Buggs and Elmer -- The Tao and Its Shadow or How Elmer Fudd Shows Us Ourselves

08/08/2010 09:11 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Guest Contribution by Eric Gross

Using Buddha's example of the via negativa, we might get just as much insight into the absence of awakening by taking a closer look at Fudd, the alter-ego of Bugs, and see what emerges. Because Vaishali's structure is so perfect, I'm going to use it in this post. It has the added advantage of including the "awakened" position side by side with its corresponding "asleep" position. So let's get started.

1. If you don't know what reality is, don't take it seriously. Elmer Fudd is almost always serious. Even when he appears to have an affect of light-heartedness, his real purpose is one of dark manipulation -- after all, Fudd is a hunter, and hunters kill. Frankly, both Bugs and Fudd manipulate and use deception, but Fudd's goal is always murder, while Bugs' is invariably fun, and fun for its own sake.

2. Question authority first; then ask good questions like, "What's up, Doc?" Bugs' perennial question, "What's up, Doc?" is never really intended to elicit new information. In contrast, Fudd is always studying books and manuals. In vivid juxtaposition to Bugs' love of fun, Fudd is the failed intellectual, always turning to books in the vain hope of finally discovering how to capture Bugs. Yet the irony is that, despite all of his study, he never learns. He persists and persists in his mania for victory, yet success always eludes the head-centric Fudd. When will we put our own books aside? When will we set aside the voices of others and discover our own voice?

3. Deal with your enemies by giving them a full-on kiss on the lips. While Bugs loves to kiss, and kiss in the spirit of fun, Fudd wants to kill, and kill in the spirit of grim determination. Perhaps more to the point, the kisses of Bugs are pure play and totally amiable, while the sexual predilections of Fudd are inherently lustful and lascivious. There is something creepy about Fudd's physical desires. While Bugs is adorable, Fudd is more than little nauseating, even deviant.

4. Choose a religious symbol that is also a successful cross dresser. While Bugs is perfectly comfortable in any outfit, Fudd is always shown wearing clothes that are painfully uncool, often tending to be more like a uniform. He is nearly always outfitted as the bumpkin hunter, lacking in style or urban affectation. Bugs is lithe and sinuous in his naked animality, in perfect contrast to Fudd's rigidity and oafishness. Also, Fudd is always dressed as his books instruct him to dress. Through their clothes, we are struck by the originality of Bugs and the oppressive predictability of Fudd. Elmer is the pure authoritarian--and like all authoritarians, he seeks orders and directions from other authoritarians.

5. Be adventurous! Be outrageous! Be Bugs! While Bugs is always imagining and acting creatively, Fudd is weighed down by his knowledge. While Bugs thinks on his feet, Fudd thinks in his head. He bases his plans and actions on what he has learned in books. Fudd depends on instructions, while Bugs wings it in the moment, full of grace and aplomb. Fudd is a dunderhead, heavy, predictable, and laughable. We laugh with amazement at the antics of Bugs, but we laugh with derision at the ponderous stupidity of Fudd.

6. Know when it is "Wabbit Season" and when it is not. While Bugs knows exactly when--and when not--to employ his many schemes and tricks, Fudd is relentless in his single-minded determination. Bugs is always keenly aware of his environment exactly in the measure that Fudd is not. All Fudd cares about is getting Bugs. This is the perfect image of a man on a mission, and what a mirthless mission it is. While Bugs just loves the play and is all but indifferent to the outcome, Fudd is passionately addicted to the outcome alone. All that matters to Fudd is winning, and winning means bagging Bugs and putting an end to him and his contemptible grace, playfulness and style. Fudd lives in a world where the only possible results are winning or losing. Bugs lives of and for the moment, while Fudd stakes everything on an imagined future with only one acceptable outcome.

7. Always leave 'em laughing. We laugh with Bugs, but we laugh at Fudd. While Bugs is fun, Fudd is just a painful dunce. He is the straight man, all zippered up, ready to flail as well as fail at life.

