Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and BullwinkleAs you may know, I am a huge fan of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It is one of my primary comedic influences and probably explains the very high level of silliness in my writing. Of course, the show was very silly. But like most great comedy that we enjoy as children, I didn’t get a lot of the jokes because they were over my head. I think this is how we get trained to find the absurd non sequitur funny. So much of the life of a child is trying to react appropriately to things we don’t understand.

This is why intellectuals annoy me when they talk about humor. Most jokes are funny because they work on many levels. But it isn’t the case that any one way of experiencing a joke is correct. Consider one of my favorite jokes. Question: how many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: fish. On one level, the joke is funny because surrealism doesn’t make much rational sense and fish are a common element in surrealist art. The answer “Bowler” might be more pointedly intellectual since it would also be a snarky comment on Rene Magritte. But if a young child heard the joke, he would likely think it funny simply because it made no sense. In this way, substituting “fish” with “bowler” would cut down on its appeal.

Other than silliness and puns, Bullwinkle is great social satire. This, of course, also went over my head when I was a kid. And what is especially great about it is that it doesn’t telegraph how you are supposed to feel about it. The show is at base a product of the cold war. But you can see it taking the whole conflict seriously or not. I choose to see it as making light of the period. This goes along with my general belief that 99% of the people everywhere just want to be left alone to live their lives. All the problems are created by 1% of the people. And that doesn’t mean that all of the people who make up that 1% are bad. But they are people who are prone to confrontation—regardless of the reason. It doesn’t matter whether they are Genghis Khan or Barack Obama.

So what we see in the show is a bunch of people who are leading the world focused on this very pleasant flying squirrel and a moose who is stupid even by moose standards. The whole spying endeavor is just a game. And indeed it is. Whenever old information about our spying programs are declassified, we see just how ridiculous it is. It is as though the governments think they must have spying programs but they have little idea of what the whole point is. And, of course, that leads to our wonderful foreign policy of staging coups of democratically elected governments. Of course, in the world of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it is only the Soviets who are actively evil; the Americans are just incompetent. (The Soviets are incompetent too. Hell, everyone is incompetent where a flying squirrel is the smartest guy in the room.)

I bring this all up because I just watched the following documentary about the Making of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It isn’t great, but it has a lot of information that I didn’t know. And you get to see many of the people who made the show. If you are a fan, you will like it. And if you aren’t a fan, well, all I can say is I don’t see how you can have the good taste to be visiting Frankly Curious and not like the show. Regardless, if you don’t like the show, I can’t think of a reason you would want to watch this documentary. In fact, I don’t know why you’ve read this far! But for the rest of you: enjoy!

1 thought on “Rocky and Bullwinkle

  1. I always assumed that show was late-60’s/early-70’s, because of its’ sly tone. Wrong, by a decade wrong! I remember, as a kid, my mom (married to my Bircher dad) telling me the funniest joke she’d ever seen on television was something from R&B: "Is that satellite Russian?" "Nope, it’s just barely movin’ along." In 1969, that’s a bad pun. In 1959, it’s subversive genius.

    That stuff has an impact beyond its years. Making kids laugh at established authority that hasn’t given a good justification for its statements sets them up for rational doubt in the future. It took a long time, but my mom (after being seriously pissed off by the AIDS crisis, which killed co-workers she loved) became a full-on liberal during the buildup to Gulf War II. (She died soon after, dammit; the world needs more awesome smart people, not less, and I deeply miss having an ally who finds my Bain brother a gigantic shithead.) The rationale for war was pure bunk, pure silliness R&B would have made into a Boris Badanoff monologue. Something tells me that teenage exposure to R&B had an impact on her, just like childhood exposure to Python had on me.

    There’s a reason conservatives hate this stuff, and it ain’t free-market-based. Laughing at the emperor with no clothes is powerfully subversive. Whenever Rush or some other influential right-wing blowhard says something irredeemably racist, and gets called on it, conservatives swarm to the defense, calling it "humor." It’s not humor. It’s bullying. Bullies find beating up on those who are weaker quite pleasurable, and laugh to mask the darker emotions that bullying provides.

    True humor is the antidote to bullying, to malevolent power in any of its forms. Note how a bully comic — an Andrew Dice Clay, say — never lasts, while even a very acerbic anti-authority comic like Bobcat Goldthwait can work for decades.

    End of rant . . . R&B was way ahead of its’ time, and that was a good low-budget documentary, I quite enjoyed it.

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