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How Wile E. Coyote Explains The World

About a year ago, we posted the Rules for Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, taken from Chuck Jones’ autobiography. It’s a list we could all understand, because we all grew up watching Roadrunner cartoons. But how accurate is it? Albert Burneko sat down to watch the entire catalog of Jones’ cartoons featuring Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, focusing on the nature of the jokes. He was blown away by the ingenious details, the classic humor, and the anarchy. But he also discovered something more -that the entire series, taken as a whole, mirrored the very definition of a joke. See, humor comes from setting up expectations and then suddenly turning those expectations on their heads. He leads us to this conclusion by analyzing several cartoons, including Fast and Furry-ous from 1949.

With each set piece, Fast and Furry-ous has invoked a notion of what you’re watching—an idea of what this is, and what it’s about, and why—and then destroyed it. It started small, defying the rhythm of the chase cartoons that preceded it. Next, with the rocket, it blew a raspberry at the more basic structure of those cartoons: This is not a contest between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner at all. Now it’s pulling back farther, to show you that this isn’t a comic study of a hapless, self-defeating boob, either. The forces at work against him clearly go far beyond his own internal inadequacy.

This is to say that so far, every system of understanding either the audience or Wile E. has tried to deploy has been revealed as a joke. If you’re starting to think that the heart of this is about the folly of the search for discernible order in the chaotic universe or some bleak thing ... well, keep watching. The very next gag has something to say about that.

The upshot of the piece is that the "rules" don’t always hold up. The rules are a set-up. They give us expectations of how the two characters interact, and the meta-humor comes from breaking the very rules that Jones gave us. Along the way, we get a deep look into the funniest jokes of the cartoon series, with video evidence. It’s a great read, at The Concourse. -via Digg


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