I was reading a story today about a New Zealand man who survived a bizarre accident in which he fell on an air hose and was “blown up like a balloon” to twice his size. It reminded me of cartoons because, well, that sort of thing happens routinely in cartoons (it’s called “cartoon physics,” and if you want to read about it, Wikipedia has a hilariously dispassionate guide to the “rules and laws” of cartoon physics).
Anyway, this then reminded me of a recent Radiolab interview with Michael Barrier, an animation historian and expert on Looney Tunes, about the unprecedented success of the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons when they first premiered in the 1940s. His thesis is that, unlike its predecessor “chase cartoons,” such as Tom and Jerry, Wile E. Coyote is a distinctly human character — not just in his facial expressions and bad luck, but in his general exasperation with the apparent unfairness of life.
I took a class in college called “Animal Spirits,” in which we studied representations of animals in literature, philosophy and art. We spent considerable time watching the Chuck Jones canon, including Wile E. Coyote, and analyzing an idea similar to Barrier’s: that Wile E. Coyote is essentially a stand-in for man, his vanity, his frustrations and his paranoia about destiny and its relentless oppression of the individual.
Anyway, all this is to say that I spent a few minutes re-watching old clips of Wile E. Coyote and wanted to post one of my favorites. Here it is.
Update: I should have expected that Jon Bershad would beat me to this comparison by light years (and do so hilariously). Read his awesome write-up of the air hose story, Wile E. Coyote reference and all.