My greatest challenge in the animation as many of you know is working on male characters. I’ve gotten a little bit better at drawing men and making them as mobile as my females. The solution was simply giving my male characters behinds. Everything fell into place after that discovery. Now the task at hand is nail the personalities, for to be honest, I wouldn’t go anywhere near the male characters use in most cartoons these days. The hero is usually a whining, horny, clueless outcast yearning for recognition and the villain is a megalomaniac bent on world domination.
Just for the record, I love Megatron. He and Starscream are favorite villian duo. Megs is here to illustrate how villian has more depth than the hero in most boys cartoons. However, I think the Transformers did a good job of making its heroes likable. How can you not like Oppie, Ironhide and Jazz? C’mon! Alas, in recent cartoons, such appealing male protagonists exist only in the tiny action-adventure genre.
To better understand the male psyche, I turn to my favorite Jung analyst author Jean Shinoda Bolen of Goddesses in Every Woman. She issued a male counterpart to her goddess book: Gods in Everyman. As I gleaned though its pages I picked out the kind of guys girls go for warts and all: Zeus, Apollo and Hermes who embody the archetype of powerful father, favorite son and charming bad boy. All three are successful in work and provide well for their families with Hermes being the most fun—-but at a risk. Zeus and Apollo are emotionally distant. Zeus is a philanderer and Apollo is clumsy with a girl’s feelings, but for a woman who wants to just concentrate on raising awesome children, neither of these faults are much of a bother.
Now, in American live-action film you get a deeper interpretation of Ares and and Hephaestus. Ares is overtly aggressive, yet charismatic and Hephaestus is brilliant or has buried potential and has no charisma whatsoever. Like the famed crippled god of the forge, the Hephaestus protagonist is a broken toy.
To illustrate my analogy, I have chosen two actors to represent Ares and Hephaestus: James Cagney and Woody Allen. For the record, Allen is not a perfect fit for the archetype, for he’s dripping with neurotic charm, but fits Hephaestus in many other respects.
Here’s a summary of Ares the God. Ares , the god of war is least favorite of Zeus’ sons. He was a fell beast prone to split second acts of aggression, however his rage was tempered with a love of dance. Ares’ mentor Priapus taught Ares dance before tutoring him to be a warrior. We know very little about this side or Ares. However, the dance background illustrates how physical and up close and personal Ares is. Therefore, in an nice Ares character like Cagney’s gangster portrayals, you get a charmer along with a hot-tempered fella who’ll protect his friends, hence he’s quick to punch a person across the room! Cagney was best known for playing a gangster-tough guy, but Cagney saw himself as a song and dance man. The archetype of Ares also embodies the black sheep who’s softer and more appealing side is rarely acknowledged by those surrounding him. Zeus-Jack Warner only gave Cagney two venues to show off his dancing in Footlight Parade and Yankee Doodle Dandy. That must’ve been frustrating for Cagney saw himself differently. Just because one comes from the streets, doesn’t mean that he should be personified by this background, especially since Cagney studied musical theater to erase that painful past. The inner-city is more than gangsters crime. The artist community is there too. Therefore, I am pleased that the Academy recognized the lighter side of the Ares archetype and awarded Cagney the Oscar for best in actor for the latter. Hooray for Cagney-Ares!
Enjoy the pics from Angels with Dirty Faces, Footlight Parade and Yankee Doodle Dandy 🙂
Ares as least favorite son who can’t escape his black sheep status and scapegoat.
Ares as charming dancer and life of the party:
Now on to wimpy heroes who don’t have to make any exterior improvements to reach their goals or get the girl. How unrealistic is that? Woody Allen is Hephaestus living out his fantasies. He gets the pretty Aphrodite girl who leaves or cuckolds him. He roams Manhattan moaning about his insecurities. Assuming Allen always plays himself in movies, therefore the shtick is not an act, the man is a neurotic who is known for his craft, but no woman can stand to live with him. Ever notice that Dianne Keaton always leaves?
Hephaestus the god, was another reject son of Zeus. There are two versions of his myth. Hephaestus was either thrown down from Olympus by Zeus for siding with his mother Hera in a domestic squabble which crippled him or he was born with the clubfoot and Hera herself cast him out of court of Olympus, hence Hephaestus took up residence in a volcano where he broods all day and night making beautiful things. In Woody Allen’s case, he always plays a successful writer. The archetype of Hephaestus is not a perfect fit in this sense, for such a man is not supposed to achieve financial success, but you can always say that a character like Allen is tempered with Hades. Another brooder who is under-appreciated, but rules a kingdom nonetheless and said kingdom is studded with all the precious metals and stones of the earth. In Allen’s personal life, Soon Yee would be a willing Persephone and Mia Farrow the betrayed Demeter.
