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Auralis Sexualis:
How Cartoons Conduct Paraphilia
Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood, University of California Press, Berkeley 2011


The Emasculated Scream

Elsewhere, I have discussed the explosiveness of the Warner Bros. cartoon shorts from the 40s and 50s as exemplar of the celebratory noise welcomed by their soundtracks. That explosiveness largely characterises the aural compaction of the classic American cartoon: it has always been a loud, raucous, bombastic affair; hyper-Vaudevillian, self-mocking, anti-bowdlerising. Here I will discuss how the voice is implicated in such a field of noise, and directly link it to how the bodily status of the cartoon corpus impacts the role of voice in cartoons.

The most apparent feature in Western cartoon vocalisations is the level of screeching. One can feel the threshold of distortion being reached as the actors’ heads turn as red as the overloading display of the recording meters. It’s a mania endemic in many forms of comedy the world over, where the scream of the comedic performer conveys its own level of humour irrespective of the words being screamed. This performance is predicated on a palpable loss of control, veering into aberrant modes of address, from the ranting of the possessed voice to the raving of the transcended voice. The cartoon screech (irrespective of its accent, impersonation or mimicry) connotes how the voice signifies a transformative state as the human becomes something other than its normal controlled being. Like the way its form dances, and like the way its flesh appears, the cartoon voice is pushed into a zone of wild metamorphosis, freed from stable or mannered illustration.

In the most perfunctory of psychoanalytic terms, the scream signifies a variety of ways in which the self is transfigured. From denial to catharsis to pain, the scream signposts trauma at its most exposed. Yet its contra-linguistic expression does not exclude it from numerous symbolic connotations. Foremost, the Western cartoon is rarely accepted as a site for workshopping trauma of any kind. This locates the screaming cartoon voice within the cartoon body’s ‘animamorphism’ and its various reversals of depiction: the screaming voice comedically references trauma which it then performatively quotes in a scenario where sexual trauma is connoted nonetheless.

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