We are pleased to offer an excerpt from the latest issue of the online magazine, Bright Wall/Dark Room. Their March issue (Dynamic Duos) is focused on collaborators and, in addition to Frank Falisi’s piece on Bugs & Daffy below, it also features new essays on The X-Files, “Master and Commander,” Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn, Keira Knightley & Joe Wright, “When We Were Kings,” “Collateral,” “Dick,” Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Jack Lemmon & Judy Holliday, “Housekeeping,” “Mommy,” “The Perfection,” Noah Baumbach & Carlos Jacott, and “The Right Stuff.”
I squinch two fingers of tip up onto the laptop’s mousey-pad place. Is there an actual name for this space? I promise myself I won’t use the laptop to look up what the laptop wants me to call mousey-pad place. When I use the laptop to look up things I wasn’t really thinking about before the laptop made me think about them, I feel bad.
When I spin the fingers and their tips across the mousey-pad place, I think of all the things I can’t touch right now. I know you know about this phenomenon. Here’s a shortlist of some things I’d rather my fingertips caress today rather than the mousey-pad place:
- a clod of sunwarm dirt with just a few sprigs of shiny switchgrass poking through
- a pintglass of beerline-flat Belgian from the bar at Pizzeria UNOs in Hamilton, New Jersey (I am passing the glass to my friend Ray; you can just make out my fingerprint in the beerfrost)
- The five fingers of a someone’s hand to check if they’re cold, to check if they want to hold my hand too
I know you know about these things but I am feeling extra strinky and stretched about where they are in relation to my real fingertips.
I try to put those fingertips to good use, circling the mousey-pad place. I tip-tap the mousey-pad place twice (the universal high sign for “yes please this seems promising”) because a website called Zoo.com (no animals) is promising me personality quizzes.
Whose personality am I quizzing? Mine! My very own. I like a personality quiz like I like a pinot grigio sometimes: you can’t get it wrong (if you think you can, maybe you are wrongthinking these mutually and objectively benign objects?). A personality quiz doesn’t ask me to know; all I can do is be a little too honest, a smidge overinvested, a blot of crossed-arm offense when Zoo.com tells me that—Based on My Breakfast Choices—my personality is Steel Cut Oats w/Chia. I can only be so offended though, because I ate oatmeal this morning. I eat oatmeal every day. I like the little indents down the center of every individual oatpiece.
There is a shaved-off second where I let my fingertips hover in the mid-air. I look at them, wavering just a little, the fingertips that miss brushing and flitting and diving into buckets of shared movie theater popcorn. My fingertips wheel on me. They accost me! They’ve formed a little mouth, like a talking Rock, Paper, Scissors scissor. “Do you think maybe you’re doing this [Personality Quiz] to avoid doing something else?” my fingertips-scissor asks me. “We know being alive right now is a case study in avoidance/coping methodology these days but Frank buddy, friend, maybe take a second here.”
“Ha, fat chance, fingertips,” I say to my fingertips, and I make them shrug and click the laptop’s mousey-pad place just as the cursor on the laptop screen hovers over “ARE YOU MORE BUGS OR DAFFY?”
Now I am in it, there is no turning back. I will have a new insight into my me after this, or at the very least I will recheck these answer bubbles until the me my laptop reflects back pleases me and reassures my perception of self is indeed me in the best way possible.
“Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are the two most popular Looney Tunes on the planet, and for good reason,” Zoo.com promises. I like the phrasing here, this locative slip of “on the planet.” It suggests these cel melty fantasies have a space on our snowy physical planes. It suggests that Bugs and Daffy are out there, somewhere, waiting to collide with us. I wonder if this is how Space Jam was pitched? “We all know Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are the two most popular Looney Tunes. Let’s get them on the planet (ours) and make sure there’s a part for Shawn Bradley.” Studio execs explode in applause. Story-pitchers are promoted, luxury car keyrings shoved in their fists. Shawn Bradley’s landline rings.
Zoo, the Website For Distracted 30-Somethings goes on: “They’re frenemies who entertain us to no end. So who are you more like? Bugs or Daffy?”
I scrutinize the pixely bodies on the screen in front of me. Carrot-out Bogey-style Bugs stands with an arch-back head-back that communicates a frankly startling degree of confidence for a still image. I try to stand this way and I feel like a rubber chicken. I shift. Slick black Daffy is up and in and his shoulders are scrunched high, a frustrated zen. I scrunch my shoulders to facsimilate this and instantly cramp my neck. The rub lands like a grand piano dropped from a very high height: I am not sure how I perceive my me in these terms.
