Monday, August 27, 2007

a season in albuquerque

When I was young and stuck to the television I used to wonder why Bugs Bunny always made the wrong turn at Albuquerque, or Albakoykee, as he would say it. How can you end up so incredibly lost by dint of one wrong turn at one city in New Mexico? And then there was the disturbingly barren or surreal look of the landscapes where he popped up for a look at the map. No matter where he emerged, Bugs seemed to wander into desert (or ice, in one case). Maybe loose sand is the path of least resistance when you're traveling underground.

It never occurred to me wonder where Bugs Bunny meant to go. I have vague memories of him playing the obnoxious tourist, but it always seemed like a scam to me, a faux-naive invitation to lure belligerent locals to their doom. He'd march up to a cartoon strongman or palace eunuch and ask for directions to Las Vegas, but I never believed, not for a second, that Bugs Bunny was actually lost. His home is his warren, and his warren comprises all the tunnels dug and undug that snake beneath the ground, some in progress, some pending. Just as you or I would add a room or knock down a wall, Bugs Bunny digs a tunnel. His digging isn't exploration; it's expansion.

So what exactly is Albuquerque? After all, there's only so many times you can pass through there until you figure out your basic mistake. My guess is that it's the last moral reference point, a landmark where a left turn takes you to your expected destination, but any other course of action lands you in a cartoon universe of upended physics and random violence. This is the place where hunters, bulls and blowhards prowl the landscape, waiting to take out their inexplicable rages on the ones who turned right at Albuquerque. Faced with these predators, Bugs adds to the moral map by kicking their asses in the most humiliating and smart-ass manner possible.

There are plenty of sources that find in Bugs Bunny's tricksterish behaviour a note of anarchism and chaotic fecundity, but he always struck me as a bit conservative. Bugs Bunny dresses in drag, smacks his enemies with anvils and escapes death by a whisker, but his quicksilver violence always imparts a cautionary moral lesson. He edifies as he bewilders, attacks as he defends, dominates as he plays the underdog. He tames his enemies, which is a weird job for a rabbit, but it somehow seems appropriate that Bugs Bunny, who in the real world would be relegated to the forked fates of cage or pot, should run around the world teaching foreigners to behave. The patriotic cartoons of the early '40s (Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, anyone?) show his conservative, Manifest Destiny streak in full force. My advice to you, if you find yourself buying a condo somewhere to the right of Albuquerque, is to keep your head down and be nice to the wise-cracking rabbit when he sidles on up and mockingly calls you Doc.


sgazzetti said...

For some reason, I was under the impression that he was always trying to reach the La Brea tar pits. Not that that excuses the anvils.

You can call me, 'Sir' said...

Excellent advice. Bugs definitely has the stink of the mythological trickster (Loki, for you Nordic types) in his actions, which potentially adds a certain level of "deep" to the Warner Brothers franchise. I always looked to the rabbit as a sense of hope in an otherwise hopeless and unfair world. He was clever. He persevered. Even when maps led him astray at life's crossroads (Albequrque? Why not Duluth?), he overcame. There's a moral there somewhere.

Thomas said...

I was always fond of the anarchist, upending of fate, reading of bugs. He's pursued most ardently by those who are above him on the food chain but always triumphs.

Most of his foes are idiots, as well, giving us a clear role model in terms of intelligence.

As for the advice about NM, I can't stand the place and I already live in a world of cartoon universe of upended physics and random violence.

ozma said...

This is weird. I was thinking about Bugs today.

My thoughts were not significant. Just that Bugs is smarter than Daffy but Daffy wants to be smart. Daffy's trying so hard but Bugs doesn't need to try. But there's something odd about Bugs' smarts. I don't see him as knowing what to do. It's almost like he doesn't try and this is where his luck lies. Daffy tries to be clever and this is why he never wins.


Maybe the difference between Bugs and Daffy is so subtle and mysterious to defy description. They are both irreverent, both trying to get what they want, both trying to escape death. What IS the difference between them? Why is Bugs so much cooler than Daffy? Where does Daffy go wrong?

I even watched "The Rabbit of Seville" tonight. My favorite. But they took 'What's Opera Doc' off the Looney Tunes website and now I want to cry.

Where is Bugs going? Does he have to have a destination? They just run around these guys, sometimes.

Rebecca said...

As Sigmund Freud once famously said, "sometimes a city in New Mexico is just a city in New Mexico, but with cheaper real estate than Santa Fé."

Anonymous said...

In "Bully for Bugs" Bugs says (after taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque:

"Excuse me but could you direct me to the shortest route to the Coachella Valley and the Carrot Festival therein?"

It seems clear he is only distracted by the bull but fully and sincerely intends to find and attend the carrot festival. This might seem a naive reading. However, are we really supposed to believe that Bugs does not like carrots enough to seek out the carrot festival?

According to my husband, Bugs often believes, when he gets lost, that he has ended up in Pismo Beach.

palinode said...

Carrots are a pretty powerful lure, it's true. And there's always the chance that he'll catch the music festival on his way to the carrot festival.

frectis said...

This is a crack up. I lived in Hellbuquerque a few years and liken it to a population that boomed from two carloads of people who once had a flat tire where I25 and I40 intersect.

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