Feb 3, 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman: Gay Adoption and Preteen Heterosexism

I first encountered most great figures of history, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Alexander Graham Bell, on the Mr. Peabody's Improbable History segment of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show (1959-64, rerun on Sunday  morning through the 1960s).

Mr. Peabody is a super-genius dog (voiced by Bill Scott) who adopts a michievous, not-too-bright human boy, Sherman (voiced by Walter Tetley).  In each episode, they travel back in time to an important historical event, only to find that something has gone wrong:

Ludwig Van Beethoven is more interested in cooking than in composing symphonies.
Edgar Allen Poe wants to write Winnie the Pooh instead of horror stories
Ponce de Leon's men discovered the Fountain of Youth and turned into babies

  It is up to Peabody and Sherman to devise a crazy scheme that sets the course of history right again, and end the episode with an atrocious pun.

Most of the episodes were about "dead white guys," but 12 featured women, 3 featured non-Westerners (such as Oda Nobunaga, who unified Japan), and 3 featured African-Americans (Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Little Richard).

The unapologetic geekiness of both Peabody and Sherman appealed to budding chess club members, and like Yogi Bear, the Flintstones, and most other 1960s cartoons, there was a substantial gay context.

1. Mr. Peabody and Sherman occasionally assist in heterosexual intrigues, but they never express any heterosexual interest of their own.
2. Mr. Peabody is the only talking dog in the world, a "queer" anomaly.  And he has adopted a son, creating an alternate family structure.
3. Sherman frequently becomes a feminine-coded "damsel in distress."  In the opening credit montage, Peabody is shown driving a chariot, with Sherman beside him, his women's headdress flowing in the wind.

There was a full range of comic books, lunch boxes, and stuffed toys.

Fast forward 50 years, and the 2014 Mr. Peabody and Sherman (premiering in March) gives Sherman a girlfriend, Penny.  In fact, it is Sherman's desire to impress Penny that promots him to use the time-traveling WABAC machine and cause the time paradox that fuels the plot.

Various conservative types, such as Peabody's social worker nemesis, are up in arms at the dog-boy adoption.  The shrieks of "It's unnatural" up the gay symbolism.

But that doesn't make up for the intense preteen heterosexism.