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.