Essay

The existentialism of the Coyote

I read several webcomics every day and one of them is xkcd by Randall Munroe. I like its engineering/math/geek bent, imagine that. Last Friday, it intersected neatly with classic animation space, another favorite place of mine, and asserted that an engineer with all the supplies at the old Coyote’s disposal could have caught that Road Runner! (Courtesy xkcd.com.)

xkcd - Engineering Hubris

My friend Gary over at Fleen retorted:

Chuck is not a vengeful god; the Coyote could have stopped his punishments any time he wanted to if he would only leave the Roadrunner alone. It is heresy to think you could do any better, Randall Munroe! What do you think modern birds (especially the ground-running types) evolved from? RAPTORS. They laugh at your collection of ACME goods.

I’m on board with Chuck being a benevolent animator. But I think he was on a higher literary plane. As we can see in the cartoons, nothing else was alive in that desert. Given the Coyote’s innate drive for self-preservation, he had to pursue the Road Runner, even though he was going to go hungry either way. The Coyote was in his own private hell. Sartre himself could not have written better.

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7 thoughts on “The existentialism of the Coyote

  1. EB says:

    Interesting writing lesson. How do you get an audience to tolerate basically the same plot over and over? And why do we want coyote to catch RR?

    The roadrunner is not very likable. He’s blessed with exceptional luck and is also smug and annoying. But it’s not enough to have just an annoying character to make us root for the other one.

    The coyote is hard luck–but he’s also extremely creative. We like that about him. But the innovations he comes up with are never as spectacular as the way they fail. We know they will fail–we just don’t know how.

    PS: Notice that Bugs Bunny is always minding his own business early in the cartoon–then someone butts into his world and various havoc ensues. If he didn’t start off doing his ordinary rabbit thing, he’d be too bossy to be likable as a character.

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  2. The answer to your first question is obvious: By making it funnier ‘n all get out. And we don’t want the Coyote to catch the Road Runner; that would ruin the fun!

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  3. EB says:

    Ah, but we DO want Coyote to catch Roadrunner (one word btw ). You can’t tell me that Beep Beep isn’t annoying. And he’s always pecking and beeping and oblivious to Coyote’s pain.

    Jones admits that we want Coyote to catch Roadrunner…and it does happen in one episode.

    As far as funny–a writer would have to figure out WHY it’s funny. Writing one of those episodes woudl be difficult but there is a definite pattern to them. Most of the creativity would come in finding out how to have poor Coyote fail.

    OK, back to Milton….

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  4. It really is two words in the cartoon. Check it out.

    I guess “we” doesn’t include me. I didn’t want the Coyote to catch the Road Runner. Even though the little bird was arrogant and uncaring, him getting away always meant more antics in the next cartoon.

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  5. Ha! Yes, it was the clever devices that the Coyote would construct that would all seem infallible. Then the one fallacy would be revealed in the complete failure of the device and its complementary plan.

    I think it was seeing that even the best constructed plan and its devices were open to failure and then the secret wish that the Road Runner would be there again next week.

    In the summers Chuck would come to the Cape and show some of his latest cartoons at the Cotuit Library. As a kid it was such a treat to get that kind of sneak preview.

    Now the Cape has plenty of coyotes and no road runners.

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  6. Jim, if I may make one tiny edit to your comment, which would be to change the word “treat” in the third paragraph to “incredible opportunity, a gift from above.” I think that ought to do it! You are one fortunate dude!

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