promote violence against female waterfowl. You probably can’t win.
I love the people who really take this seriously. One commentor wrote:
She conveniently overlooks Olive Oyl, an unglamorized heroine always prominent in Popeye cartoons who acts as mediator in the macho battles between Popeye and Bluto. And Wilma Flintstone, who is always one step ahead of husband Fred and clearly the mature person in that relationship.
That’s exactly right.
To expand, a bit: I’ve been watching cartoons with her since she was born. I know what she likes. She can’t stand Dora, whom she regards as a loud and boring. When she was the age of Zowie, from the late lamented Rolie Polie Olie, she had no interest in Z – although now that she’s older she views her as an imaginary younger sibling, I think. She loved all the Disney Princess animated DVDs and games, and she loved to dress up as a Princess, but as she explained to me the other day, they’re just not very realistic, and they don’t do anything. (On the other hand, she has recently described newfound respect for Cinderella.) Most of the female characters in the shows she likes are notable for their bad moods: the scowling gothy sidekick on “Danny Phantom,” the surly little frowny lump on “Foster.” I think she’s somewhat awed by Sandy Cheeks in “Spongebob,” since Sandy is one wheeeee-ha Texas Squirrel who ain’t takin’ guff from no one no how, and is also an inventor, and wears a coconut bra underwater. But the sex of the characters doesn’t make much of an impression. What counts is whether they entertain, or whether they have an attribute with which she can identify.
Pooh, for example. The one character she liked on Pooh was Piglet, and you can understand why: small and kind and pink and good-hearteded. Every kid identifies with Piglet. Pooh is your best friend, Owl the local librarian; Eeyore is Dad in the morning before he’s had Coffee. Kanga is Mom, Roo is a baby, and Tigger is the naughty kid you like to be around for a while until it gets serious and uncomfortable. Piglet? That’s every kid. Christopher Robin is the bridge to this world, and once you’re there you really don’t need him. When I was very young I wanted to take his place, and it seemed an easy thing to do, since he had no qualities of his own. Nevertheless, the name has a certain persistent power – it’s almost an incantation, a line in a childish liturgy that summons up the 100 Acre Wood. He was a real boy, you know.
He was born in 1920. I was amused to note that he said the poem “Vespers” as 'the one [work] that has brought me over the years more toe-curling, fist-clenching, lip-biting embarrassment than any other." I felt the same way as a kid, really. And I wasn’t him.
In any case, Christopher Robin is dead; he perished in 1996. But the idea of Christopher Robin is dead as well; the very notion of a thin little English boy as a relevant instructive model is old-fashioned, and you might be pleased to learn he has been replaced. This year the new Pooh series will introduce a six-year old girl in Christopher’s stead. I’m sure she’s spunky and adventurous and kind and empowered, and I’m just as sure my daughter will find her boring, because kids can smell pedantic condescending twaddle nine mile off. (It’s one of the reasons many girls love Arthur – his little sister is sixty-five pounds of smart, devious, narcissistic, naughty sass.) Here’s the part that makes me truly sad:
Because you could fall down in the 100 Acre Woods and hurt yourself.
I swear, they’re going to put airbags on Barbie’s Pegasus next, and require thick corks on the point of all unicorn horns.
Anyway: I don’t mind that they’ve introduced a girl into the 100 Acre Woods, and as the father of a daughter I fully support the addition of female characters with whom my daughter could identify. But I know how I’d feel if I had a young boy. There are 100 acres. There’s not room enough for both?
Lost Update: That was a good one, and I’m glad I still watch the show, even thought the popular view now holds the show as a shark-vaulter. Hey: you want shark jumping? Two words: Spock’s Brain. Still the gold standard. You have to admire a show that gives you a character named Locke, another named Burke, a crazy French lady named Rousseau, a fellow who grapples with the issues of free will and determinism and happens to be named Hume. This week we meet a mysterious eye-patched Rooskie, and he’s named Bukhanin. This all suggests that the show does not take place in purgatory, but in the senior thesis of a particularly precocious high school philosophy student. I don’t care; I like it. And bonus points for the character Sayid, the former Republican Guard interrogation specialist; I think it says something interesting, and probably good, that we have a successful popular TV show in which such a character is presented both sympathetically and unsparingly.
