Looney Tunes Cartoons Were More Brutal Than You May Remember

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 24 2014 8:32 AM

Looney Tunes Cartoons Were More Brutal Than You May Remember

Bugs_Bunny_gun
Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam and a gun
Many scenes like this one have been edited out of reruns.

Still from gun violence in cartoons compilation

When California tried to ban the sale of violent video games to minors, the Supreme Court mocked its efforts, noting that old Looney Tunes cartoons provoked the same tendency toward violence in children as a Grand Theft Auto–style bloodbath. But just how violent were Looney Tunes? A video compiled by Sam Henderson reminds us that the antics of Bugs Bunny and co. were a lot more brutal than you remember:

As Retro Junk notes points out, many of these so-called “suicide gags” have long been edited out of TV reruns, though some are still included on DVD editions. To modern sensibilities, of course, the gun violence is especially startling—particularly the blasé approach to gun suicide, a rampant problem across the United States. The cartoons’ depictions of firearms as fun toys to be deployed for petty revenge also comes across uncomfortably now, during our years-long epidemic of school shootings.

Advertisement

That’s not to say that Looney Tunes’ violence lacks any artistic merit. In a recent A.V. Club roundtable discussion, the critic Todd VanDerWerff noted:

Watching these cartoons now, I’m struck by their violence. Don’t get me wrong: I think that’s a big part of the cartoons’ charm. … [A] little cartoon violence never hurt anybody, but it’s still a bit shocking to me to watch these things and see the characters basically annihilating each other in ways that would result in death in reality. Yes, that’s part of the joke, but it’s hard to think of anything quite this anarchic and violent in kids’ TV nowadays. I think it works in Looney Tunes, perhaps because of the anarchy …

That sounds about right to me—and I don’t doubt that most children in America are constantly exposed to violence on TV that’s far more disturbing than anything in Looney Tunes. But no kids’ show today would ever treat firearms or gun deaths so lightly, with such zany exuberance, as Looney Tunes once did. That jaunty disregard of the consequences of violence is part of what made the show so bizarrely delightful. In a post-Newtown world, however, what was once strangely funny now registers as appallingly macabre.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

I Went Hunting for Ebola in 2004. (What I Found Was Bats.)

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Ben Bradlee’s Fascinating Relationship With JFK

Culturebox

The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here

I feel like a kid in some kind of store.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Move Aside, Oxford Comma, the New Battle Is Over Single or Double Quotes

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 11:57 AM Why Wasn't the WHO Ready for Ebola?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 22 2014 12:03 PM Colonia Fara: An Italian Summer Camp for Happy Little Fascists
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 22 2014 11:04 AM Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 22 2014 10:29 AM Apple TV Could Still Work Here’s how Apple can fix its living-room product.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 22 2014 11:30 AM Where Does Ebola Hide? My nerve-wracking research with shrieking bats.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.