Trans-Gender Issues in ‘The Looney Tunes Show’
With the latest iteration of the ever-popular cartoon rascals the ‘Looney Tunes’ we’ve seen a number of changes to the tone and style. Expanding from shorts to a sitcom format has rubbed some viewers up the wrong way but by the time the writers hit their stride in the second season we were looking at a solid comedy series. Not every change was for the better, such as Witch Hazel inexplicitly becoming a sassy black woman, but the hits outnumbered the misses by an increasing margin. With Funk, Jr. being a big fan The Looney Tunes Show gets a daily screening in our den.
There’s just one little issue I still have with the show, and whilst I don’t intend to turn people against the franchise it has been scratching at the back of my mind. The show has a rather poor, almost out-dated, attitude to gender issues. Now the first question that springs to mind is that is why this is an issue at all, The Looney Tunes Show being a series for kids. I certainly do not go into cartoons looking for adult issues to nitpick, but cross-dressing and gender roles play a surprisingly recurring theme through the two seasons.
Let’s wind back the clock to the better-known Looney Tunes. One recurring gag that has oft been referenced by other media is the Bugs Bunny-dressing-as-a-girl routine. This has long been a popular and harmless visual joke. Bugs would be on the run from Elmer Fudd, he’d run through a door and slam it and when Elmer opens it a moment later Bugs is in a boudoir posing as a woman dressing. He screams, Elmer slams the door in embarrassment, he’d realise that he’d been duped and the show would carry on. Most of the humour came from the timing in that Bugs would change in an instant. Elmer is the victim of the prank, not the cross-dressing character, so there’s very little to be offended by unless you’re looking for something to be angry about.
Back to the present day and we have the suburban set, story based new series. On occasion Bugs would still don his female attire but, as before, it’s part of a larger scheme. Daffy, on the other hand, is shown to be a regular cross-dresser. During the series he often wears women’s clothing and fusses over his appearance. Sometimes this has been a throwaway gag but other times it become central to the plot of an episode, reinforcing the idea that it is an integral part of the character.
Daffy is actually a good role model in this regard. His penchant for woman’s clothing is not what defines him. It just happens to be an aspect of his character that comes up from time to time. The problem that occurs is in the reactions of the other characters to this behaviour. Although Daffy seems oblivious to any perceived oddness in his clothing he becomes the source of mockery and derision from others. Bugs speaks to him in a condescending manner, usually along the lines of ‘are you really going to go out in public dressed like that?’, whenever Daffy is heading out. A blatant example of this season 2 episode called ‘The Handbag’ that revolves around Daffy becoming agitated and paranoid following the theft of his handbag from a food court. The episode opens with Daffy looking for his handbag and explaining to Bugs why he carries one. This is the first instance of Bugs questioning Daffy on his choice of accessory, with the clear implication being that he’s doing the wrong thing. The joke runs throughout the episode with the police, his girlfriend and more mocking him for the handbag and mistaking him for a woman.
In the episode ‘You’ve Got Hate Mail’ there’s a throwaway gag that begins with Daffy reading a women’s magazine about body shape and fashion. Following this his girlfriend Tina discovers that Daffy has put on one of her skirts. As Tina stares at him he explains that it suits his body shape. Tine rolls her eyes in exasperation as though this behaviour is common but not ‘normal’. During this gag the humour comes from the assumption that the audience considers cross-dressing to be abnormal and the source of mockery. The younger members of the audience (keeping in mind that these are talking cartoon animals) will not have this notion of gender-bending being a negative, unless it’s something that has already been instilled. If they the young’ns are regular viewers their first impression may well be coming from the show – sequences of police questioning Daffy for carrying a handbag, or his insistence of wearing the air hostesses uniform over the air host are rife and could begin shaping their impression of trans-gender characters.
Perhaps everything on this page is sound and fury signifying nothing, but it is the way my thought process went during the repeated viewings by Funk, Jr. We’ve taken care not to force gender stereotypes on the lad and when he’s wandered into the bright pink section of the toy shop we’ve let him find his way through it. On one occasion he picked up some toy house cleaning items and we bought them (the real issue being why they were being marketed to girls and only girls in the first place). If we find that a fun and usually positive show like The Looney Tunes Show has swayed his early impression of gender issues we’d be quite disappointed.
At the end of the day we’ll just have to hope that the influence of his parents outweigh that of Bugs Bunny (which is a tough sell, granted) and this stream of consciousness amounts to nothing.