Monday, March 25, 2013

Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Cult of Personality

What we do today, darling? Kill Moose and Squirrel ?

                     -- Natasha Fatale

Why are people so fucking stupid? Why can't they be more intellligent, like me?

                    -- The Kim Jong-Il Character in Team America: World Police (2004)

Perhaps one of the greatest influences on the intellectual development of people of my generation was The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show by Jay Ward Studios. The four years that this show was on air and the billions of years that it showed on reruns was fundamental to the development of the ethics, intelligence, world view and appreciation of puns for people all over this country and the world.

The end of a very surrealistic sequence in which Rocky and Bullwinkle are reincarnated in plant form.

In this post we discuss the mystery of what the show was actually called, why the show is important, and its context in the period of the Cold War. Finally we discuss the origins of one of its greatest creations: the term "Fearless Leader".

According to IMDB, there were two shows that overlapped each other in time. Rocky and His Friends, which aired from 1959 to 1964 and The Bullwinkle Show from 1961 to 1964. But according to Wikipedia, the show was called Rocky and His Friends for the first two years and The Bullwinkle Show for the last two years. This confusion probably arises from the attempt by the network and Jay Ward to improve the ratings for the show which never did all that well. The show was shuffled from Prime Time to Saturday Morning in an effort to find its audience and improve ratings. Ultimately they failed and the show was cancelled after the fourth season.

But they did achieve the minimum number of episodes required for reruns in syndication, and the show lived on in various edited forms, for at least a decade longer and in 100 countries. There is now a complete boxed set on DVD which is highly recommended for those of us who appreciate higher culture.

The show was structured like a variety show of vaudeville (1). Each episode would begin and end with a Rocky and Bullwinkle segment that was part of a larger, multiple episode story. Between these two segments would be a variety of other acts including Mr. Peabody's Improbable History, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, and Mr. Know it All. The actors who contributed voices reads like a voice-over Hall of Fame including: June Foray, Bill Scott, Paul Frees, Hans Conreid, William Conrad, Edward Everett Horton and many others reknowned in the history of animation.

Mr. Peabody, Sherman and the Way Back Machine

My favorite pun of the entire show was the school that Bullwinkle attended as immortalized on a shirt he would wear:  Whatsamatta U.

Of course it is the villians who are among the most memorable of the characters. The two villians that we normally see in the show are Boris and Natasha, more formally Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. But they worked for a mysterious figure whom we knew as "Fearless Leader". Boris and Natasha, our archtypal Russian spies and saboteurs, were terrified of Fearless Leader.

Fearless Leader

The show, which took place in the Cold War, usually had plots that involved our villians Boris and Natasha, as directed by Fearless Leader, to do something evil and being thwarted by Rocky and Bullwinkle. What distinguished the Cold War from other conflicts was the relentless use of spies, conspiracies and secret plots. It was part and parcel of the Cold War that there would be masters of evil who led these conspiracies, from Ernst Blofeld, to Dr. No, to Joseph Stalin, to Kim Jung-Il.

Peerless Leader

Kim Jung-Il had many honorifics that were bestowed on him by his grateful people. Most people know that he was called "Dear Leader" by the people of N. Korea. But that was just the tip of the iceberg, in fact he had a great many of these, some used in special circumstances, some used more generally.

These honorifics included:

Superior Person, Beloved Father, Beloved and Respected General, Ever Victorious Iron Willed Commander, Great Man Who is a Man of Deeds, Mastermind of the Revolution, Invincible and Ever-Triumphant General, Dear Leader, Respected Leader, Wise Leader, Great Leader of Our Party and Our Nation, Sun of the Communist Future, Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Peerless Leader, Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love, Bright Sun of Juche, Great Marshall and Dear Father.

Was Fearless Leader in fact named for the real life "Peerless Leader" of N. Korea? We may never know for sure. (2)  (3) But certainly we can say that if Kim Jung-Il had ever been called "Fearless Leader", that it would be right in line with his many other titles.

With that mystery hanging in the air, I want to end this post with a sad story about what happened when Jay Ward proposed a TV special based on Rocky and Bullwinkle.

For every Rocky and Bullwinkle, Ren and Stimpy or The Simpsons on television, we must wonder how many other interesting and important shows were destroyed by Network Stupidity. At June Foray's urging to reboot Rocky and Bullwinkle, Jay Ward pitched a Rocky and Bullwinkle special to a network, I think it was NBC.  In this proposed episode, Boris and Natasha would steal the Superbowl. The studio executive said something stupid like "Good Americans would never allow for the Superbowl to be stolen" and rejected the idea. Jay Ward figuratively threw his hands up in the air, said "I can not work with these morons" or words to that effect, and returned to doing Quisp Cereal commercials.

Quisp and his fellow breakfast cereal Quake

A Quisp commercial on Youtube.

We at Global Wahrman sincerely wish and hope that the so-called studio executive who rejected Jay Ward will rot in hell for all eternity. 


1. In the UK, this was called a "Music Hall"

2. Since Kim Jong-il was about 20 years old at the time when Rocky and Bullwinkle first went on-air, it is extremely unlikely that Jay Ward was thinking of him as a model for Fearless Leader.  It is less clear if his father, Kim Il-Sung the Magnificent, was called these same glorious titles.  Perhaps Jay Ward was psychic as well as being brilliant, then he *could* have channeled Kim Jong-Il from the future.

3. In case you are not aware, the phrasing "Did so-and-so do such-and-such?  We may never know for sure ..." is the classic way you can make crazy assertions and not be sued.  "Did aliens from outer space build the fast food restaurants?  We may never know for sure ....".

Rocky and Bullwinkle on IMDB

N. Korean Cult of Personality on Wikipedia

List of Rocky and Bullwinkle Episodes

Quisp Cereal on Wikipedia

Team America: World Police on IMDB

Variety Show, aka Music Hall, on Wikipedia

Kim Jong-il on Wikipedia

Kim Il-Sung

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