Moose and squirrel better than Boris and Natasha at undermining patriotism


Suddenly, I am reminded of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose, from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. It’s become history.

Mr. Chairman, I am against all foreign aid, especially to places like Hawaii and Alaska,” says Senator Fussmussen from the floor of a cartoon Senate in 1962. In the visitors’ gallery, Russian agents Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are deciding whether to use their secret “Goof Gas” gun to turn the Congress stupid, as they did to all the rocket scientists and professors in the last episode of “Bullwinkle.”

Another senator wants to raise taxes on everyone under the age of 67. He, of course, is 68. Yet a third stands up to demand, “We’ve got to get the government out of government!” The Pottsylvanian spies decide their weapon is unnecessary: Congress is already ignorant, corrupt and feckless.

Hahahahaha. Oh, Washington.

That joke was a wheeze half a century ago, a cornball classic that demonstrates the essential charm of the “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends,” the cartoon show that originally aired between 1959 and 1964 about a moose and a squirrel navigating Cold War politics.

I’ve seen every episode of the show, although it’s so long ago I’ve almost forgotten every episode of the show. The reason is ritual.

In the 1960s, I was going to Sunday School almost every week. I didn’t mind, because I had friends there, I liked the teachers, and the “teaching” was trivially easy. I remember felt boards, crafts, and memorizing Bible verses, which I usually did on the walk over to the church. But mostly what I remember was Sunday mornings at my grandmother’s house, where Grandma would make French toast and we’d watch cartoons.

Sunday morning in 1963 did not provide a great variety of cartoons. We only received four channels, you know, and the TV was a black & white set, and the convention was that cartoons were for Saturday morning, so the stations only served up left-overs and oddballs. There was Davey and Goliath, a stop-motion series about a boy and his talking dog. It was moralistic pablum with a Christian message, which was probably why it was stuffed into Sunday. I hated it. There was Beany and Cecil, about a boy and his sea serpent. I liked that one, but it aired only sporadically, and it seemed they only showed about 3 episodes in random rotation. Sunday morning was really the dregs of programming, and I don’t think the stations cared what dumb thing they stuffed in there.

And then there was Rocky and Bullwinkle. You had to have been there. The animation was crude, the art work childish, and you could tell it was made on a shoestring — so it relied on the words. It improved my vocabulary far more than the Bible did. It was subversive; the show casually mocked all the stuff Davey and Goliath treated as sacred. It was constantly breaking the fourth wall, never shy about telling the boys and girls that this was just a cartoon, and a badly drawn one at that.

That was my Sunday lesson. From church I learned how boring sanctity could be. From Rocky and Bullwinkle, I learned irreverence. From Grandma I learned to appreciate well-made French toast, with a little nutmeg and cinnamon and real butter and maple syrup. These were important lessons!

For you youngsters who’ve never seen Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Goof Gas episode is on YouTube (with an awful intro tacked on). Watch and be appalled, but enjoy the cunning undermining of Cold War American values.

Also remember an age when “We’ve got to get the government out of government!” was considered ridiculous over-the-top satire of our politics, rather than the actual raison d’etre of an entire political party.

Comments

  1. johnson catman says

    Oh, how I loved Rocky and Bullwinkle, as well as the bonuses of Fractured Fairy Tales and Peabody & Sherman. And the reference to black & white television is great! I well remember when our b&w tv needed to be sent to the shop for repairs. My mom talked the repair shop into loaning us a color tv. When the b&w set was repaired, my dad didn’t want it back, but chose to keep the color set. My mom was a shrewd negotiator.

  2. says

    My great-grandmother got a color television first, and we all made the trip to her house to see it. I remember seeing “Flipper” in color, and oooh-ing because the ocean was blue, real blue.

    It took several more years before we had them at home, though, because they were too expensive for a long time.

  3. says

    Come to think of it, the ocean in the Pacific Northwest is always gray, real gray, so it was also novel to see a large body of water in that color.

  4. rietpluim says

    My parents were probably the last people on earth who switched to color television. It had a remote control, too. And teletext! We were thrown into the modern days in the blink of an eye!

  5. johnson catman says

    rietpluim @4:
    I was the remote control for my dad. He would say “Change it to channel xx” and I would have to go over, change the channel, and adjust the antenna (rooftop rotary with the box on the tv to turn it).

  6. jrkrideau says

    # 5 johnson catman
    For years I too was the “remote control” but I must have been 14 or 15 before we got an electric motor. Before that I twisted the pole the antenna was mounted on as someone watched the TV and shouted directions out the front door.

  7. tmink128 says

    I watched Rocky and Bullwinkle in the 90s as reruns on Nickelodeon. My sister and I loved it. Maybe it’s part of the reason we both shrugged off religion, we learned irreverence from cartoons?

