The Coyote’s Karma

Some couples disagree about religion or money or who has to do what chores or which team sportses the best. John and I, however, can’t come to terms with one another over robots, zombies, and now, apparently Wile E. Coyote. Before we get into the debate, let’s do a quick jaunt down memory lane, shall we?

It began innocently enough. I had commented on the fact that John’s Landmark avatar was about to be crushed by a giant box (not really, there are no physics, but there was a giant shadow over him), which made John chuckle and sigh that he had always felt bad for Wile E. Coyote.

Me: Wait…you were cheering for Wile E. Coyote? He’s the bad guy!
John: No, he’s not. He’s the clever one.
Me: *Raises eyebrow* He wants to eat the roadrunner. They show him licking his lips and leering.
John: He’s the one whose perspective they always tell the story from, the one you seeing trying new things, looking for a clever solution to the problem.
Me: That doesn’t make him a protagonist. At best, he’s an anti-hero.
John: He’s an engineer. I always loved how he would come up with some new way to try to catch the roadrunner. The cartoons were never that satisfying, though–I was always sad that he never managed to catch the roadrunner.
Me: Seriously? I’ve always loved the karmic justice. He always gets squished by his own plans backfiring. That’s why it’s funny: in his desire to hurt the roadrunner, he only ends up hurting himself.
John: But he’s hungry! It’s the circle of life.
Me: He and the roadrunner exhibit equal amounts of self-awareness, but the roadrunner is just doing his own thing. The coyote can buy things from mail-order catalogues–I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need to kill the roadrunner to get a decent meal.

This somehow devolved into a (not actually then researched) conversation about whether or not the cartoon could have been a commentary on the Cold War, John’s theory being that the slipshod engineering of the coyote could be poking fun at Russia’s notoriously sloppy space program during the fifties. He told me about the death of Vladimir Komarov, the colorful version that includes him being forced to pilot a ship that was known to be unsafe on pain of death and cursing the Kremlin as he died.

Me: So you’re saying that Wile E. Coyote is Russia during the Cold War and that you’re cheering for him?
John:  …

A little (very little) research tells a very different, less political, more existential tale of the adult themes behind the cartoon, but John still clings to his love for the cleverness of the coyote, and I’m left wondering how many other kids watched that cartoon and cheered not for the joyful, come-what-may roadrunner, but for the ultimate victory of the embodiment of hunger itself. I find myself hoping that, at least in this instance, I’m not the one with the atypical perspective on the situation…

2 thoughts on “The Coyote’s Karma

  1. John has a good point. The Road-runner doesn’t even feel like a character to me, more like a force of nature, as harsh and impossible to reason with as gravity or the red-dust mesa against which the Coyote smashes his face.


    1. After reading the Wikipedia blurb about the intent of the creators, it seems to me like an almost Buddhist parable, or maybe a weirdly dark twist on the old hamburger joke:
      Wile E. Coyote walks into a restaurant and points to the Roadrunner Supreme on the menu and grandly tells the waiter, “Make me one with everything.” The Roadrunner, having been made one with everything, becomes a force of nature, unable to be stopped or consumed. The Coyote is doomed by his own hunger to hunt everything, forever empty.

      Maybe that should make me more sympathetic to the Coyote’s plight as it’s human nature through and through, but I still find it terribly satisfying to see violence collapse in on itself, even in a cartoon. Maybe it gives me hope that all our human clumsiness and ill intentions can’t destroy Being as a whole? Either way, I still think the Coyote doesn’t quite qualify as the protagonist.


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