Friday, December 14, 2012

Krazy Kat and Ignatz

Cartoon Worlds and Gender Ambiguity
(cartoons have)...always carried the potential for divisions of human/animal, naked/clothed, child/adult, and male/female, playing both and neither as the situation warrants. The characters’ fluidity allows not only for transgressive readings of gender roles, as Sam Abel (1995) argues, but implicit or explicit articulations of same-sex identity, behavior, and desire."

Sometimes when you use quotes like this ("have always carried"), people say that you are misinterpreting older material by filtering it through a modern day context. So, to give an early example of a “male” duo and to show how long the tradition of cartoon ambiguity has existed for I wanted to take a quick look at a newspaper comic strip that started in 1913: Krazy Kat.

The comic was set against gorgeous ever changing desert scenery, as surreal and ambiguous as the title character of the strip. The story followed the adventures of Krazy who is madly in love with Ignatz, a mouse who detests the attention and throws bricks at the cat’s head. Krazy thinks the bricks are a sign of Ignatz devotion. The dog Officer of their town (in love with Krazy), constantly tries to arrest Ignatz for his crimes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ParaNorman and Proving Me Wrong

Anyone remember on June 24th when I first started my Cartoon Closet series? I wrote:

Characters in children’s cartoons don’t just default straight, they can’t be LGBTQ. Their options are straight, or asexual/non-sexual.

And up to this point, it has been true, there has never been an out gay or lesbian character in a western children's cartoon. There have been intended gay/lesbian characters but they are always shrouded in innuendo or hints (or some guise of humor) that can easily be dismissed.

And a few weeks later I followed with this post:

Despite this, within western children’s media, homosexuality is an unspeakable word. Gay coded characters may be flamboyant or drop punch line hints. Consistent coding of their sexuality might lack the subtlety of an animated red arrow with flashing lights spelling G-A-Y. Yet if pushed for confirmation, studios still shy away from saying the obvious -even as their target audience becomes increasingly discerning.

Guess who just proved me wrong?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Unintended Double Reading

Unintended Double Reading – and why it is culturally significant:

Superman #130 (1987)
In which Clark and Lois dress up
 as Batman and Robin, and make out.
Batman and Robin may not have been intended as a gay couple, but the outing of their characters in the Seduction of the Innocent had a lasting cultural affect. It increased censorship in comic books through the creation of the comic code, educated parents on the possibility of intended gay coding in children’s media, and it affected the way society viewed the two characters identities.

I think this is one of the most interesting parts of unintended double reading - how society creatively critiques the media it consumes. The Ambiguously Gay Duo is perhaps the most obvious example of a riff on Batman and Robin’s ambiguous relationship – but it has also been examined on shows like the live action Tick and Venture Bros. The controversy has become such a well known part of the characters history that DC has on occasion (subtly) poked fun at this reading of their characters.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Double Coded and Gay Coded Characters

Double Coding:

Double coding is used to create a subtext or second reading of a text that speaks to a multiple audiences or sensabilites. This is very common in the use of adult humor or subtext intended for the older audience of a childrens show. It is also used to target multiple demographics of a show, while not ostracizing the main market.

Because of the sensitivity of what is considered appropriate on children’s shows double coding can also be used to establish aspects of a character that if stated explicitly would not make it past the censors. "Questionable" aspects of a character will be consistently, and carefully coded over the course of seasons.

In Hey Arnold! Helga's mother Miriam was coded as an alcoholic. She suffers from depression, she is disoriented and irresponsable (will forget to pack her child's lunch). She is found "asleep" i.e. passed out in different places in the home. She is often seen with a smoothie in hand (or making one), clutching at her beverage as she slurs her words, and saying "I need a smoothie," when things get rough.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cartoon Closet Part 2

Part 2: They Totally Exist (but not officially)

First published in 1953, Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham discusses the negative influence (in the form of violence and sexual perversion) of comic books on children. Chapter Seven, I want to be a Sex Maniac, deals with the sexualizing of children, child prostitution, and homosexuality. While the section of the chapter focusing on homosexuality is only a handful of pages long, it is famous for the outing of Batman and Robin. Wertham was not the first to suggest the Dynamic Duo could be seen as a gay couple, but he was the first to so publicly proclaim it:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cartoon Closet Part 1

Part 1: Being Straight Doesn't Count as Sexual

Until 2012 (when ParaNorman featured the first out character in a western animated children's cartoon) children's cartoon characters didn't just default straight, they couldn't be LGBTQ. Their options were straight, or asexual/non-sexual.
Because being queer was compared to the act of sex, instead of “relationships” or “love” it was considered inappropriate for children in a way straight relationships were not. This was very apparent in the  Sugartime episode of Postcards From Buster.
Controversy arose when Buster visited two family in Vermont that had lesbian parents. The focus of the show was not on the parents, but on the children and on the making of maple syrup. The words lesbian gay, or any other phrase to point out their relationship were never used, and the only time the episode focused on the two moms was when Buster looked at family photos with one of the families daughters. He asked her “So Gillian’s your mom too?” “She’s my stepmom,” said the daughter, to which Buster replied “Boy, that’s a lot of moms.”