Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mr. Snufflupagus vs. The Trix Rabbit

From Wikipedia:

The phrase "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!" has appeared in numerous pop-culture references, including those made by musicians Sonic Youth, Kix, Public Enemy, Fresh Prince, and the Insane Clown Posse, as well as television and film productions such as The Simpsons, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Golden Girls, Kill Bill Volume 1, Robot Chicken and Family Guy.

Meanwhile, Sesame Street character Mr. Snufflupagus has apparently been referenced in season 3 of One Tree Hill and season 1 of Friends.

My suspicion is that we have not seen the last pop culture reference to the Trix Rabbit, but that we have seen the last reference to Snuffy. Snuffy, from my understanding, still shows up regularly on Sesame Street, but only in the way that Vanna White still shows up on Wheel of Fortune. Both phenomenons of the 1980s, they are now squarely under the radar.

The common thread between Snuffy and the Trix Rabbit is that both are fictional anthropomorphic representations of an eternal misunderstanding between adults and children. Adults, for whatever reason, think that children like to be teased. Children don't really understand the concept of teasing. For years, my parents enjoyed telling me about the occasion when I was a toddler and my dad grabbed my nose and exclaimed "I've got your nose." I apparently registered little reaction, but surprised them about an hour later when I wouldn't let my dad leave, demanding my nose back first.

The grand irony behind the slogan "Silly Rabbit, Tricks are For Kids," is that adults are imposing this idea on kids. In actuality, most kids have historically felt sorry for the Trix Rabbit, and would have been happy to share their Trix with such a tortured creature. There is even empirical evidence that this is true: on a couple of occasions kids have voted to allow the Rabbit a bowl of Trix. I remember, though, even feeling cheated by the commercial in which he is afforded his one bowl, as he is mocked and told that he can't have any more.

This is the same frustration that I felt on many occasions while watching my favorite childhood show, Sesame Street. Actually, "frustration" might not be the right word. I was infuriated that the grown-ups thought that Big Bird's friend Snuffy was imaginary. The writers were downright sadistic in their taunting, too. It would always appear that Snuffy was on the cusp on being sighted. As a child, I hadn't yet developed the ability to discern a pattern in this portrayal; I was honestly expectant on each occasion, only to be dashed down.

Finally, in late1985, the show reversed course. Apparently afraid that victims of sexual abuse would be afraid to speak up for fear that adults wouldn't believe them, the writers and producers allowed Snuffy to be revealed to the grown-ups of Sesame Street. I have no recollection of that November 18 episode, but I do remember seeing him interact with other characters after that date and feeling eminently satisfied. Snuffy will always be one of the characters that first comes to mind when I think back upon my favorite childhood show.

And I'm sure that will also be the case for future generations, as evidenced by the famous tickle-me Snuffy, maybe not. Snuffy has lost has raison d'etre, and with that any chance at existing in popular culture. The Trix Rabbit, free from any greater social responsibility, beholden only to crass commercial interests, lives on.

I suspect that as children age, and the frustrations of childhood transmute into the frustrations of adolescence, and then finally the frustrations of adulthood, the childhood traumas take on a nostalgic gilding, and they convince themselves that they always got a kick out of the rabbit's failures. The revulsion they felt is now sublimated, and when they go grocery shopping for a breakfast cereal, they are drawn to a certain purchase by a spark of recognition, now unaware of what it is that they are actually recognizing.


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