Bugs Bunny and the Power of Calling

A few observations on a less-than-serious topic for everyone across North America who is covered by snow.

Bugs anticipates the men-in-skirts movement.

Some may be familiar with the 1950 Warner Brothers short Hillbilly Hare, wherein Bugs Bunny lifts up the fiddle and calls a complicated square dance.

Watch it on YouTube. (Sorry there’s no embeddable version.)

At first glance, this sequence might cause us to ponder the representation of rural Southern culture in mainstream media or examine the ways that (and extent to which) violence is used as a tool for comedy. But after close examination we are, most of all, forced to ask, “Is Bugs Bunny the greatest square dance caller ever?”

In this sequence, his patter calls are impressive to say the least. I’ll admit, most of these moves fall outside what I’ve seen documented in traditional calls, let alone Modern Western lists. Not only do they contain great variety but they are adaptive to their environment, be that brook, pig pen, or hay baler. It’s not clear how experienced our dancers (Curt and Pumpkinhead Martin, I am told) are, but certainly Bugs has their trust. They follow his calls remarkably. Lest they get discouraged, Bugs incorporates gentle encouragement into his calls, “Step right up, you’re doin’ fine, / I’ll pull your beard, you pull mine.”

We can see Bugs has a traditional musical sense, unplugging the band and giving an acoustic solo fiddle performance — albeit with full orchestra providing the boom-chucks. Somewhat less traditionally, Bugs deserves credit for anticipating the men-in-skirts movement at dances way ahead of his time.

Luckily for us, at sixty years old, this classic is not merely archival but part of a living tradition. And will continue to be into the next generation.

— Max

One thought on “Bugs Bunny and the Power of Calling

  1. Tina Fields

    “…this classic is not merely archival but part of a living tradition. And will continue to be into the next generation.”

    Yes indeedy. Bugs here was one of my earliest calling inspirations – no kidding!

    Did you notice the unusual fiddle playing style in one part, held down by the knee? I’ve heard that’s the animators paying homage to the great African-American fiddler Jim Booker, who recorded the first “hillbilly” music ~1927.

    Think we should try this call at Pinewoods? :-p

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