Okay, so the English took their nobility and silent dissatisfaction with their class struggle and created Robin Hood. The ancient Greeks worshipped all-powerful deities who were just as fallable as they were. And Americans, in turn, created Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
No, really, man, I’m serious.
Lots of ancient cultures had myths populated by anthropomorphised animals, be they tricksters or dupes or blithe spirits. As the US is a post-enlightenment civilization, our myths are either partially based on fact (such as Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Betsy Ross, etc.) or are specifically written as fictitious, but with characters that are so ubiqutous and resonate so well that they might as well be real. Oh, sure, there are better works of fiction with more fleshed-out, well-rounded characters, like The Great Gatsby, that tell us more about ourselves as a nation and as a people. The Greeks had their national epics, too. But their myths were as simple, yet topsy-turvy, as a Bugs Bunny short.
Incidentally, Bugs represents the American we all want to be – cool, casual, knowing how the game is played and always one step ahead of everyone else – and Daffy represents the American we sometimes are – hot-tempered, grumpy, paranoid, and easily excited.
I’m thinking about this particular thing today because Slate’s Jeff Greenfield just posted an article comparing Bugs to Barack Obama and Daffy to Hillary Clinton, saying that American’s always vote for Bugs over Daffy. And it’s kinda true.
Go back to 1960, the first campaign in which television was the clear dominant medium. John “Bugs” Kennedy was cool, restrained, ironic. Richard “Daffy” Nixon was brooding, suspicious, scowling. Look at 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s sunny approach to the campaign and to the world (“Our best days are yet to come”) stood in sharp contrast to President Jimmy Carter’s talk of a crisis of the spirit. (Maybe the cartoon duel helps explain why Jimmy Carter had his famous battle in a boat with a rabbit.)
He goes on to say that, if Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, she’ll be up against McCain, which will make it effectively Daffy vs. Daffy. I suppose that’s almost true, although McCain is clearly Marvin the Martian.
(In case you don’t remember this particular pairing, click here and re-educate yourself in the building blocks of American cultural history.)