The Bugs v. Daffy (Dawn of Justice?) formulation is a fairly recent creation, and far from an inevitable binary. Origins are smushy, as is usually the case for recurring figures at the mercy of multiple authors, but both find themselves immediately at the mercy of hunters. Porky’s Hare Hunt from 1938 casts Porky against a rabbit who’s mostly impersonal, but represents our proto-Bugs. The rabbit’s mostly quiet, save for a kind of bawdy laugh but: by the time the rabbit reappears in 1939’s Prest-O, Change-O, the silence is accompanied by a rare confidence and moveable cool. He effortlessly dupes two cartoon dogs into not chasing him. He gets glee from it. He does real magic. He doesn’t seem likely to take personality quizzes.
By 1940—big strides, rapid evolutions accelerated by biologies that are literally capable of whatever is imaginable—Bugs appears as Bugs in A Wild Hare, which has all the official hallmarks of that Bugs’ burgeoning mythology: Elmer and Bugs in their familiar animated proportions and locked in comic combat, Mel Blanc’s Brooklyn scrap subwaying from the rabbit’s mouth, the first immortal deployment of “…ehh…what’s up, doc?” Near the end of the film, Bugs takes pity on his ineptly red-nosed foe. He promises to stand still. He promises to give Elmer a fighting chance, one good shot. He doesn’t, of course: he stages the whole thing, tricks the hunter, humiliates him, effectively cheats death for the very first time.
This is, I think, the supremely attractive trait of Bugs Bunny. For all his aloof cool and plastic removes, he’s principally in the business of cheating death. Bugs Bunny just wants to be alright.
The other day at work, a coworker said to a patron (it’s a library, we call them patrons), “And you’re alright for the next three years,” the context being that—after booping a few books and checking a computer screen box— the patron in question’s library card had been renewed for an additional three years. If someone told me “you’re alright for the next three years,” I would cry cartoon tears like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, tears enough to submerge me in an ocean of my own rending.
Today I cried in the car, having been ambushed by an NPR retrospective on Pokémon (“Pokémon:”) I came a little unmoored hearing that stupid theme song (“it’s you and me,”) and my brainhead pinging with all these involuntary flashes (“I know it’s my destiny,”) of recess swingset (“Pokémon!”) pencil sharpener, of decaffeinated Turkey Hill iced tea and one five-cheese pizza Hot Pocket after school. Remember not feeling fat with grief? Try to remember.
When I cry in the car or the anywhere, I am ashamed to admit how I crave a mirror. How is it that my face scrunches so? How do its caves puff out air, its convexes collapse? How do I rearrange? The green eyes go red and the wrinkles—bless—become rivulets. I have gone from the thing that doesn’t cry to the thing that does. And then I go back, keeping my morph in a back pocket or belly bag, a proof of shifting out of the way of the little wrecking, a license to abide.
Maybe you’re on the internet? Yesterday the internet yelled “PEOPLE SHARE THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT LOLA BUNNY,” a statement that really means, “PEOPLE ABSOLUTELY LET IT ALL HANG OUT REGARDING CARTOON RABBIT ANATOMIES; PEOPLE REALLY NEED VACCINES/ FRESH AIR ASAP!” Maybe it’s weird that Space Jam animated Lola Bunny as Jean Harlow in Athleisure. Maybe it’s weirder that Space Jam 2 (???) is compelled to consciously desexualize a cartoon rabbit. These are strange sentences to type.
We maybe don’t have the essayistic time to atomize either the historically-male animators’ aspiration to what we can only call “Bazoonga Theory” OR the inching swing of liberal moralism—increasingly in line with corpo-conservative pearl-clutching—to a brand philosophy staunchly opposed to any basic expression of sexual pleasure or deviance. But there is something tellingly, humanly limited in the anxieties we attach to not only the plasticity of perverseness but to the perverseness of plastic. Toons are always morphing, shifting, gooping into a new them. That sublime slippage is the precise tonic for the gray myth we lumber under, the one that assures us that real change is impossible, that we’re best off accepting this literally murderous acid masquerading as an imperfect beige.
When I cry, I chop my face with salt water and transfigure if only a little. I am constantly aware that I am only me. “I don’t need / Don’t need anyone to be who I want to be / I’m the only one.”
