For those who still believe that cartoons are for children and Adults who still collect comic books, it is my sincere hope that over the course of this blog I will be able to change your perception of Animated Entertainment. Before Diving into the world of Japanese Animation, I would like to begin to illustrate how cartoons are not at all what they are generally perceived to be by exploring Comedy Central’s Drawn Together. I will admit, most of my knowledge lies within Japanese Animation so I thought it might prove to be a bit of an undertaking when I challenged myself to find a popular American animated program with questionable gender portrayals (please excuse my sarcasm, it is unprofessional of me). By chance, I happened to stumble upon what I believe to be the Holy Grail. The subversive ideas on masculinity and femininity conveyed through this one episode reveal a great deal about what our society views as acceptable and unacceptable when gender is regarded.
The show, Drawn Together, is a mock-reality show featuring typical cartoon characters such as the superhero and the princess. The show throws character from a variety of child-aimed animated genres into one house (very much like The Real World or Big Brother) and allows them to act without the normal censors of a child’s cartoon. The idea behind the show is to combine the generalizations of reality television with the fantastic qualities of animated characters. It is within these characters and their satire of reality television personalities that we begin to see very thought-provoking ideas about how we really view the people on these shows and what that says about how we view people in reality.
The episode I have chosen for analysis, “Wooldoor’s Giggle-Wiggle Funny Tickle Non-Traditional Program Multicultural Roundtable,” focuses on the character Wooldoor Sockbat who creates a television show for children that in the future turns everyone in the world into a homosexual. Sockbat is based on your average Looney Tunes cartoon character; he is colorful, seemingly elastic in motion and appearance, and can “poof” as he runs. His personality on the show matches his happy-go-lucky exterior quite closely (as did the show he produced within this episode). The show, one that taught tolerance and acceptance, was called by fellow character Princess Clara “a breeding ground for homosexuality” and the fight to save or destroy it began. Throughout the episode, Sockbat is protected by fellow character Xander P. Wifflebottom, who is often referred to as the token gay member of the household. Wifflebottom, who claims to have seen the future, warns Sockbat of an impending threat sent back in time by those who have resisted the global change to homosexuality and seek to kill him. The threat come in the form of a Terminator-type robot built by heterosexual rebels of the future to be the quintessential heterosexual male and to kill Sockbat in the past before the homosexual future can be realized. Though Wifflebottom acts as the primary protector in this episode, Captain Hero often lends assistance by inadvertently distracting the robot with manly heterosexual conversations about what they both like about “baginas.” The episode ends with Sockbat being saved by the love that blossomed between Captain Hero and the robot during their conversations about “baginas,” and Wifflebottom dies from a sprained ankle.
During the course of the episode, the male characters are either portrayed as either a hyperbolic stereotypes of homosexuality or masculinity. Wifflebottom is depicted as a physically weak man with many female characteristics. Sockbat is depicted as a clown with an excess of happiness which makes him susceptible to homosexuality. Captain Hero and the robot are the “real men” of the four. They talk to each other about “baginas,” makes jokes at the expense of women, and slap each other high fives. But of course, an excess of masculinity also makes you homosexual. First, starting with “what it is to be masculine,” talking about genitalia and slapping each other high fives are by no means the definitions of what it means to be a man. Second, homosexuals are not necessarily physically weak or effeminate. But of course, as Diane Raymond mentions in her essay “Popular Culture and Queer Representation,” homosexuals of any sex are rarely ever depicted as normal folks but instead always embody some type of stereotype associated with their sexuality. In addition, the association between female characteristics and being physically inept goes as far as saying that women possess these unwanted characteristics that make them inferior and by being homosexual you’re one step closer to becoming weaker like them. Third, homosexuality is not some ridiculous epidemic that is highly contagious and silly. Throughout the episode, the idea that one can become homosexual in response to even the smallest influences is conveyed; as is the idea that homosexuality is something for idiots. Homosexuality is the sexual preference of a group of people, not an unstoppable epidemic that must be stopped by censoring media, not acting too masculine, and not acting too feminine. Finally, since it is obviously impossible for men to have a close relationship without being homosexual, Captain Hero and the robot obviously must be.
The other half of this episode follows the female characters of the house Toot Braunstein and Foxxy Love (with the exception of her initial expression of disgust at the beginning of the episode, Princess Clara does not appear). Braunstein, a spoof of Betty Boop, is overweight, constantly depressed, irritable, and only made happy by the prospect of food in the near future (she is often seen as the “bitch” of the group). Love picks up all of the remaining female reality show stereotypes. She wears barely any clothing, is “a black woman with attitude,” incredibly thin, and unknowingly suggests that she has an eating disorder. In their storyline, Braunstein continuously goes on about a Weiner mobile that gives out free hot dogs to those it deems worthy. Love eventually gets so irritated by this that she locks Braunstein in a closet. It is eventually discovered that Braunstein was right about the Weiner mobile, but she is left in the closet while Love enjoys the free hot dogs. When Braunstein later becomes angry because of this, she is depicted as the one who needs to “chill out” and her angry is conveyed as almost completely unwarranted.
Although there are many things that one could take first notice to (and far more than anyone could ever list), I must say I was first drawn to the fact that the creators successfully included as many stereotypes as they did with only two characters as canvas (we want to make generalizations, but we still don’t want too many women in the show). The second factor that caught my attention would be that of Braunstein the Bitch versus Love the Attitude. It just seems all too convenient that the attractive and thin Love would be called sassy and funny while Braunstein who causes little to no trouble at all would be dubbed the bitch. But then, how could we justify making fun of her weight and her social problems if we did not first label her a Bitch? It makes you wonder, how does one gain the title Bitch after complaining about being locked in a closet by the Attitude?
The obvious argument to be made in defense of this show is that it is a satire. And I completely understand that, in fact, I enjoy it as much as any fan might. It does make fun of a lot of reality show norms that have become monotonous, predictable, and almost seemingly scripted. That being said, there is a still a very questionable factor that is present that most may not consider. A satire is used to exaggerate real-life realities in a fictional yet feasible and similar world. This show does that in many ways successfully. We can look at the Bitch versus the Attitude and say, “Yes, that does often happen in reality television and even reality. People do often choose to side with the more attractive one.” But are we then inclined to say, “Yes, gay men are like that…well not all gay men but most.” Is that a fair statement or a perpetuation of a stereotype? What about masculine men being the ones who talk only about genitalia and nothing else. Is that really how all men are? Is that even how most men are? You might say that these are also intended satirically; these are popular stereotypes that are being used ridiculously in order to make them seem as ridiculous as they are. But eventually it becomes very hard to say where the stereotype ends, and actually beliefs begin. And if this show is only a hyperbole of actual reality shows, what does that say about the people picked for those shows? Producers and those in charge of creating a reality show’s “cast of characters” pick characters that they know will appeal to large audiences (and ratings show that they’re right on the money most of the time). A network would never air a show such as Survivor or The Real World is they did not feel it was going to be appealing, or at the very least acceptable. So the question that Drawn Together puts forth is, “If this is so appalling, why does it appeal to us even when it’s not a joke at all?”