11 August 2014

I tawt I taw some inequality!

Recently, as I was staying with my parents for a bit, the internet began having problems. Unable to do anything requiring an internet connection, and with nothing of interest to me on the television, I turned to their DVD of Loony Tunes classics for entertainment. The first disc contains a number of Sylvester and Tweety episodes, which, for several years, have reminded me of my sister's opinion of that type of cartoon. You know, the one where a predator is chasing his prey, only to be outsmarted and usually injured by said prey. Tom and Jerry and the Road Runner and Coyote are two other classic cartoons of this genre.

I love these cartoons. I love seeing the foolish predator outwitted by the clever prey. My sister, however, identifies with the cat. She sees a poor animal doing what it naturally does (hunting for food) and being beat up by a much smaller creature with almost supernatural strength and abilities. In some cases, particularly in Tom and Jerry, the cat doesn’t even start out chasing the mouse. He is just minding his own business.

So which narrative is it? Is an innocent creature getting the best of his aggressive pursuer? Or is the cat being unfairly punished for doing what cats do?

Living in a first-world superpower like the United States, many people like myself might identify more with Tweety. We mind our own business, do what’s best for us, and are victims of those who don’t have what we have. We are safe, separated from the “other.” This sentiment is articulated by Tweety in a few episodes, when he sings “I’m a sweet little bird in a gilded cage; Tweety’s my name but I don’t know my age; I don’t have to worry and that is that; I’m safe in here from that old puddy tat.”

But now I begin to see my sister’s point. Great inequality exists between the two characters, making these episodes difficult for me to watch as an adult. Sylvester sees someone with privilege, someone who has more than him, and who has respect and means. He sees someone in a gilded cage telling the world all about their wealth and security, while he sits there in need, expected to be content with his lot in life. So, he tries to obtain that which the bird in the gilded cage is singing about. Yet, at every step, he is thwarted by those who are privileged. It seems unfair. In some cases, the bird and his allies act out violently against Sylvester. In others, it seems as though some divine power is acting against the cat, like when Tweety miraculously vanishes, or when the world around Sylvester changes without warning, or even when Granny intervenes on behalf of the privileged. Yet other times, Sylvester is the author of his own destruction, as risky, violent, and poorly-thought-out plans backfire. No one advocates for the cat. He is undeserving of the privileges granted to the bird. He is the villain simply because he is a cat, and cats eat birds. He may not be adequately provided for, and when he tries to feed himself, he is punished.

The point here is not that one of these perspectives is wrong. The point is that multiple interpretations of the story exist. I always identified more with Tweety, my sister with Sylvester. Perhaps she saw me as the privileged one. Perhaps she is just more capable of sympathizing with others than I am. For those of us who identify with Tweety (which I assume is most people), what can we do? Our situation is also an accident of birth. It’s not our fault that we were born with more than the cat. However, we don’t have to act like Tweety does. We don’t have to sing about our gilded cages, about how we don’t have to worry about life like the puddy tat does. We don’t have to demonize the other. Instead, we should use what we are given to help those in need. Recognize the injustice of the world, and work to correct that in whatever way we are able. The apostle John appears to agree, saying that “if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18).

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