Anyhoo, Woody neurosis, although beneficial to the introverted craft of writing , works as a deterrent in his onscreen romances. The most recurring themes of Allen’s films are about extra-marital affairs where the characters ends up alone in the end or if not alone, the romance is left open ended. There is not sense of permanence.
In animation, losers like Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson have Aphrodite/Demeter wives and still stumble through life as fools. Providing fools, but fools none the less. This a cathartic fantasy. Watching Homer and Peter’s foils gives miserable people a brighter perspective on their own Hephaestian lives. What I don’t like is that this type of character has given losers power to feel that they can win an alpha or beta female without even trying, thus creating even more depression is such attempts. This obsession doesn’t hurt only Hephaestus, but the omega female he is using as a bait and switch springboard to win his Aphrodite. I have yet to see that dynamic discovered in Greek mythology. End rant.
Back to the point:
You can see Hephaestus is many cartoon heroes. Pre 1989 i.e Groenig, the Hephaestus archetypes possessed some charm and redeeming qualities. You have:
Charlie Brown (Lucy as Hera)
Elmer Fudd ( Bugs as Hermes)
The Pink Panther -the Hawley Pratt version. Pink was an Hermes trickster in the Friz Freeling short The Pink Phink.
Archie of Shinbone Alley. Definitely the under appreciated craftsman/artist who long for the undivided attention )of Mehetabel’s Aphrodite.
Post-Groenig Hephaestians are considerably less admirable, but somehow get the girl and achieve success despite the lack improvement in their appearance. Examples of live-action Hephaestus characters are:
The protagonists of Seinfeld (sans Elaine)
The protagonist of American Splendor (who makes my skin crawl)
There’s a third example on the tip of my tongue but it’s escaping me. I want to mention the cast of Superbad, but they’re more Dionysian.
To be fair there are some live-action Hephaestus characters who are admirable to my discerning taste as well:
Mulder of the X-Files
Duckie of Pretty in Pink ( tempered in a positive way with charming Hermes)
Paul Varjack of Breakfast at Tffany’s
Bastian of the Neverending Story
Useful Hephaestus in Animation
Just about any film depicting an under-appreciated artist or scientist is a good Hephaestus in my book. However, artists and musicians tend to lean towards Dionysus. More on that god and his archetype in subsequent posts.
To be honest, I really don’t like this archetype. I found it unnecessary to list post-Groenig Hephaestus cartoon leads, because 7/8 of the animation industry features these characters. It’s really disturbing. Are creators aware of the social irresponsibility of their endless supply of character like these? When are women going to stand up and realize there is no one worth marrying for the purpose of children because we’re surrounded by f-ing losers? Living with someone you love is one thing but when children are produced, raising another, pawn, sheep and omega is not going to advance our society. The middle class will sink in to the lower castes for only the top 2% Zeus families will raising Apollo and Hermes sons. I’ll admit that I am angry for I am not high born and therefore do not have access to an Apollo for I am definitely his competitive sister, Artemis.
I am going to continue with my analysis of male archetypes according to the Olympians mentioned on Bolen’s book. I know I will get a lot of negative feedback from this, but you know what? Discourse is good and eventually the public is going to tire of wimpy underdogs and cry out of valiant heroes again. Not all underdogs are straight up losers. Would you call Sam Spade or Odysseus wimps? No! So, you can either join me or argue against my opinion that Hephaestus needs to be restored to his rightful place as the reclusive wise helper to the hero in the background. He does not belong in the foreground for all the stubborn unchanging eyesore, mugwump, losers in the world, without Hephaestian talents, to imitate. Hephaestus has played prince regent since 1989 and needs to step down. The regent is dead, long live the king!
Ares and Hephaestus. The two dominant archetypes in animated cartoons for boys. I can relate to neither especially the latter. Will the future of cartoon continue to nerds (not geeks, there’s a difference) and bullies? If so, then I don’t think I am fit for the animation industry anymore. Yet, there is hope for in girls cartoons, the leading male coming of age archetypes are Apollo and Hermes.
Be sure to return to Animatress for their upcoming post:)