We* (*I) talk about Bugs and Daffy like they’re set and still mythologies to be invoked, but they’re all melt and warble, shake and reanimate. We meet Daffy in 1937’s Porky’s Duck Hunt, a year before Bugs’ debut. Unlike the incremental introduction of Bugs and his personality, Daffy arrives all screaming puddy duck, all “Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!” When Porky sends his hound swimming after Daffy, the dog retrieves the duck only for the duck to round on him and smack the dog upside the head. Daffy swims off scot-free. Porky reaches into his coat pocket for some papers, sweetly stuttering, “That wasn’t in the uh, script.” Daffy shrugs. Bugs’ anarchy is the cool con, the I can’t believe you thought I was dumb enough for that. Daffy’s the rip-it-up bazooka, which is both explosive and gummy.
Daffy morphs and warps: he loses some screwball steam as the forties end, rounds into some of that manic self-promotion and unending quests for spotlight. The perfection of Daffy Duck though, comes in Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003, a Joe Dante gem that sees Daffy literally quitting his studio job at the Warner Brothers Studio because he’s fed up with Bugs’ perpetual credit-getting. So Daffy and a Brendan Fraser stunt-double (played by Brendan Fraser) hit the road. Hijinks ensue. TV’s Jenna Elfman! Timothy Dalton plays a spy and beats up a large robot dog? Steve Martin plays Mr. Chairman and contributes his best 17-minutes since his last best 17-minutes (Little Shop of Horrors). It’s a profoundly Gremlins-y Merrie Melody, which is to say it hums with the anarchy of changeability. It has a real distaste for going to work, thank goodness. And it embodies that supremely attractive trait of Daffy Duck: it rips the script and exists for its own pleasure
Bugs and Daffy aren’t all that opposite; Bugs and Daffy just want to be bodies. When collided, they have tremendous chemistry: one unflappable and unflappably committed to mischief, the other subject to seismic outcry at the first whiff of mischief, equally committed to dishing it back in full. It’s Chuck Jones’ Rabbit Fire in 1951 where we get the first instance of the Bugs > Elmer < Daffy triangulation and it is a joy the color of beach bonfires. The structure is simple and bulletproof: Daffy has ruses to convince Elmer than it’s Rabbit Season. Elmer believes Daffy’s ruses, until those ruses rub up against Bugs’ ruses, which are obviously just a little sparklier, a smidge more brilliant. “Wabbit season!” Daffy says, shoving the shotgun towards Bugs. “Duck season,” Bugs says, shoving it back. “Wabbit season!” Daffy says, moves the muzzle. “Duck season,” Bugs says, moves it back. “Wabbit season!” Daffy says. “Wabbit season,” Bugs says. “Duck season, fire!” Daffy shouts. Elmer fires. Daffy’s bill melts and contorts, spun halfway around his face, splayed out like a feathered flower, a brand new shifting every time. This is the hill and this is a boulder and this is Sisyphus. We laugh in self defense. We clutch our bill.
Jones directs two more toons in this vein over the next two years, first Rabbit Seasoning in 1952 and then Duck! Rabbit! Duck! in 1953, comprising a loose [Daffy Duck voice] “SHOOT ‘IM NOW!” trilogy. It’s notable for a lot (Daffy’s debut of “you’redetttttttthsspicable” in the second entry, a grammatical gag in the third that’s so extravagant and gaspy and well-pulled off I refuse to transcribe it into essay prose please just search engine the cartoon in question!) but watching the trilogy today, now, it’s the lengths to which Daffy and Bugs transform themselves to survive that strikes me. They dress us as each other (prompting a bravura sequence where Mel Blanc has to voice Daffy doing a cheap Bugs impression and then Bugs absolutely nailing Daffy), they pretend to be hunting dogs, they switch outfits with reckless abandon. No matter how many times he takes a clueless shotgun blast to the face, Daffy rights his beak and moves on, mounting into the future. And no matter how many times Bugs does it, Elmer always falls for Bugs presenting himself as a buxom woman. “Surely you’re not going to be taken in by that old gag?” Daffy aghasts in Rabbit Seasoning. “Isn’t she wuvvwy?” Elmer coos. She is!
