Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Someone's paying attention to genuis... super genius

In a RadioLab podcast from early last month ("The Universe Knows My Name") they touched on destiny and looked at it through the lens of… the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

The popularity of those, an authority on the classic animation noted, was due not to the success of the bird in avoiding all the traps laid out by the pursuing creature but to the way the anthropomorphic coyote failed. There was something relatable about being thwarted by the universe as Wile was.

As an example the man cited a plot the coyote had where the road ended at a cliff and he painted a realistic mural of the road continuing just in front of that cliff in an attempt to fool the road runner into plummeting off. However, when the road runner gets there the painting becomes real for him and he just runs as though the road continued. When the coyote runs after the road runner he merely crashes through the painting and falls to the canyon floor. The shot shifts to the coyote, lying on the ground, who just shrugs. Gravity, it is noted, proves not a constant but a malignant force.

The producer who conducted the interview with the cartoon expert noted how although the coyote chased the road runner his real opponent was the universe. But the appeal was not merely this notion of the universe being out to get him—playing on a human sense that when bad things happen the fates are out to get us—but the implication of that scenario: The universe was aware of him; the universe to be out to get you and exerting such effort to thwart you proved attention that was, in its own way, flattering.

That the universe was not a cold, indifferent place with no knowledge of your existence, much less any involvement in it, doesn't hit on either paranoia or vanity.

And as odd as it was that this angle had not specifically occurred to me before, it did make sense why I'd always preferred those Road Runner and Coyote cartoons better than Tom and Jerry (with their ostensibly similar chase motif).

Even as a child I somehow grasped that slapstick with no deeper philosophical subtext was not as good.

1 comment:

  1. Then there's the one where Wile E. builds a giant magnet and sucks all the satellites and rockets in from outer space. That's my favorite.


So, what do you think?