Thursday, July 10, 2008

Socioeconomic implications of food in animated American television

July 10

Participants in the Listserv of The Association for the Study of Food and Society were talking about refrigerators. I’m not sure what exactly they were saying about refrigerators because the ASFS listserv has many threads and if I followed all of them I wouldn’t get any work done. But I did poke my head in briefly to read a joke from Cara de Silva, which was in fact not the least bit funny, and yet it made me laugh. Then what followed was an excellent conversation. To wit (edited just a bit, I hope to eliminate typos):

Cara De Silva:
The entire time this refrigeration thread has been going on, I have only been thinking of one thing. A joke from childhood that used to send me into gales of laughter. Forgive me List, but I am never going to get this out of my mind unless I unburden myself. And since, unbelievably, I was able to find the joke on the Internet, here it finally is. (However, when I heard it at age six or seven, the protagonist was Bugs Bunny.)

A lady opened her refrigerator and saw the Easter Bunny sitting on one of the shelves.
"What are you doing in there?" she asked.
The Easter Bunny replied: "This is a Westinghouse, isn't it?" to which the lady replied, "Yes."
"Well," the Easter Bunny said, "I'm westing."

Kenneth Albala:
Bugs is, without doubt, the paragon of comedic timing and obscure references. At the [ASFS] conference in New Orleans (wish you had been there) I was entering Antoine’s with a group of people, and started the schtick which culminates in “Louisiana Back Bayou Bunny Bordelais a la Antoine - Not the Antoine of New Orleans? - I don‘t mean Antoine of Flatbush!” No one had any idea what I was talking about. No one ever gets the “peng-oo-ins is practically chickens” bit. Wabbit season, Duck season, Elmer Season. Have you considered how many Warner Brother’s cartoons are all about food? Everyone is just trying to avoid being eaten. And nearly everyone is food. Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Foghorn, Tweety, Roadrunner - there's a dissertation in here somewhere.

Bret Thorn:
Good point. But of course, most of the characters are animals, and what are animals for if not eating? Unless you’re a coyote, in which case your purpose is to fall down steep canyons and get hit on the head with anvils and 2000 pound weights.

Michael McGuckin:
Interesting observation how many cartoons are about some characters trying to catch food, and other characters avoiding being eaten — yet there is almost no actual eating going on.

Bugs has a carrot he never finishes, as far as I know, Yogi and Boo-boo steal the pic-a-nic baskets, but almost never enjoy the spoils, and ants at a picnic may carry away the entire cake but they eat it off camera.

Jerry and Tweety may get as far as Tom or Sylvester sprinkling them with salt and pepper, but they always make good their escape while their potential diners are tying on the napkin and licking their chops.

The gags, therefore, to me, seem to be more about hunger than about eating. Wily, the hapless coyote, is starving and desperate. Elmer is a glutton, and his hunger is less edgy, but no less laughable. Tom is forever pulling out a fish skeleton and gazing on it forlornly, with longing, before his mind turns to Jerry.

The cartoons may have something to say about nature — long in tooth and claw — but I wonder if they don’t say more about our attitude towards hunger, and those unfortunate creatures who, in this land o’ plenty, are down and out and reduced to pulling figurative fish skeletons out of the garbage, and whose thought balloons contain images of pigeons morphing into roasted Thanksgiving Day turkeys with all the trimmings.

A dissertation awaiting, indeed.


Lamanda said...

Wow. Who knew that Looney Tunes could produce such profundity? These folks have some great observations though. The attitudes of American towards eating and the connotations connected to it would make for an interesting anthropological or psychological study.

Bret Thorn said...

The really great thing about being a food writer, Lamanda, is that food touches on pretty much all aspects of life. In the guise of food writing, you can really write about anything.

viagra online said...

It was rare because people talking about refrigerators in that program is weird, I'd like to follow that conversation as you did in order to laughing a lot about it.