Sunday, April 14, 2024


Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

When I was writing about Bugs Bunny last time, I knew I would have to come back to the use of drag because, having seen these cartoons all my life, the use of drag by any Looney Tunes character just becomes something you expect – like it is part of Bugs’ arsenal, so it could be of anyone.

But after re-watching so many Bugs Bunny cartoons in the last few weeks is seeing how, I can now fully appreciate how Bugs has become a queer icon. I had an initial wariness about how drag is essentially being used as part of a deception, but in the universe of the cartoons, it seems to come so natural to Bugs, and works so effectively. This is what happens with any media: everything present in the material has to be considered.

Then I saw the 2003 film “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” – I don’t know how I let it pass me. In a restaurant scene, Jenna Elfman, playing Warner Bros’ vice president of comedy, puts it to Bugs that he should be paired with “a hot, female character”. Spinning into Marilyn Monroe-like garb, Bugs tells her “usually, I play the female love interest.” The response: “About the cross-dressing thing: in the past funny, today, disturbing.” Thankfully, Bugs’ reply is perfect: “Lady, if you don’t find a rabbit with lipstick amusing, you and I have nothing to say to each other.” How’s that for a movie studio’s mascot?

The opposition in this scene was also present fifty years earlier: the 1952 Merry Melodies cartoon “Rabbit Seasoning”, directed by Chuck Jones with a story by Michael Maltese, the middle instalment of what became the “hunting trilogy” – “rabbit season!”, “duck season!” and so on. While the set-up appears to be Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck confusing Elmer into shooting the other, Elmer becomes another tool for Bugs to thwart Daffy – if Bugs is in the cartoon, he is the star.

Towards the cartoon’s end, as Elmer points his rifle into a rabbit hole saying “OK, come on out, I’ve got you covered”, Bugs rises up from the hole, as if in an elevator, dressed in drag, carrying an umbrella and a book – as Bugs walks to a log to read the book, Elmer follows, seduced by what he sees. An incredulous Daffy walks in, declaiming “surely, you’re not gonna be taken in by that old gag”. Elmer replies “isn’t she lovely?” Daffy stamps over to Bugs: “Out of sheer honesty, I demand that you tell him who you are. Well, haven’t you anything to say? Anything?” Bugs put his book down and says, in a feminine voice while cosying up to Elmer, “why yes, I would just love a duck dinner.” Kissing him, Elmer stumbles over to Daffy and shoots his beak off for the umpteenth time. 

Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

Audiences would have been amazed to see this much in 1952, even in a cartoon context. The Motion Picture Production Code, known as the Hays Code, introduced in 1934, does not specifically mention anything in a cartoon context, but it does state that “Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden” – this would be hanged in 1961 to “Restraint and care shall be exercised in presentations dealing with sex aberrations.” The Hays Code was also very clear that representation in film could not be given the latitude that you would in a book: “A book describes; a film vividly presents. One presents on a cold page; the other by apparently living people. A book reaches the mind through words merely; a film reaches the eyes and ears through the reproduction of actual events. The reaction of a reader to a book depends largely on the keenness of the reader’s imagination; the reaction to a film depends on the vividness of presentation.” So, because the Code made clear that “Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing”, and that “Adultery and illicit sex, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated or justified, or presented attractively,” any depictions that come even close to these should be seen to be punished.

Back to “Rabbit Seasoning”. After apologising for suspecting their integrity, Daffy rips Bugs’ wig off, pointing and saying “ah-HAH! Now’s your chance, hawk eye, shoot him, shoot him!” Rubbing off lipstick, Bugs says “he’s got me bang to rights doc, would you like to shoot him here, or wait till you get home”, as repeat of the “pronoun trouble” Daffy falls for at the start of the cartoon. Daffy replies, “oh no, not this time”, telling Elmer “Wait till you get home. They walk home, and Elmer shoots Daffy there. Walking back, putting his beak back into place one final time, Daffy tells Bugs, “You’re despicable”. Bugs shrugs to the camera – end of cartoon.

For what it’s worth, “Rabbit Seasoning” does not appear to have an MPAA rating, presumably because it was passed for exhibition in 1952. The British Board of Film Classification gives it a “U”, adding “Contains mild cartoon violence”, presumably centred on the rightfully outwitted Daffy’s beak.

Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

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