Personhood is everywhere. Netflix recently added Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends to their “instant play” repertoire, which means I may or may not have spent several hours watching a cartoon from the early sixties as part of my Saturday routine. As usual, there was a little bit of transhumanist propaganda hidden within it.
In the first episode of the series, where everyone is introduced, we first meet Mr. Peabody doing yoga in his penthouse in New York City. Glancing at the Way-Back-Machine, Peabody notes, “ah, that’s Sherman’s. Sherman is my boy.” Peabody recounts how he acquired Sherman, spoofing the story of how a person gets their first dog: he looked and looked at strays in the pound, but some sad mutt on the street, Sherman, won his heart. Peabody rescues Sherman from bullies and, upon trying to return him to the orphanage, is saddened by the condition of Sherman’s life.
What makes this so interesting is that the cartoon acknowledges that Peabody is a dog and that dogs can’t adopt a boy. That Peabody can graduate Harvard, work on the stock market, or enlist in the foreign service, or develop projects for the government (key points in his auto-bio) aren’t big deals, but when he wants to start a family of his own, suddenly that’s a legal matter. Peabody goes through the adoption process and gets references from old friends (the sitting president), but a trial still occurs.
The prosecution’s case: “This dog isn’t a fit person to raise the boy, in fact, he isn’t a person at all!” Ah, yes, the dehumanization defense. Sad.
Peabody, acting as his own lawyer (of course) retorts: “Thank you, I consider that an excellent recommendation.” (Yes, Mr. Peabody is in fact using reverse discourse to turn the prosecution’s insult into a point in his favor.)
The court decides, “We see no reason that if a boy can have a dog, a dog can’t have a boy.”
Sometimes it takes a cartoon to cut through the the legalese and make a point so obvious. Children accept the evidence in front of them: Mr. Peabody is smart, good, and responsible; Sherman lives in an orphanage with a terrible head master; Mr. Peabody would like to adopt Sherman, everybody wins. In this rare case, the courts actually make the right decision for the right reasons and the brilliant Peabody takes Sherman home.
Now think about the scenario this way: Mr. Peabody, a successful, intelligent committed-bachelor with no interest in women, living in New York City, who wears a bow-tie and has an aloof speech affectation, decides he would like to adopt a child, but is told by the courts he cannot because he isn’t fit. Is anyone seeing any parallels, here?
I often wonder if shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle accidentally placed the seeds of social liberalizing. It sounds like a plot Glenn Beck would dream up: “Now, I’m not saying this is true, but isn’t it interesting how Rocky and Bullwinkle are both men, but the two Soviet spies, Boris Badinov and Natasha, are a couple? And why doesn’t Mr. Peabody have a wife? Is this cartoon, this show for children, saying America is a land of homosexuality and pedophilia, while communist Russia is the country with the proper values? These are just questions, people, but why am I the only one asking them?” Beck would then attempt to derive some hidden message from the various animals portrayed on the show using his magic blackboard of insanity.
The point, if there is one here, is that a cartoon in the sixties figured out that adoption is a matter of taking a child in a bad or sad position and putting that child into a home with a parent or parents who will love and care for him or her. That’s it. Why we haven’t figured that out yet in 2010 I don’t know.
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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