Customer service update. Since I’ve given Best Buy a few shots in the last month or two, it’s only fair to mention this: got a letter from the clerk who sold me the fridge and confused the delivery dates. The envelope contained new documents pertaining to the delivery, plus an apologetic hand-written note for getting the date wrong. Not necessary, but nice, and appreciated; I can’t remember the last time I got a hand-written note from someone with whom I did business.
Update part 2: this will seem particularly small, an a sign of a life so unemcumbered by trial or friction it can waste time on trifles, and I suppose it is. But. When I backed out of the garage today – having checked to see that the door was open, of course – I noted that the rear quarter-panel was not flush. This was the portion of the Element’s skin removed and repainted after a nice lady scraped my car last fall. I got out, checked the panel against its mate on the other side: My GOD, the quarter-panel is 3/8 inch out of alignment.
Whatever shall we do?
First, the errand. I sent off the book at the UPS store. It’s located in a 1920s building in an old streetcar commercial node. I have no idea what the buildings once housed. One corner is occupied by an antiques store that has that smell o’ the dead aroma; the other contains a new condo unit with ground-floor retail (empty now; the lack of parking killed the major tenant), and one corner’s occupied by a buzz-killing tire store, the very existence of which I’m sure annoys the chi-chi shops in the area. Some day someone will inherit the property, and the tire store will be razed in a day and replaced with another condo.
Anyway: I sent off the disks and drove to the auto-body shop. I spoke to the manager and showed him the problem; he said that the unflushedness of the panel was completely unacceptable, and confessed a certain unfamiliarity with the specs of the 07 Element. Would I mind if he researched the matter on the Internet? I did not. I sat in the waiting room and drank a really fine cup of coffee, and read a story in Time about the Sunnis and the Shiites. Seems they don’t get along for a variety of reasons. There was even a helpful “How to tell them apart” sidebar, which I found interesting. One side prays with their hands clasped under their ribcage; the other prays with their hands straight at their sides. <johnnycarson> I did not know that. </johnnycarson> Then the fellow came back and told me what he’d discovered. Turns out Honda had changed the panel clips between the 06 and 07 models. If I so desired, he would order six, and install them next week at no charge.
I was pleased, but not surprised. If there’s any industry that makes your scam-hackles rise, it’s the car-repair world, but these guys impressed me from the start with Conspicuous Rectitude. Maybe it’s a Minnesota thing. It’s certainly an American thing: six months after a repair job, they agreed without hesitation to revisit the work, because Mister Customer Almighty’s precious quarterpanel was 3/8” out of alignment.
I drove home listening to Bob Davis on KSTP; he was revisiting one of his favorite topics, one that mirrors exactly something I’ve felt for some time: the lack of any prominent cultural direction, and the strange incoherent sense of anticipation that lack produces. It’s as if the culture is treading water, with nothing truly new to give it focus and purpose. That’s not exactly a good thing when you’re competing with cultures that have both, in large quantities, and a sense of historical momentum the West has lost. I grapple with this from time to time, usually in the morning; it’s the odd suspicion that the West is exhausted. Not done or over or dead or resigned, but simply exhausted. We live in the end stages of the application of the Enlightenment, at least as applied to our own culture; what now? If you’ve ended debate on the great issues, you’re left with smaller ones, like 720 vs. 1080i; you concern yourself with indistinct dreads and assign to them a moral component; you luxuriate in the hot springs of partisan politics and redefine the issues so the gap between left and right looks like Gog v. Magog territory.
And as much as I’d like to expand on that subject, I’m dead beat, and have come to the end of my candle. Today I came into possession of two comedy records that had a particular impact on me in my youth – I’ll save one for Monday. The other was a drop-dead brilliant Monty Python album called “Matching Tie and Handkerchief,” and it began with a talk-show interview that sums up how I feel when I read some political blogs these days. I’ll expand on the ideas above on Monday – gosh, mark your calendar! – but for now I leave you with this.
I couldn’t agree more. Have a grand weekend! See you Monday.