Whether or not we ever lay eyes on Space Jam 2, starring LeBron James, the Looney Tunes cast supporting him have been stalwarts of American entertainment for generations. From the 1930s, into the golden age of animation and up through the 21st century, we have associated these characters with national archetypes — and none more so than the most popular, an irreverent rabbit (or hare) named Bugs Bunny.
Like so many cartoon figures, Bugs has been appropriated for meme purposes in the past few years. You can see him saying “No” in a reaction image found under especially heinous tweets. He appears in rounder, heftier form as “Big Chungus,” a sort of in-joke for its own sake. Most surprisingly, though, he has turned up in the context of leftist shitposts that associate him with communism and the former Soviet Union.
Here’s a meme in which the speaker says, in Spanish, “I have McNuggets,” only to be corrected by their dog, represented as a communist Bugs. “We have,” he insists.
Or check out this YouTube edit from a month ago, in which, rather than conducting an opera, Bugs leads a stop-start version of the State Anthem of the U.S.S.R.
And here’s some lovely fan art of communist Bugs Bunny — again with the Soviet flag.
At first, this material seems like an exercise in dissonance, or the pairing of alien ideas: Bugs is, and was, a mashup of classic wiseguys for light amusement — he could have no substantive connection to geopolitics or anti-capitalist ideology. In fact, if anything, he’s an expression of U.S. industry, specifically the Warner Bros. brand, and the spirit of the self-reliant, always capable individualist. Therefore, a Soviet link is absurdist humor from the jump, a surreal juxtaposition for the internet age. It’s as though today’s content creators want to overlay symbols in a way that most confuses future historians.
Except, as many will already know, Bugs Bunny and his cohort do have a strong political valence, having featured in a run of World War II propaganda cartoons where they get the best of Axis leaders. Bugs appeared in such odious segments as “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips,” later memory-holed by Warner for its Japanese stereotypes. In the final year of the war, months before the Allies declared victory in Europe, he had his last military outing with “Herr Meets Hare,” making a fool of Hermann Göring and, eventually, Hitler himself. At the very end, the Führer opens a sack expecting to find the helpless Bugs in his grasp at last. But our hero comes out dressed as none other than Stalin.
Of course, you can now find a version of this gag that adds the Soviet anthem and flag:
While the Stalin disguise plays as a punchline in the style of Groucho Marx, and not an endorsement of Soviet government, it’s notable that the postwar period gave Bugs a villain, Marvin the Martian, that some identify as Russophobic: a faceless being from a red planet who wielded weapons of mass destruction in his bid for total conquest. It’s as though Bugs, after flirting with communism, were forced to conceal his true sympathies as McCarthyist witch hunts roiled Hollywood and the studios. What if, all these decades later, with a socialist left ascendant and vocal, America has reached a point where it’s safe for this icon to renew his ties to the movement?
Welcome back, Comrade Bugs.
What’s more, Bugs’ whole persona — the quick, trollish wit, sometimes goaded into a battle but also eager to embarrass Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam, both gun-toting avatars of right-wing values — is aligned with the ideals of extremely online socialists. He’s even got the Brooklyn accent, originally provided by Mel Blanc, a beloved voice actor of Russian-Jewish descent. Of course, Bugs doesn’t get to voice Marxist opinions; he’s all schtick, an irony-poster who can’t turn it off.
Yet his opposing of authoritarian elements with casual confidence and a fair bit of cross-dressing paint him as a born subversive. In 1949’s “Rebel Rabbit,” he goes on a cross-country vandalism spree — this is where the GIF of him sawing Florida into the ocean is from — to prove that he’s a real menace to the establishment, worthy of a substantial bounty. He winds up in Alcatraz.
As with Bugs himself, we needn’t take his countercultural side too seriously. Here and there he comes over as a scheming capitalist or outright monarchist. Yet, where it counts, he “punches up,” a cool customer who always upends the silly social order. And his suave, know-it-all comedy, above the fray and tuned to seem effortless, is a direct ancestor of dunk tweets by dirtbags who want Medicare for All.
Maybe, once health insurance is abolished, the rest of us can comfortably ask: “What’s up, Doc?”