The secret lives of cartoon characters?

Some people who post material on the Internet have far too much time on their hands. That’s certainly true of a bloke named Jeffery P. Dennis who obviously spent vast amounts of time writing an article called Queertoons – The dynamics of same-sex desire in the animated cartoon. It belongs to the same genre as the occasional claims that Jesus and his disciples were all gay (the obverse of which is Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code hypothesis), but Dennis’s article is considerably more entertaining:

Television cartoons of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Where no characters are specifically identified as gay or lesbian, we can locate same-sex desire in an interaction between two characters of the same sex which might elsewhere be coded as romantic, but is not an obvious parody of heterosexual desire: for instance, sharing a living space or a bed; participating in social activities as a couple; being accepted as a couple by others; failing to pursue other substantive relationships, especially those with the opposite sex; rejecting romantic overtures from others; or overtly expressing desire through flirting and sexual talk.

Cartoon dyads became the trademark of the Hanna-Barbera studios, which dominated television cartoons in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Most baby boomers can name dozens of such partnerships, generally divided into apollonian and dionysian members, the one who concocts wild schemes and one who expresses the voice of reason: the mice Pixie and Dixie on The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958-1962); Yogi Bear and Boo Boo (1958-1961); the Western sheriff-horse Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey, his burro sidekick (1959-1962); Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har (1962-1963). Other studios followed suit, with zoo residents Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley (1963-1966), and most famously Jay Ward’s Rocky and Bullwinkle (1961-1963), a moose and squirrel who, when not involved in witty adventures, participate as a couple in the civil life of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Are these dyads friends? Relatives? Lovers? There is no definitive answer, as they transgress each of the permissible constellations of signs for same-sex dyads in the 1950’s ¢â¬â and to a great extent even today. They cannot be mere buddies, as they share homes and take vacations together. They are not blood relatives, or coworkers, or antagonists. They present, in fact, contradictory or vague contexts that do not fix any particular sign, and allow for the reading that they are none of the above, that they are in fact romantic partners.

Yogi Bear illustrates the arguably erotic tensions inherent in the cartoon dyad. In the earliest cartoons, such as “Pie Pirates” and “Foxy Hound Dog”, Yogi is an anarchic, Falstaff-like character involved primarily in outwitting the conformist Ranger Smith. Boo Boo appears only occasionally to denote the bear community’s disapproval of Yogi’s antics. During the first season, Ranger Smith is gradually demoted to a minor nuisance, and Boo Boo becomes integral to the plotlines. By the end of the first season, in “Lullaby-Bye Bear” and “Daffy Daddy”, Yogi and Boo Boo are constant companions and domestic partners, sharing a cave and a bed. Have they fallen in love? In the second season, as if to defuse such a reading, the character Cindy Bear was introduced as Yogi’s “girlfriend”. However, she was mostly consigned to dropping hints and handkerchiefs, to batting her eyes while Yogi walked, oblivious. She appeals to Boo Boo for seduction advice, and while the “sidekick” may well have known how to pique Yogi’s interest, he offered only half-hearted and ineffective suggestions. Because he and Yogi were already involved? The same-sex relationship certainly triumphed over the incursion of heterosexual desire: today almost everyone can identity Yogi and Boo Boo, but few have ever heard of Cindy Bear.

In case you were wondering, unlike Mr Dennis I actually haven’t got too much time on my hands. I’m just momentarily escaping from a dreadfully tedious job preparing voluminous documentation for the accreditation of 4 separate new law programs. If Brendan Nelson manages to strangle Defence in impenetrable red tape to the extent he has with Education, Science and Training, then God help Australia if we’re ever faced with a real major security threat.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

the same wildly implausible claims have been made about Batman and Robin, except they were not made by some cultural studies wanker but by a psychiatrist in 1954

Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend’s arm. Like girls in other stories, Robin is sometimes held captive by the villains … Robin is a handsome aphetic boy, usually showing his uniform with bare legs. He is buoyant with energy and devoted to nothing on earth or interplanetary space as much as to Bruce Wayne. He often stands with legs spread, the genital region discreetly evident.

Other times Batman ends up in bed injured, and young Robin is by his side. At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and “Dick” Grayson. Bruce is described as a “socialite” and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and they own a butler, Alfred. Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown.

15 years ago

Not only too much time on their hands, but vigorously overexcited imaginations.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

“the same wildly implausible claims have been made about Batman and Robin”

What? Two handsome, gymbuilt professional bods with a penchant for each other and close fitting lycra live together in a drop-dead, chic inner urban apartment without visible female affectional relationships and you think it’s “wildy implausible” that they’re gay, Jason? Please. They’re clearly shopping at Moore Park Supercentre Ikea every other weekend…….