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Chapter X Towards a Pragmatic Relation With the Audience

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

“Pragmatics”? This seemingly highbrow, fearsome term does in fact not conceal much at all. Its first occurrence (with the meaning I grant it) may be found in a diagram by literary critic M.H. Abrams185:

A work of art is linked to the artist who produced it, to the universe it represents, and to the audience who receives it.

“Pragmatics” should therefore be understood as the science that deals with the relationships between the addresser and the addressee of a message (i.e. the cartoonist and his audience).

For a spectator unacquainted with Tex Avery’s style, guessing what gag is to come next is rather difficult; however, after watching several cartoons, the same spectator can virtually build the story by himself. He has thus attained a certain degree of activity, since he is no longer a passive cartoon-watcher, but a cog in the plot-making process. The Model Spectator can be either the virtual concept of an idealised addressee (the spectator the cartoonist had in mind when he created his cartoon) or its realised version (an actual viewer who is extremely familiar with the corpus). I have not elaborated this concept – based on literary criticism – for the mere sake of theory, but for the insight they offer in terms of reception theory.186 It would be very wrong indeed to level Tex Avery’s audience regardless of their differences. The following part will hence concentrate on the Model Spectator who can build the plot through his – later fulfilled – expectations, as opposed to the Naïve Spectator’s (or first-time viewer’s) “disappointed” expectations. What are the factors that enable such a transformation of the spectator into an active participant? The activity of the Model Spectator of Tex Avery’s cartoons seems to result from the combination of connivance with the cartoonist and distancing from the cartoon (so as to get a better understanding of its overall unity), both factors being initiated by the cartoonist.

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Chapter VI Freudian Pansexualism: Concepts of Activity/Passivity

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933)106, Freud associated for the first time the notions of virility and activity, while attributing passivity to female behaviour. This simplistic theory is followed by the letter in Tex Avery’s cartoons. Freud’s impact on today’s world is immeasurable. Even nowadays, it is virtually impossible to tackle the subject of sexual urges without evoking or quoting the man. Just like Caesar’s “veni, vidi, vici”, Freud’s declaration “anatomy is destiny” has become a maxim famous world-wide, although few realise how innovative it was, and to what extent it shaped our understanding of sex and gender. Freud’s statement expresses the belief that biological sex affects not only the gender (what may be defined as cultural sex) of the person but also his or her entire life. Sex is thus a master trait, a label, a main variable on which all the others depend. This sexual solipsism (to quote Betty Friedan) is still pervading all our accounts on, and explanations of sexual urges.

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Chapter IX The Burlesque Heritage

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

The ... American comedy finds its roots in the French comic
movies of the pre-First World War period, and – above all –
in the Anglo-Saxon music-hall, with all its acrobatics, pantomimes, nonsense, gags, and slapstick
.155

Georges Sadoul’s statement conveys a deep, analytical meaning – provided one knows what the slapstick genre is.156 Giving a precise definition is a rather difficult enterprise, even though it is easy to spot its characteristics while watching a film of the genre. The following section, although far from exhaustive, will concentrate on four of these characteristics which are among the most prominent ones. Firstly, a burlesque film stages caricatures, stereotypes, people who could not possibly exist in real life; it also displays elements of excess (to which the Marx brothers may own the copyrights). However, a burlesque film is generally best identified through its frantic rhythm, and not only because of the early techniques used in silent movies, but also through the mechanical gestures which its protagonists repeatedly make.

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Chapter I The Cartoon-Making Technique

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

Provided that you have seen a few cartoons and you are rather curious, you must have wondered “How did they do that?” The magic atmosphere that pervades cartoons actually conceals a more practical side; that of the various techniques employed in order to achieve a maximum impact on the audience by constantly flirting with reality, without anyone noticing the amount of pain taken in timing the whole thing precisely. Five weeks of intense work, 8,640 frames and no less than 1,300 metres of film are required to create a six-minute cartoon. Cartoons in the 1940s had to be six minutes long, not more, not less, both for obvious financial reasons and because of their status of film preview: the duration of a cartoon, a set of commercials, a newsreel, and a film had to be precisely two hours long.

I now propose to follow the birth of a cartoon from its conception to the final result, by examining all the different departments that deal with its creation.

The very first thing you need to make a cartoon is obviously a screenplay. The script-writer (or storyman) is therefore the first person to put his shoulder to the wheel. Not only does he write the dialogue (unless a dialogue-man is appointed for this part of the process), but he is also responsible for the whole atmosphere of the cartoon through his detailed description of the characters, places, and forces at work in the story. He then works closely with the director to produce characters and situations that will work together visually. His role will be to translate the story in a limited number of sketches (from 50 and 150 for a six-minute cartoon), and to pair it with a few lines of dialogue, in order to see if the combination is effective. The drawings are very rough, not refined, and only depict extreme positions, behaviours, or physical expressions. “Extreme”, because knowing that a character, object, or landscape will gradually change (at a rhythm of 24 frames per second) between a period X and a period Y, the story-artist will not take the time (or the financial risk) to draw all the pictures between X and Y, but will merely sketch out the two extremes X and Y. The resulting story-board, which looks like a huge comic-strip, will then be pinned onto a cork panel so that the whole team (animators, model-makers, scene painters, etc.) can discuss potential modifications. The technique of the story-board has been used since the 1920s, but was significantly developed by Walt Disney.

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Chapter VIII Oedipal Relationships and Their Consequences

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

Tex Avery’s cartoons rarely stage happy, solid families. Absent parents – the kitten in Bad Luck Blackie (1949) – , mothers without children and consequently trying to compensate for this lack – the owner of Lenny in Lonesome Lenny (1946) – , characters carrying out an eternal quest for a mother-figure – all the adaptations of Of Mice and Men, with Junior parodying Steinbeck’s Lennie –, the family as an institution is often severely handicapped. However, despite this lack of mutual bonding, Tex Avery’s cartoons always take into account the contemporary need for a mother experienced by a whole generation of soldiers who had fought in the Second World War. As we have already seen, the feminine mystique did not explode without warning. The Depression, the Second World War, and the invention of the atomic bomb were all determining factors in terms of sociological impact. The nation being generally scared, the need for the assuaging, soothing force best embodied by the mother-figure suddenly became a sine qua non. What the GIs wanted was to re-create the peace of their boyhood homes. The increasing number of pin-ups in the postwar years is no coincidence at all: as mother substitutes (see the size of their breasts for further instance), they fulfilled a sociological function that would have otherwise left a representational void. This climate of sociological insecurity was definitely propitious to the feminine mystique boom. The next stage was unavoidable: from then on, the idea that femininity could only be sublimated through motherhood propagated swiftly. However, the concept was carried so far as to result in many cases of castrating mothers, either through aggressive behaviour motivated by revenge or through a process of maternal over-protection (a term borrowed from David Levy) motivated by extreme love. Maternal over-protection resulted from a feeling of being unloved, left apart, since the only prospect of self-fulfilment for a woman was to be connected with her offspring. A woman could not simply live for herself but had to live for (and through) her children, so that her behaviour often displayed traces of emotional blackmail.

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