Oct 6, 2012

Sitting Ducks





The animated series Sitting Ducks (2001-2004), based on Michael Bedard's book,  had a clean, uncluttered line usually seen in programs aimed at young children, and it aired on Nickelodeon in the early afternoon hours usually reserved for young children.  But it was one of the more subversive of the cartoons of the era, offering a strong social critique reminiscent of Animal Farm and Maus.

The Premise:  although alligators usually prey upon ducks, they need the winter clothing that the ducks manufacture from their feathers, so they have promised to stay away from Ducktown.  A few renegade alligators sneak into town to hunt the unwary, or try to lure ducks out of town where they’ll be fair game.  Alligator-duck antipathy runs high, and the truce could break down at any moment.

The protagonist in this uneasy world is Bill, a quiet, sensitive duck.  He has a trio of wacky friends,  but he is still lonely, until one night he is attacked by a renegade alligator named Aldo.  Bill manages to defend himself and break Aldo’s tooth, and his kindness afterwards -- offering to get the tooth fixed -- convinces Aldo of the ducks’ innate “humanity.”  The two become friends.

At first their friendship consists of playing bongo drums and a board game called Squaddle, but soon it develops into an intimacy rare in animation.  Bill casually rubs Aldo’s belly; Aldo puts his arm around him in the movies.

One of the scene in the opening montage shows an alligator and duck kissing – not Aldo and Bill, but still, it underscores a reading of the two as romantic partners. Some scripts suggest that they are living together:: they say goodnight to other friends at the end of the evening and are seen together at breakfast; Aldo rearranges the furniture.

Their relationship is overtly romantic.

In “Feather Island,” Bill is despondent because the town’s redneck police officer has threatened to jail him if he sees Aldo again, so his duck friend Bev tries to cheer him up with a treasure mapy.  The "treasure"  turns out to be Aldo: it was all a hoax, orchestrated by Bev to give the two some time together.  Police disapproval, the threat of jail, and Bev’s straight gal-pal concern emphatically code Aldo and Bill as a same-sex couple.

In “Close Encounters of the Green Kind,” has the duck Wattle dress as an alligator to date an alligator girl. Bill and Aldo firmly support the relationship, specifically comparing it to their own.  They encourage Wattle to “come out” as a duck to his girlfriend.  She is not bothered by the idea of interspecies romance, but the relationship ends when her father finds out and tries to eat Wattle.

In “Oh Brother, What Art Thou?,” Bill is jealous of Aldo’s alligator-only men’s club, so he puts on an alligator disguise and crashes.  He is so witty and charming that the alligators all love him, and vote to make him a member.  Overwhelmed by their acceptance, Bill decides to “come out.”  But then his new friends try to kill him.  Aldo rushes to the rescue, and is banished from the club forever for daring to bring in a duck.

But the most emphatic episode is “Duck Lover,” in which Aldo and Bill are accidentally outed as a couple.  Bill is ecstatic: “we don’t have to hide anymore!”

The ducks, liberal, well-educated, and generally sophisticated, “tolerate” the relationship, except for a few heterosexist (or alligator-ist) jokes and behind-the-back put-downs.  Among the working-class, conservative alligators, however, they face slurs, jokes, and angry taunts about their “unnatural” relationship.  Some of the alligators even scheme to “straighten Aldo out” by getting rid of “his favorite little friend.”

Michael Bedard has also released calendars, posters, and original paintings about the same-sex alligator-duck romance.

See also: I Go Pogo: The Gay Possum of Okefenokee Swamp