The joke isn’t on a boy rabbit wearing a dress. The joke is on gender itself, on fixedness, on the old flat notion of stationary points and a simple navigation between them. When Bugs Bunny wears dresses and makeup it’s simply Bugs Bunny, beautiful and capable, so hot and so cool, gaming all the broken systems and people trying to kill him. “My face is the front of shop / My face is the real shop front / My shop is the face I front / I’m real when I shop my face.”
I close my laptop hard and look at the millions of white particles floating down from the sky. I want to be smushed up and smashed, blown open with a cannon the size of Nebraska and then exploded so far up I leave an outline of me in a cloud. So what if an anvil finds me, first its shadow and then its tonnage? I want my skin to move like cartoon cels, to recombine after being grated or fulminated or maybe fully dynamited.
This is not meant to motivate me towards an end; please do not think me despairing (though I do have despair, troughs of it, whole pie plates-full). The world is too chocked of color and laughing to not want more of it. All I want from my time is to touch and crumble, to see and be seen, be and been. And so I wish for reassembly, to have my atoms rubbed into rubber and then flattened in a squish of paint or pixel. I want to come undone and then come back. The second half is the important part. I want to be okay, you see, no matter what happens before that end.
I wanted my laptop to tell me that I’m Bugs or Daffy because they inhabit a reality that bends and morphs at will, always in service of a better moment, a next thing, a something to laugh at. The world (as we understand it) and flailing man-made structures (as we impose them) flange away. It’s not happenstance that the key resolving gag in Rabbit Fire is Bugs and Daffy desperately pulling off “DUCK SEASON” and “RABBIT SEASON” hunting posters until all that’s left is a poster with Elmer’s face on it. And they smile so wide, together finally. It isn’t until declaration of action against mutual hunters that the resolution, the punch-line, becomes plausible.
The critic Mark Fisher writes, “It is a joke of sorts, but one with a very serious purpose.” He’s not talking about Bugs or Daffy, really, just the action they’re engaged in. “It points to something that, at one point, seemed inevitable, but which now appears impossible: the convergence of class-conciousness, socialist-feminist conciousness-raising and psychedelic consciousness, the fusion of new social movements with a communist project, an unprecedented aestheticism of everyday.”
Fisher called it acid communism. The phrase is from the unfinished introduction of his unfinished book of the same name. “The claim of the book is that the last 40 years have been about the exorcising of ‘the spectre of a world which could be free.’” Fisher was a writer, critic, and teacher but maybe for our potential theory of looney-tunacy it’s most important to mention the prolific blog he tended. Called k-punk, this was the voidy an in-between space he interjected many of his anxieties and loves, his own “unprecedented aestheticism of everyday.”
I think acid communism is like cartoons. It’s an ever-evolving way of re-conceiving of a future. It has its roots in Fisher’s reading of what and how the 1960s counterculture meant, that maybe-last moment a mass of people were free and largely able to act on that freedom to imagine alternative modes of consciousness. It was the provocation of The Beatles as The Biggest Band Around, a popular and populist promise that whatever sound your radio played Last would be different from what it played Next. The old stuff would be melted down and reshaped into “genuinely new music—music that wasn’t imaginable a few months never mind a few years before—could crystallize and intensify this whole scene.” We would hear in it, Fisher reminds, “a sense of casual but not complacent optimism, a sense that the world was improving.”
Mark Fisher knew that the crisis of our age wasn’t that we’re literally incapable of re-rendering the world a la cartoon, but rather, that neoliberal capitalism has inundated our capacity to even articulate an alternative future. It smacks of Porky Pig as Macbeth, hinting at the next line but forever stalling, immobile: “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” ad infinitum. If you could move the world around, what would you even do with it? If you could pluck the ether you breathe and animate your self in cels and cells, who would you be? “Without my jeans or my bra / Without my legs or my hands / With no name and with no type of story / Where do I live? / Tell me where do I exist?”
The best Merry Melodie short I’ve ever seen isn’t any of those Bugs > Elmer < Daffy joints. It’s not Duck Amuck from 1953 or even What’s Opera, Doc? in 1957. It’s the 2018 music video for “Faceshopping” by SOPHIE.
There is a face and it inflates. There is a deflation and it’s a face. There are flashes of fleshy meat and gaudy baubly products. These are the same thing, maybe. It’s funny. It’s a joke on our oldest idea of being, our stubborn fixation on fixedness; all the face wants to be is being. Nothing is real (really), just the way we hurtle our bodies at each other in move and love. At the middle point of the video, the words on the screen (which are also the words in the song) split into glimmers, waver and blow. Nothing is fixed. It’s hard to be real right now. But all the hunters that are trying to kill us might be like those words, something to convert into bubbles and with an inverse kiss, an exhale, something to be vaporized.