  8. says

    Oh, I *loved* Rocky & Bullwinkle. Fractured Fairy Tales was my fave though. I also watched at a grandma’s house, one of my great grandmas, who always made a stack of paper thin crepes for us, stuffed with thinly sliced fresh fruit, slathered with sour cream and brown sugar. And tea. Lovely, hot tea.

  9. dancaban says

    Four tv channels? You were lucky. We had one, BBC, on a monochrome VHF band I 405 line set. ITV was out and about on Band III but for some reason we didn’t have a dual band set/tv aerial so I had to go next door to watch Thunderbirds/Champion the Wonder Horse. Next week I shall tell you about livin’ in t’ole in t’road.

    Incidentally it was ’84 before our relay transmitter got an upgrade to the full four channels available then.

  10. randall says

    I had my son watch Rocky and he loved it! We ended up with with the collection on- wait for it- VHS. He was born in 1996 so he is definitely a product of the digital age, but I was pleasantly surprised at how firmly he took to it.

    Still does…

  11. says

    I loved Rocky and Bullwinkle. They operated on a level for kids and a level for adults–that’s what made the cartoons of that era great. I have matching Rock and Bullwinkle glasses I got from a Pepsi promotion and I use them in the summer for gin and tonics. My recipe has been perfected: fill the glass with ice, add gin to the level of Bullwinkle’s butt, top with tonic. Squeeze in fresh lime juice. That’s scientific, right?

  12. TheGyre says

    I still have my Bullwinkle wind-up watch. It still runs and keeps pretty good time for something I got in the mail for $25 about 50 years ago. We watched R&B religiously every week. My mom may have been the show’s biggest fan. If Mutti liked it you knew it had to be lefty subversive and hard on conventional religious mores. This may be where I first tippy-toed into the waters of the counter culture. My feet are still wet.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    This cartoon was clearly made by the same team that did “Roger Ramjet”
    I am familiar with it since the European cable TV/satellite channels that arrived in the late eighties used a lot of old re-runs as filler, thus introducing me to programs never shown in Swedish TV (including Dr Who and I Dream of Geanie).

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    Caine @8:

    Fractured Fairy Tales was my fave though

    Mine too, not least because the narrator was the character actor Edward Everett Horton. He was in tons of films in the 30s, my favourite being Top Hat. Starring Astaire and Rogers, but Horton, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore and Erik Rhodes (Beddini!) made it a comic masterpiece IMO.

  15. unclefrogy says

    thank you thank you thank you.
    that is exactly what I needed. With their help I got through the Cuban missile crisis, H-bomb testing and all of the other fun stuff that was happening when I went through high school.
    I loved the story about the Kerwood Derbey

    thank you thank you!
    uncle frogy

  16. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    R&B are among the best
    They leave in dust most all the rest
    But if you live your life in fear, oh!
    And you need a superhero
    Oh, dear readers of this blog
    You can count on…

  17. naturalcynic says

    Jay Ward was a true genius. Loved the Dudley DoRight theme. The voice work was classic, with Horton, William Conrad and June Foray – the voice of Rocky and Natasha.

    “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc,” said Chuck Jones, the legendary animator who proposed her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

  18. Joey Maloney says

    @23 phillipbrown

    When I was maybe 9, my babysitter taught me a shockingly smutty version of that routine that would never fail to render my helpless with laughter. My parents caught me teaching it to my little sister, and that was the end of that babysitter.

  19. Ichthyic says

    Holy crap, I actually REMEMBER this episode.

    probably watched in the mid 1970s.

    why is I can remember that, but not how to do calculus?

    I blame Borris and Natasha.

  20. says

    There’s a… fun? Interesting? story about real-world politics with Rocky and Bullwinkle. As publicity for the show, the creators decided to make a fake presidential campaign, with the title characters on the ticket. They got a cheap truck, fitted it out as a campaign vehicle (with signs on the sides) and set out. They expected that it would be difficult to build enthusiasm, but they got an absolutely chilling reception from the first two towns they drove through.

    It was only when they reached the third town that somebody told them — the truck had no radio — that President Kennedy had been assassinated shortly after they started their trip.

  21. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Huh, a juvenile, masturbatory exercise in sniping at the existing political structure doesn’t get much traction when there are real grownup things going on?

    Imagine that.

  22. rayceeya says

    Just thought this up….

    Our ship of state is now officially captained by Peter, “wrong-way” Peachfuzz.

    Love that show, and just wanted to share.

  23. DanDare says

    I think that show had a big influence on my intellect. It had me questioning everything to see if i could come up with better jokes. Between that and science fiction writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Stanislaw Lem and John Wyndham a humanist emerged.

  24. says

    And on a sad note, June Foray (voice of Rocky AND Natasha and more), died very recently at the age of 99. Her voice was all over the place from Warner Bros cartoons to Stan Freberg, countless radio and movie bits, video games and back again. What a woman…

  25. Mrdead Inmypocket says

    Aesop and Son, part and parcel of Rocky & Bullwinkle. There’s a playlist on youtube.

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