By George Stahl
We see a moose standing in a bright light, at a high table, with a black top hat on it. Courageously, confidently and challengingly he exclaims, ‘Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” He reaches in, grabs whatever is inside the hat and reveals a small grey squirrel in his hand. The creature, a slender, tall, moose, simply looks at the squirrel and into the camera and says calmy, “Time to get a new hat.”
Of course, most of you know that was Rocky and Bullwinkle, a cartoon from 1958 called Rocky and His Friends. What you may not know, is that Rock J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose were possibly one of the most controversial entertainment duos of all time. Sure, there were others, but Rocky the flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle the goofy, but cunning moose came on the scene when trust was a huge issue in this country and other countries around the world. They came onto the scene in what was called, the cold war years. The United States had an arch-enemy called the U.S.S.R. and there was such a tension between us and them that people on both sides were walking on pins and needles every day. Both sides had their eyes set on governing the world, and both sides had a huge arsenal of nuclear fire power enough to blow up the entire planet ten times over. Stockpiles of terror.
In their perils and adventures, Rocky and Bullwinkle had arch-enemies of their own. Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale from Pottsylvania. Rocky was very much the American hero, and Bullwinkle was very much the American who presented himself something he was just the opposite of. His persona was one of dimwittedness, out of touch with reality at times, and vulnerable. In fact, he was anything but. Time and again, he proved to be the one who came in just at the last minute to untie the girl from the railroad tracks, and sweep his buddy Rocky out of danger. The danger Rocky was in was always due to an encounter with Boris and Natasha and their boss, Fearless Leader, and his superior, the mysterious Mr. Big. All three of whom spoke with a profoundly Germanic accent. In the end of each episode, it was Rocky and Bullwinkle and the American way of life that won the day. Boris and his bunch were sent packing, tail between their legs. Until the next time when they came together.
These five, although the main characters, were not the only ones in the mix. At the time, here on earth, there was a huge movement to prove that life existed on other planets, and that they were visiting us on a regular basis. The United States and Russia were engaged in another war, the space race. Both were determined to be the first to conquer space and land a man on the moon. Rocky and Bullwinkle just couldn’t leave that alone, now, could they? So, in comes Gidney and Cloyd. Yes sir, Moon Men, little green Moon Men. Why? Well the moon people heard of Earth’s intention to visit them, so, these two were sent here to dissuade people from wanting to make the moon a tourist destination. Keep the earth people off our moon no matter what it takes, were their orders, so, they were equipped with the English language, and Scrootch guns.
Along the way, Rocky and Bullwinkle encountered various other strange creatures. Mostly politians and American bureaucrats. One in particular, a thorn in their side, was Senator Fussmussen. Fussmussen is a xenophobe who sees the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the United States as creating too many Americans, and he also wants to have Gidney and Cloyd deported to the moon. Eventually he gets his way, but not without unforeseen consequences to himself.
In 1958 the cartoon, which debuted on November 11, was a very risky endeavor by both its creators and ABC television. The political, cultural and social satire was covered by a thin layer of slapstick and childlike humor, but it was enough to make the project work at the time. This was before political correctness, the #metoo movement, and any other movement. It was before the 21st Century, and they got away with it then, so to speak. However, it wasn’t until a year later that the show was actually became a part of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup. Rocky and his friends tried a reboot in 2008, and also in 2015, new voices, new characters and new plots. It aired on Netflix, but the world has changed, and it seems is not compatible with, as Boris would say, ‘Moose and Squirrel.’
The Rocky’s and Bullwinkle’s seem to have disappeared in the world today. The Boris’s and Natasha’s and Fearless Leaders have taken over alongside the xenophobic Senator Fussmussen’s. Political correctness and an unfathomable sense of tolerance and allowance has pushed out satire and the necessity to laugh at our absurdness has gone. In today’s world, it is Pottsylvania and the mysterious Mr. Big who seem to be winning. Where have you gone Rocky and Bullwinkle? We really need you to pull that rabbit out of your hat about now.