Don’t Ever Call Her Doll
|January 24, 2012||Posted by Jess under Cartoons|
[Trigger warning for discussion of stalking and domestic abuse.]
Confession time: I love Space Jam.
Oh, I’m well aware it’s a terrible movie. The plot is paper-thin, the emotional arcs are nonexistent, Michael Jordan is not a good actor, and Daffy Duck is criminally underused. But whenever I watch it I’m transported back to a time when I was 12 years old, Michael Jordan was huge, the Looney Tunes were suddenly everywhere, and an insanely-hyped movie managed to capture a bizarre combination of cultural zeitgeists. I mean, Newman from Seinfeld! “I Believe I Can Fly”! Daffy dressed as Dennis Rodman! Truly, 1996 was a magical time.
In my 12-year-old mind, Space Jam, and not Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, was the most romantic film of the year. Oh, did you not know that it’s a love story? It totally is! Space Jam is a movie about a girl bunny who’s pretty, but more importantly, is the absolute best at basketball even though she’s only three feet tall. Then this charming but kind of jerky boy bunny hits on her and she tells him off, because she’s tough and independent! But then he sacrifices himself to save her from being squashed by a monster, and she realizes she loves him even though he’s kind of jerky, and they make out! And then she wins the basketball game and is a hero! And also some tall dude is there and there are aliens, whatever.
Yes, as an adult I realize that not only is Lola Bunny not the focus of the movie, she’s pretty problematic, serving as both the token female and the reward for Bugs’ little hero moment. She’s essentially a passive object, animated to be as sexy as possible no matter what, and her athletic ability and haughty, Rosalind Russell-esque “Don’t ever call me ‘doll’” motto can’t disguise the fact that she has no hopes, desires, or even quirks of her own. She doesn’t even get to be funny! She’s a freaking Looney Tune, and the only joke she gets in the whole movie is, “Nice butt!” Come on.
But the Looney Tunes are kind of starved for female characters: there’s Granny, Witch Hazel/Lezah, the too-often-forgotten Petunia Pig, Penelope (the cat Pepe Le Pew is always sexually harassing – bet you didn’t know she has a name!), a bunch of people mistakenly assuming Tweety is a girl, that one chicken, and a handful of one-off Bugs and Daffy girlfriends. Tiny Toon Adventures, quite possibly my favorite show of all time, put a very fine point on this in the episode “Fields of Honey,” where Babs Bunny (and hey, if you want a lesson on how to do the token girl in a Looney Tunes-inspired project right, look no further) goes looking for a mentor among the classic cartoon stars and has to search all the way back to the ancient Bosko cartoons to find his girlfriend, Honey. So as a 12-year-old who loved Looney Tunes and sassy tomboys, Lola was a breath of fresh air.
And despite her flaws, Lola proved to have a certain amount of staying power: she featured prominently in Baby Looney Tunes, which I admit I didn’t watch because I’m not four, and Loonatics Unleashed (sort of), which I admit I didn’t watch because I have taste. She’s appeared in webtoons, video games, comics, and merchandise.
Which brings us, 700 words in, to the main point of this post, because she’s also a major player in the new Looney Tunes vehicle, The Looney Tunes Show, which reimagines Bugs and Daffy as roommates in modern-day suburbia. It’s a mostly funny show with some flaws (there’s no real conflict or villains, and it turns out Bugs isn’t nearly as entertaining when he’s not scheming to save his own life), but the biggest flaw of all, I’m sorry to say, is the new, not-improved Lola.
There are two problems with Lola in The Looney Tunes Show: one, she embodies every negative stereotype of women the writers can think of, and two, she’s a stalker.
Let’s unpack that first one. You see, this version of Lola is in love with Bugs, but he’s not that interested in her. Or, to be more precise, he thinks she’s pretty and enjoys spending time with her, but only when she doesn’t talk, because did you ever notice how women talk all the time? About their lives and their feelings and what’s going on with them? It’s like they want you to care about them or something! Ladies, just shut up so that men can look at you without having to think about you having a brain, okay?
I didn’t watch the episodes in order, so when I finally caught the ones that reveal that Bugs dislikes Lola because she never stops talking, I might have Hulked out a little. I figured he wasn’t interested because Lola’s super clingy and a flake, but no, it’s the talking. Which, first of all, women are silenced enough in this world over important things, so no, I don’t find Bugs wishing Lola would shut up to be funny, even if she is spouting nonsense – and second of all, you live with Daffy Duck, Bugs! No one talks as much as him! But, you see, he’s a man, so his petty, malicious nonsense is much more valid than Lola’s harmless babbling.
