Animation & Comic books & Commentary 10 Jul 2009 01:06 pm

Cartoon armchair psychology

Here is my print column from the July 9, 2009, edition of The Review:

You can tell a lot about a person by the cartoon characters he identifies with. *

Somebody who prefers Bugs Bunny over Daffy Duck, for instance, likes to align himself with a winner. The carrot-chomping rabbit always comes out on top, whether he takes on speech-impaired hunters or tough-talking Texans. A Bugs fan is in control, one step ahead of the competition. He never starts a fight, or goes out of his way to look for one, but if he finds himself embroiled, he plays to win.

A person who prefers Daffy fancies himself much smarter than the people who surround him, especially if those people are his bosses or have achieved success where he has not. He attributes his lack of accomplishments to bad breaks and a failure by others to recognize true genius. Daffy always looks to get ahead by taking short cuts, by stealing the spotlight from somebody else, or by resorting to bribery or chicanery. He never realizes that he is his own worst enemy.

The genius of Warner Bros. in pairing the two is that the audience empathizes with both. It’s like the old Donny and Marie song, “I’m a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock and roll.” We want to be Bugs, but feel like Daffy.

Psychologists could save everybody a lot of time and trouble if they had patients screen these cartoons. “If you hate feeling like this,” they would say as Daffy is repeatedly shot in the face at point-blank range in the classic Duck Season/Wabbit Season gag, “then start acting like this,” at which point they would show Bugs outsmarting Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, or any other character that spoils his Zen-like state of bliss.

(One unique aspect of Bugs is his penchant for cross dressing to get out of a fix. It’s the rare cartoon that doesn’t have the rabbit flaunting androgynous tendencies. The late Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist extraordinaire, might see this as an example of calling on the whole spectrum of human experience — a merging of masculine and feminine attributes of personality — to achieve success beyond woebegone Daffy’s ability to comprehend. But I digress, big time.)

Cartoon armchair psychology doesn’t end there. What about Tom and Jerry? The cat represents our baser instincts (the id) whereas the mouse is our more refined, fully socialized selves (the superego). Impulsive people are Toms, methodical thinkers are Jerrys. Jerry always wins because the values he represents are far more important to civilized society than Tom’s predatory inclinations. (Also, if Tom ever won, the series would end.)

Maybe the ultimate cartoon test, however, is Betty or Veronica. Two sides of the famous Riverdale triangle, they eternally feud over freckle-faced Archie Andrews, who doesn’t deserve either, if you ask me. Betty is the All-American girl, staunchly middle class, the blonde guys bring home to mother. Veronica, based on screen-vamp Veronica Lake, is the dark-haired heiress, aloof and mysterious the way only the foxy daughter of a millionaire can be.

Forget eHarmony’s 29 proven points of compatibility. “Betty or Veronica” is the ultimate dating litmus test — safe and sensible vs. wild and unpredictable. Why date a Betty if you’re after a Veronica? Why pretend to be Veronica if you’d rather settle down and be Betty?

Me, I’d want to date Veronica for a few years, and then marry Betty. (If politicians are any barometer, you don’t have to settle for just one. Both Sen. Ensign and Gov. Sanford are the latest high-profile men who have married their Bettys, but had their Veronicas on the side. It’s like having your cake and eating it too, with all the yuck-factor and double entendre that implies.)

In September, Archie Comic Publications is publishing a story where an adult Archie asks Veronica to marry him. This is a big mistake, as it effectively ends the story — just like having Superman marry Lois Lane ruins the unique Clark/Lois/Superman triangle, a three-sided romance with only two people.

My advice to Archie’s creators — don’t do it! It would be like Daffy murdering Bugs, or Tom eating Jerry. We need all the role models we can get, especially ones that are drawn (ouch!) from real life.

*My apologies to English purists for ending this sentence with a preposition, but “the cartoon characters with whom they identify” is too stuffy.

2 Responses to “Cartoon armchair psychology”

  1. on 14 Aug 2009 at 1.Online Psychology Degrees said …

    I LOVED this article. I’d say I am a Jerry looking (still) for Veronica until that always aloof ’some day’.

  2. on 21 Sep 2010 at 2.Valeria Goffe said …

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