From 1940 to 1964, Warner Bros. produced 170 cartoons featuring the iconic cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons as well as many other cartoons produced under the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies labels. Thursday nights, when I was little, we watched "The Bugs Bunny Show." My father enjoyed watching Bugs Bunny almost as much as watching the Pink Panther. When the show moved to Saturday mornings, it was the centerpiece of all the morning cartoons.
Bugs Bunny is a culturally-recognized example of the "trickster" archetype. On one hand, he's a friendly character who doesn't go looking for trouble. But on the other hand, once someone brings trouble to him, they better watch out! He is quite adept at devising clever tricks to play on those who have wronged him.
A few years ago, I decided to apply my inherited fondness for making lists, and I constructed a list of all the Bugs Bunny cartoons, drawing on the book, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons by Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald. One by one, I checked off the ones I had watched. When I needed a few more to watch to complete the list, I found them on YouTube.
Going back to watching many of the old cartoons was spurred by a trend that concerned me. Many of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, including Bugs Bunny, were being censored before showing on Cartoon Network. A shotgun blast to a character's face would be deleted, for example. I surmised that some group of concerned parents were influencing network executives to edit the cartoons for anything that might - as these parents believed - have a negative influence on their children's behavior. As I looked into this, I discovered that there were some entire cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny that have been banned because they depicted not just violence but racial stereotypes. These cartoons are not shown on TV but can be found on DVDs or on YouTube. The DVDs released as the "Looney Tunes Golden Collection" are compilations that include some of these controversial cartoons. Each DVD shows a message at the beginning explaining that while some cartoons on the disk depict unacceptable behaviors such as racial stereotypes, they are included for historical reasons. But then, cartoons such as "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," a World War II-era feature, can now only be found on YouTube. At the time this short originally came out, its treatment of the Japanese as our enemies was dehumanizing, an almost universal sociological factor in wartime. (This cartoon, as well as many others released in wartime, were intended as entertainment for adults, not children.)
And what have I learned by watching cartoons like Bugs Bunny over the years? I learned it's good to have sense of humor and not take oneself too seriously. I learned that being clever is better than being out-and-out mean. I picked up various expressions (like Yosemite Sam's "you durn idgit"), some of which have become so embodied in my day-to-day conversations that I don't even realize I'm quoting a cartoon character. (A recent meme on Facebook claims [tongue-in-cheek] that Bugs Bunny taught us that "revenge on my enemies should be quick, clever, and brutal.")
What did I not learn? I did not learn that shooting someone in the face simply turns their face black with gunpowder. Nor did I learn to think in racist terms. And enjoying the antics of an anthropomorphized rabbit who is said by some to be a "cross-dresser" did not interfere with puberty or my sexual orientation.
Like many others, I miss the "golden years" of animated shorts.