Lola’s also a grab bag of other negative stereotypes about women: she’s clingy, she wants a commitment, she’s overly emotional, she’s irrational, she’s a terrible driver (a recurring gag), she’s jealous, she’s unfaithful (she leaves Bugs at the altar – of a wedding she emotionally manipulated him into – to run off with Pepe, the wedding planner), she’s bad at sports, she’s stupid. It’s pretty infuriating, not least because the show actually presents its other female characters pretty well: Granny is revealed to have been a World War II secret agent, Witch Lezah is a kickass single mom, and Daffy’s girlfriend Tina, who was created for the show, is actually wonderful. She’s funny in her own right, she’s smart, and her relationship with Daffy is oddly adorable. Furthermore, Kristen Wiig, who voices Lola, is great. Her Lola, when she’s not saying offensively misogynistic things, is hilarious, which makes it all the more frustrating that she’s not given better, less enraging material.
Even worse than Lola’s stereotyping, though, is the stalking. She’s repeatedly shown to be obsessed with Bugs (except for one episode where she becomes obsessed with Daffy and subsequently breaks into his bedroom window and follows him on a date with Tina). Or here, try this video on for size:
The whole thing is deeply offensive, of course. (I mean, seriously, can you imagine this with the genders reversed? Wait, I guess that’s just a Pepe Le Pew cartoon.) But the line that really makes me furious is when Bugs sings, “I’m thinking I should get a restraining order,” and Lola sweetly replies, “Those are so hard to enforce.”
Guess what? They are hard to enforce. I did a little research at stalkingawarenessmonth.org (did you know January is Stalking Awareness Month? it is!) and learned the following things:
- Stalking affects 3.4 million adults in the United States each year.
- Stalking victims are only about three times as likely to be female as male. I honestly thought the gender discrepancy would be larger.
- Only 58% of victims in reported cases of stalking said that the stalking stopped.
Here’s a few more stats:
- 76% of intimate partner femicide victims have been stalked by their intimate partner.
- 89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted had also been stalked in the 12 months before their murder.
- 79% of abused femicide victims reported being stalked during the same period that they were abused.
- 54% of femicide victims reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers.
[Judith McFarlane et al., “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide,” Homicide Studies 3, no. 4 (1999).]
In other words, stalking is a dangerous crime that affects millions of men and women in this country alone. Three quarters of the women who are killed by their partners were stalked by them first. Nearly fifty percent of them reported the stalking to the police, to no avail.
So maybe, just maybe, stalking is not an issue for cartoon bunnies to joke about.
Lola in Space Jam may have been one-note or overly objectified, but she wasn’t used to trivialize a serious crime that all too often ends in the victim’s death. The Looney Tunes are pop culture icons with 80 years of history and a current show watched by millions of children. They are part of our American mythology; Bugs Bunny is our trickster god. If Lola is going to be a permanent part of this pantheon – and I very much hope that she is – Warner Brothers needs to find a better way to use her.
1. 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action is far superior in this regard, pairing a completely off-the-wall and yet oddly heartbreaking Daffy Duck with Brendan Fraser, who I’m pretty sure is a cartoon character himself.↵
2. Heck, I’d still take “cartoon bunnies have sexual tension” over “teenagers kill themselves.”↵
3. Warner Brothers essentially stole the Witch Hazel character and voice wholesale from Disney’s “Trick or Treat” short, which may be why she’s called “Witch Lezah” on The Looney Tunes Show.↵
4. Petunia Pig is actually an older character than Bugs or Daffy, with a long history in the shorts and comics, yet she’s been dropped almost entirely these days. I base my love of her entirely on a Looney Tunes comic book I had when I was a kid, but I’m pretty sure that still makes her the best. Come on, Warner Brothers!↵
5. Admittedly very little.↵
7. Cock. No, seriously, that’s what a male duck is called!↵
8. Example. Why can’t Lola just mangle history all the time?↵
9. Approximately. The first Looney Tunes short, “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub,” premiered in 1930, and Porky, the oldest major star, debuted in 1935. That’s…probably more information about the Looney Tunes than you really wanted to know.↵