Cartoon world is close to home

6th October 2006 at 01:00
Tom is not allowed to smoke in front of Jerry any more. This summer, someone complained about him to the broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom. So Turner Broadcasting told the cartoon cat to quit.

Cartoons are clearly vital role models and their personal habits are under scrutiny. Should teachers be worried? Will we be next?

Given the similarities between teachers and cartoons, maybe we should. Role models - Bugs Bunny or the head of maths - need a balanced personality with no extremes or weaknesses. This is as difficult for teachers as it is for Donald Duck. But why?

Cartoons and teachers tend to have a strong sense of purpose, however doomed. Sylvester will never catch Tweetie Pie, but he will never stop trying. He disguises himself as a doorman, smashes plates and trains as a hypnotist. Neither his violence nor his ingenuity has any effect on his target. Total determination is admirable, but it doesn't make for balance.

One glance around the staffroom confirms this.

Teachers and cartoons both show intention at its most exposed and extreme.

They attempt desperate solutions at high speeds. Stress convinces you that you can open a tin of tuna by dropping a piano on it. Wile E Coyote tries to catch Roadrunner with a saucepan, a rocket and a fridge. Broken by his own tools, he never gives up.

Well, models of balance they may not be, but their devotion to an aim makes teachers and cartoons unbeatably resilient creatures. If somebody punches or irons them, they just peel themselves off the wall and keep going. This can make them ridiculous yet also curiously loveable. No matter how hard they're knocked down, they keep coming back just as vividly drawn as before. Perhaps your sense of self is stronger when you exist in two dimensions and when the world beyond your purpose is blurred.

Look at Pluto. He never really understands what is happening to him, but his confusion is matched by his tenacity. I knew a head of history like this. And look at Daffy Duck. He is put in the deep freeze, then the oven, then chased with an axe and put back in the deep freeze. He jumps back out again dressed as Santa Claus. Don't most teachers feel this way at the end of the autumn term?

While the curriculum attempts to draw our lessons with a ruler, our teaching styles remain our own. There are limitless combinations of personality and subject. Sylvester would teach the Normandy landings very differently from Daffy Duck, but both lessons would be unmissable.

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