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:

Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoerotism which pervades the adventures of the mature ‘Batman’ and his young friend 'Robin.’”

The publishing of “Seduction of the Innocent” brought to the forefront the fears of many parents. Niall Browne writes about how it helped establish the Comic Code and lead DC, in an attempt to defend Batman and Robins heterosexuality, to get rid of Alfred and replace him for a time with the female Aunt Harriet. (Alfred was brought back later due to the popularity of the campy 60s live action version).

Batman, Robin and Alfred were not intended to be depicted as some sort of gay multi-generational ménage à trois. Obviously there is a difference between something that can have an unintended double reading, and something that is double coding.

But Wertham’s book, controversial for many reasons, taught the public that children's media could contain sexual, adult, and homosexual subtexts. Over 50 years later, it has become far more difficult for writers to claim naivety about the possible double readings of the texts they create.

So, what is the difference between something like this:

And this:

Intent. (oh, early 90s kids cartoons, how I miss you so.)

Cartoons intended for children often still have an adult or teen viewership. It is a cartoon staple to provide humor for both the young and older audience (especially cartoons that are already intended for slightly older children and moving away from the Junior-Learning style of say Dora the Explorer).

Western animation for children is, by default, a comedy genre. *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* jokes to an adult sensability that will fly over the children's heads are common (and a part of the genre's history). Verbal innuendos, or casual crossdressing, are on a whole not taken as seriously by censors (compared to the unthinkable out gay character, or an offically transgendered character)

(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."

Because these transgressions are neatly hidden by humor, and a history of such humor, writers and studios can wave away questions of sexuality from an increasingly discerning audience.

When discussing the film Mädchen in Uniform, and the censoring of homosexuality during the Hays code, Russo says, “American society has willfully deleted the fact of homosexual behavior from its mind, laundering things as they come along, in order to maintain a more comfortable illusion. The censors removed it; the critics said, ‘well, look! It isn’t there;’ and anyone who saw it was labeled a pervert."

Children’s cartoons exist in similarly murky waters. Even if a character is intended to have a double reading there is always a safety net of plausible deniability.

But what happens when the punch line becomes a complex character? When does the line of innuendo crossover into a characters identity?

Part 3: Archetype of the Male Duo

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