8. There are no small cartoon characters, only small people. Neither Bugs nor Fudd are people, of course--they are archetypes. The whole purpose of this post is to explore the contrasting archetypes of he who plays at life using alert observation and whose heart knows the enduring value of joy, as opposed to he who works at life and is always motivated by what he lacks. His actions are so knotted around lack that we rarely see the gifts Fudd already possesses. Several of the episodes focus on his curiosity--after all, Fudd is eager to learn. He also yearns to be loved, but then does everything possible to spurn Bugs' affections. Isn't it true that we most desire is exactly what will most elude us?

9. Live to be over 50 years old, with only one gray hare. Let's face it, Bugs and Fudd are cartoon characters, who don't age. Yet there is something wonderful and child-like about Bugs, while Fudd is the perfect grown-up. He never questions any of the rules and structures within which he lives. Bugs does possess an adult-like cunning. Fudd tries to be cunning, but because he is so attached to the rules in his head, he is always outwitted by Bugs. In contrast to Bugs' effortless grace, Fudd is a klutz. It's easy to see that Bugs lives in the now, while Fudd lives in his thoughts.

10. Take life lightly--and Bugs seriously. (For those very careful readers, I have skipped Vaishali's point 10 because it doesn't really apply to our topic). Bugs, of course, takes nothing seriously, not even the prospect of his own death and demise. As we have already discussed, Fudd takes everything seriously, except that which might enable him to finally capture his prey! Invariably, Fudd ignores the one essential detail that might enable him to win, and that's because his focus is so narrow and rigid. And isn't that exactly what a serious mind does? Its focus is often so narrow that it misses the forest for the trees. While Bugs is so fully and unashamedly expansive, Fudd is fully contracted. This is the difference between living life as play and living life as purpose. For Bugs, the fun is in the now. For Fudd, the pleasure is always in the future. And because the future never arrives, Fudd can never gain access to the many pleasures of Bugs' world. The trees are wonderful, but let's not forget the forest.

11. Carrots are divine, you get a dozen for a dime. Bugs loves carrots. They're plentiful and easy to find. His life doesn't become an agonizing chore designed around unattainable and expensive goals. It's just not so for Fudd. He wants only what he can never have. And isn't that the very metaphor for those of us who have projected the Nirvana of enlightenment, and have thus been motivated to set out on a journey whose goal lives only in the imagination? Bugs shows us, in no uncertain terms, the immediacy of awakening right here and right now. It can't be so for hapless Fudd, whose happiness depends on what he can never have.

12. Monsters are such interesting people! While Bugs embraces the world as a place of fun and beauty (and even mystery now and then), Fudd believes he already knows all about what is good and bad. He lives in the universe of the strict moral patriarch. He is incapable of understanding the mastery of Bugs, because he's so locked into his own knowingness. He knows what is ugly and what is beautiful. Surprisingly, Fudd is shown to have an appreciation for what most of us also believe is beautiful, but his is a very small world when compared to the immediacy of love and engagement that Bugs manifests in his own life. Have you ever looked through a narrow tube, seeing only a very small part of the world? That is the universe of Fudd--one that is narrow, driven by a single purpose, where happiness is defined through killing and having what he can never attain.

13. Bugs is a karma-free religious symbol. Bugs is an actor and a lover. Fudd is incapable of play and very much a killer. It is certainly not a coincidence that his most common role is that of a hunter (there is also a series where Fudd is depicted as a super-rich capitalist in love with nothing but luxury and very expensive things). While Bugs' effortless joy transcends the world of karma, Fudd does little else than produce more and more negative karma. Bugs lives in perfect balance and harmony in his world, while Fudd is a product of hard-headed and hard-hearted civilization. He is the very force and incarnation of lack onto the placid, fluid and tranquil world of Bugs. While Fudd ceaselessly uses force, if only to show us his impotence, Bugs uses power in the form of a continuous creative connection with his world. And thus we fall in love with Bugs. We are made to feel happy that we are nothing like crabby, stupid, styleless Fudd.

Alas, most of have a lot more in common with Fudd than Bugs, but Bugs shows us the way while Fudd holds up a mirror that shows where this elusive way is not. Yet, at the end of the day, Bugs truly needs and loves Fudd, and Fudd needs, if not loves, Bugs. They are perfect foils, the two as one. Thus is the yin and yang of Bugs and Fudd--of seriousness and play, of life and death. Can we imagine a Bugs living in a world without Fudd?

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