In 1944, Warner Brothers released Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, a cartoon featuring the title hero defeating not one, but a score of Japanese soldiers while stranded on an unnamed island in the Pacific. Nips the Nips became a target of controversy in the past twenty years for its anti-Japanese slurs and its violence against a series of Japanese caricatures. This cartoon, recalled from stores for its racist content in 1995, can be found on various internet sites (including the homepage for men’s television channel, Spike.com), but has received no scholarly treatment beyond being deemed hateful war propaganda. Susan Elizabeth Dalton writes in her article “Bugs and Daffy Go to War,” that these “therapeutic cartoons began… with a resurgence of patriotism” (Dalton 159), but she dismisses Nips the Nips as an exhibit of “the awful extent to which cartoons would go in order to bolster American morale through a long and terrible war” (161). Though the cartoon served, in large part, to “bolster morale,” Dalton fails to explore in depth how this was achieved specifically through the cartoon medium.
In this paper, I will analyze how Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips recreates two national mythologies – the resourceful, smart and individualist American (Bugs Bunny) and the treacherous, conformist Other (the “Nips”). First, I will examine how the cartoon medium can communicate, visually and narratively, racist attitudes toward the Japanese and the problem of showing violence against the enemy within an animated universe. Second, the cartoon will be placed in the context of the “film bill” – what newsreels and features were these cartoons being shown alongside? – raising questions of authorship and audience. FFFFinally, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips launches Bugs Bunny into the dual roles of Hollywood star, with the cartoon’s metanarrative discourses, and spokesman for American mythologies.
Eric Smoodin, in his book Animating Culture (1993), writes that the cartoon shares with the feature and not with the newsreel “a fictional narrative, depend[ing] upon a star system as a means of luring an audience, and ma[king] constant use of both comedy and performance” (Smoodin 45). The personality that is Bugs Bunny and the impalpable (yet indispensable) spirit of the nation at war are reinforcing, reciprocal narratives. As Bugs Bunny lends his irreverent, if sadistic, spirit to the war effort, so wartime national patriotism and its attendant xenophobia contribute to the cartoon hero’s emerging status as an American icon.
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Anne Berke has an MA in Film Studies from Columbia University and is currently at work on a PhD in American Studies/Film Studies at Yale University.