The best movie I’ve ever seen (I mean this; just let me mean this today) is the music video for “It’s Okay to Cry,” also by SOPHIE, also directed by SOPHIE. It starts in the night sky and it ends among the moon and stars and the life of lightning. It’s the sound we take into the struggle and into the love, which is the same thing, maybe.
SOPHIE died three days ago, reaching for the moon. It won’t always be “three days ago,” but it will always be. It doesn’t feel possible. SOPHIE uncancelled futures, converted our gush stuff into a pop music that saved lives, that made bodies move, which is the same thing, maybe. SOPHIE was—against every observation a body could make in the right now—a sense that the world was improving.
And now it is snowing. Someday (eventually) it won’t be snowing but today it is. Gobs and drifts, crests of crystal that spin off into curlicued tornadoes as the wind moves the world around. I know what snow is, I swear. I know what snow is. But my stretched-out brain is seeing through shot and red eyes and also the pane of window glass and now I think all the white stuff falling from the sky is SOPHIE’s moon. The moon got so sad it’s falling down. It’s tired. It wants to connect. It wants to touch a body. It is seeking fingertips to flit with.
I am looking out the window again (still). Someday (soon) I won’t be doing this and someday next we won’t be doing this but right now we are. And I think when we hover in laptops and punch our personalities and pine after cartoon resolutions, when we feel the pressure of strained stuff gumming up our bones and hearts, we are mitigating grief. We are Daffy and Bugs both and also every other color imaginable, desperately organizing and reorganizing into shapes trying to survive.
Grief is a jelly that will change the way you move your blood around. It’ll clog up the you that circulates in the world. We don’t live like Looney Tunes. We are not impossible: we have ends. We try to survive and eventually we don’t. SOPHIE is gone. Mark Fisher died by suicide in 2017. It’s okay to cry. I don’t know how else to be.
I am done with the personality quiz but I’m not sure who I am. I am not one of two; I want to be more but I am bleary. I am remembering a scene from Jessica Dunn Rovinelli’s 2016 film, Empathy, a docu-something portrait of Em Cominotti, who works as an escort girl and navigates opioid/opiate use disorder. It’s a film of Em being, in New York, in a hotel room, somewhere else, eating Taco Bell, brushing teeth. I miss being, all the time. I am still, but I miss it, in and out of time.
Empathy is Em being and the camera seeing. This is is one of the film’s proposals: we be and see, and that’s the only way to bring ourselves into a future together. Empathy isn’t a simple directional line, a navigation between you and me, but more like a mode to soak in, an ocean above hypothermal vents hot enough to effect radical forms of being. New life comes from this. Empathy is a sequence of seen-alternatives to the way work and capitalism currently oppress us. It’s incredible.
Late in the film, Em sits on a couch in California. She switches on a meditation prompt. She closes her eyes. The voice says: “Remember: any moment is impermanent. Any feeling is impairment. Any thought is impermanent.”
SOPHIE and Mark Fisher are gone and so many other bodies are gone but we are here and we might still feel the soft sublime pressure of leaning our selves up against each other. We might still hold hands, after. Remember: any moment is impermanent. Any feeling is impermanent. Any thought is impermanent. If the future too, is impermanent, it is because it possesses light the color of want and feeling the shape of ache. We might repair, we might reform, after.
In her review of SOPHIE’s 2018 album, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, Rovinelli writes, “In its flow and breakings, it echoes and repeats a fractured self, locating this fracture, as something aimed toward futurity, towards a new image of pop music, toward a new mode of being and becoming, toward a new way of moving limbs on a dancefloor with others. It’s incredible.”
It’s incredible to be a body. It’s incredible to be a body amid and amongst other bodies. It’s incredible to be a body at the mercy of a set of systems designed to eradicate our bodies. “Incredible” is literally “not credible,” the inverse of believability. It is that which is not possible. Nothing is not possible; it’s too incredible to be a body. In struggle and love, being and seeing, we can end eradicative systems. We rid ourselves of hunters. Nothing is inevitable except mutual survival. Looney tunes means any sound that can happen does. We happen, bright and lunatic. And so we abide.