Dec 072012

Let’s get back to that Yogi Bear/Polar Bear Cafe bit.

When I was watching that Yogi Bear marathon a few weeks back, I noticed that quite a few episodes revolved around hibernation. Yogi would get woken up while in the middle of hibernating by some outside party that didn’t quite get that bears sleep during a certain time of the year. One in particular involved Snow White trying to find the Seven Dwarves’ house. Yogi tells her to book it. Then the Dwarves come along looking for Snow White. Then Snow White returns. Then the Prince drops by. Pretty sure the Witch gets in on it as well. Basically, Yogi Bear can’t get any sleep because the only way Hanna Barbara can compete with the might of Disney’s theatrical movies is to make a 7 minute cartoon with a palate-swapped blonde Snow White.

It’s pretty much the same thing going down in this week’s Polar Bear Cafe. Grizzly wants to get his hibernating on and Polar Bear and the other animals just don’t get it. Yeah, sure, they give him some pillow at the end of the episode to feign some heartwarming message about friendship, but all they’re really doing is showing great insensitivity towards their fellow animals who have a genetic predisposition towards sleeping when it gets really damn cold.

Is this some sort of dig on animal privilege? Penguin and Polar Bear are native to cold-weather climates, so they’re perfectly happy with the cold and never need to doze off for months at a time, and Panda’s species doesn’t hibernate due to the inability to build up body fat while only eating bamboo. None of Grizzly’s buddies have the biological capacity to understand the need to hibernate, and they make no real attempt to understand on an emotional level. Does the need to hibernate make grizzly bears and other animals “inferior” in the minds of animals who don’t have this need?

Is hibernating more of a cultural thing? Since Grizzly lives in the city, he isn’t dependent on a lack of food during colder months. He can go to the grocery story are buy food at any time, so he has no need to build up fat and live off of it during the winter while he’s asleep. He may still have the biological and psychological urge to do so, but culturally speaking, the need to hibernate no longer exists. So is the Polar Bear Cafe world seeing a culture clash when it comes to the issue of hibernating? Is Grizzly hanging onto this biological artifact while the rest of the world around him is “adapting” to an urban culture that not only doesn’t need to hibernate, but also rejects it? Is this a matter of one class of animals trying to push their values onto another class of animals? Do they have psychologists who try to “cure” animals of their need to hibernate? Are there laws protecting the rights of animals to hibernate, or can an employer fire an animal for missing work during those months? If this isn’t already a hot button political issue in the Polar Bear Cafe world, I’m sure it’ll become one with time.

And getting back to Yogi Bear, there’s another episode where he tries to rebel against hibernating. He doesn’t want to be bound by the urge to sleep in the winter. He wants to live his days like every other animal, including humans. He wants to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. He wants to be like everyone else. The other bears won’t have anything to do with it. Even Boo Boo gives in to the urges of hibernating– the call of nature being stronger than his bonds of friendship. Yogi wants to fight. He struggles with his natural desire to sleep, but he succeeds. He goes through winter without falling asleep, only to pass out the instant all the other bears awaken and come out of their caves. Yogi Bear won, but he still falls prey to nature’s desires.

So what does this make Yogi? He wants to throw away a unique cultural artifact of bears in order to become like other species. Does this make him a progressive figure? Yeah, he’s fought for animal rights, but he’s also trying to mold his species into something it isn’t. Bears hibernate, but he doesn’t want to be just a bear. He’s smarter than the average bear. But by being “better than average,” is he losing his identity? Is he doing bears a disservice by being a high-profile celebrity who wants to deny a part of his heritage?

And would Grizzly kick Yogi’s ass if Yogi tried to wake him up, or would he be as lenient as he is with Polar Bear? I bet he’d clock Yogi hard.

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