If cartoons were flesh, pornography would have to be re-invented. Pornography uses the body – its aura, its texture, its materiality, its morphology – to choreograph physical possibilities imagined through the dormant state of the inert (repressed) corpus. Cartoons similarly employ the body to explode with latent libidinal energy, yet all the while refuting the body’s fleshiness. Indeed, the hyper-graphic flatness of cartoons diverts the erogenous gaze to the razed ground of flat-painted blocks of colour devoid of depth. Just as Hollywood’s CGI grail for realism paradoxically sends it screaming from rendering any flesh in its kiddie cornucopias, the history of American classic cartoonography is likewise rooted by an aversion to any actuality of the body’s corporeality.
Yet sex still seeps from the acetate cels of cartoons.
Just as dance creates physical metaphors of how the earthbound might escape gravity, cartoons dance with equivocal transformative energies. The fact that cartoons are comical and hysterical merely creates a noisescape of interference to distract from their innate sexual base. All bodily figuration invokes the registering of one’s own form, and the practise of animation necessitates one confronting oneself with how one will engineer a form for the self: the body has to be drawn, not photographed. Furthermore, it has to be rendered, mobilised and voiced. Far from practicing any animistic science, cartoons sublimely create the most artificial projection of the self – all the while capturing the neurological and psycho-sexual vibrations of the body more than any camera could achieve. Cartoons arguably abstract the body into an inhuman reflexive contortion of ‘animathropmorphism’: rather than imbue animals and objects with human traits and behaviour, they convey animalistic states of existence in humans through refusing recognisable codes of identification.
The essay elaborates on the covert machinations of pornographic impulses in American post-war cartoons by conceptually linking disparate instances of ‘phantom tactility’ that arise from specific audiovisual schisms in key cartoon characterizations:
1. sexual impotency and blindness in Mister Magoo – how the senile, desexualised Magoo continues to maniacally penetrate the world through his dialogue and fumbling body, all the while blind to all he touches;
2. pre-pubescent onanism and vocal trauma in Gerald McBoing Boing – a bizarre subscripted token of potentially repressed child abuse, Gerald’s speechless scree suggests a post-traumatic way of engaging with the world beyond his body;
3. mecha-filia and necro-noise in the Coyote/Roadrunner cycle – the most aggressive sexual co-dependent relationship in cartoon history, their exploits define how the mechanisms of desire eventually become their own desiring machine where satiation is nullified by the momentum of unending sexual drive;
4. virginal allure and muteness in Tinkerbell – the hidden child of ‘Disneyfilia’, Tinkerbell is the silent secret angel of tactility whose magic wand promises the tantalizing dazzle of erogenised contact with flesh, but only in one’s dreams.