Gravity

Before Chuck Jones landed at Warner Brothers he worked a short stint with a group of puppeteers, which taught him an important lesson; for the audience to believe in your characters, make sure they follow the laws of gravity. A marionette that dangles just above the floor is just a marionette. One whose feet reach the ground can be something more.

An example of what can happen when you ignore gravity is Team America World Police, whose makers also do the South Park series. Both of these shows are firmly rooted in postmodernism, which does whatever it can to prevent the audience from forming any emotional bond with the characters. The puppets in Team America bounce around the set just exactly as if someone is jerking the strings off-camera. The characters in South Park are some of the most primitively animated figures ever filmed. You can’t form much of a bond with a cardboard cutout. Willing suspension of disbelief? Fuhgetaboutit. We, the audience, are in on the joke all along, and sometimes the joke is funny but one thing the joke never is is constructive.

Postmodernism tears things down. One of the prime movers behind these shows is that the people who made it loathe and despise actors, whose art is precisely to create believable characters their audiences can bond with. Why do the Team America guys feel so threatened by this? They seem to hate movies, too. It’s hard to know what they actually like. As I mentioned above, sometimes they are funny, but it’s usually with the mean-spirited humor of little boys who laugh at things because they don’t understand them.

Truly funny things are funny because they make us see something that’s true. Wile E. and Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam are funny because they are exaggerated versions of ourselves. We feel a twinge of pity for Wile E. as we watch him fall, for the hundredth time, into the canyon below. There is a character in South Park named Kenny whose primary job is to die at the end of every episode. He dies in all sorts of ways. But he doesn’t die for any reason; he dies only because the script calls for it. When Wile E. falls into the canyon, it’s a result of his miscalculations. His are character-based falls.

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