Sunday, November 9, 2014

Who Frames Roger Rabbit? - Cartoon Characters as Recognized Individuals (Part Eight/Conclusion)

Part Seven

[Alright folks, that's enough video games for now. Less Jung, more Hegel!]

This brings us to the second definition of Mickey Mouse, that is, Mickey Mouse as an artificial self-consciousness. As a fictional character defined by his artificial network of social relations and personal affective elements such as cheerfulness, Mickey Mouse does not just have the appearance of outer life, but of inner.

This self consciousness does not, of course, have any grounding in physical reality. The ink and paper drawings and binary code, the physical material of which depictions of Mickey Mouse are composed, do not have the capability of independent thought. The imitation of internal life is created by the artists and voice actors who recreate the logic of Mickey Mouse's network of affective elements into individual depictions.

But this form of artificial self consciousness has tangible effects on true self consciousnesses. Consumers are able to form a functional mutual recognition with this virtual self consciousness. This affective bond is portrayed as mutual, as if Mickey Mouse were an actual self consciousness capable of forming recognitive bonds not just with other cartoon characters, but with living human beings. As the Mickey Mouse Club March claims:

“Who's the leader of the club
That's made for you and me?
...Come along and sing a song
And join the jamboree”
At risk of stating the obvious, this song portrays Mickey Mouse as an active agent, capable of fulfilling a leadership role in a community which includes the viewer among its members. Just as cartoon characters sometimes “break the fourth wall” to address the audience directly, the audience is encouraged to enter the fictional network of mutual recognition which Mickey Mouse “leads.”

Even if we try to dismiss this as a crass marketing strategy intended to encourage economic consumption of Mickey Mouse products, the fact remains that it worked quite effectively. The same network of affective elements that allows consumers to recognize Mickey from film to film also allows them to recognize him as part of their own environment. This can only be achieved by presenting Mickey as a legitimate actor with an internal life capable of forming mutual recognitive bonds. Mickey Mouse is presented as a legitimate dancer in the Bacchanalian jamboree.

Last, I would like to discuss Mickey Mouse as an object of self-consciousness. As referenced at the beginning of this section, Geist truly begins with the transformation “of the object of consciousness into an object of self-consciousness.” Our experience with Mickey Mouse is itself a form of content, an object of consciousness which arises from our self-consciousness.

What appears at first as an “Other,” the artificial self-consciousness known as Mickey Mouse, becomes revealed as part of the Self. The affective elements, whose “determinateness seems at first to be due entirely to the fact that it is related to an other, and its movement seems imposed on it by an alien power; but having its otherness within itself, and being self-moving, is just what is involved in the simplicity of thinking itself; for this simple thinking is the self-moving and self-differentiating thought. It is its own inwardness, it is the pure Notion” (55).

This content, as a "function of self-consciousness,“shows that its determinateness is not received from something else, nor externally attached to it, but that it determines itself, and ranges itself as a moment having its own place in the whole” (53). The content which is Mickey Mouse is not the physical ink and paper or the affective elements (i.e. the object which presents itself to consciousness), but rather what Mickey Mouse is to self-consciousness.

The content which is “Mickey Mouse” is “the process in which Spirit becomes what it is in itself,” the motion of an object of consciousness which is transformed by self-consciousness into an object of self-consciousness. As an object of consciousness, Mickey Mouse is affective elements and ink and paper, but as content, Mickey Mouse is a function of human self-consciousness.

The ability of the human mind to experience and recognize Mickey Mouse is not dependent on the otherness of Mickey Mouse. It is not “imposed on it by an alien power,” but is self-generated. This perhaps explains why sequential art evolved in terms of the Three Stages. The production of sequential art was limited, not by the alien power of the medium, but by the internal self-limitations of the artists and the conditions of self-consciousness in the times they lived.

Perhaps this is why it is so easy to take the existence of cartoon characters for granted while ignoring the ramifications of their existence. The existence of Mickey Mouse feels natural, so simple that a child can understand it without explanation.

And yet what is natural about a round-eared sentient mouse that transverses time periods, societies, and social roles as easily as we change our clothing? What is natural about a being that transcends space and time, acknowledges his own existence as a fictional character and yet forms recognitive bonds with living human beings?

Quite simply, it feels natural because Mickey could only exist on the basis of mutual recognitive determinateness, i.e. the boundary conditions of our current self-consciousness. And it is because he could only exist under these conditions that no one feels the need to object to Mickey Mouse in the same way they object to Altruism or Justice. Justice was possible under the boundary conditions of the First Stage, and so moral valets can always object to it on the basis that the First Stage was found wanting.

Mickey Mouse was not possible under the boundary conditions of the First Stage. Lack of an actual physical existence as part of the architecture of the universe is one of the preconditions of his existence, not a proof that he does not exist. If he had a physical, biological existence, he could not fulfill the functions of a Third Stage cartoon character – it would be a detriment to his ability to fulfill contradictory roles in space and time.

So if Mickey Mouse could only exist under the conditions of the Third Stage, he is a “living” example that Third Stage mutual recognitive determinateness can actually work. By recognizing the ontology of cartoon characters, we have taken a critical step forward in understanding just what post-enlightenment sittlichkeit looks like in the real world and how other concepts may be established by mutually recognitive communal normativity.

Conclusion: The Measure of a Mouse

What is a cartoon character? In this series, I have argued that cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse exist in four forms:

-As objects of consciousness composed of affective elements
-As individual manifestations of a network of affective elements (i.e. pen and ink drawings)
-As artificial self-consciousness with which living beings can form mutually recognitive bonds
-As a function of human self-consciousness, determined by the boundary conditions of that very same self-consciousness and not by the “alien other”

Perhaps more than anything else, cartoon characters are a part of the Bacchanalian Jamboree, dancers in the revel of truth that drop in and out as they become useful, much as any other concept. As such, they deserve our attention as legitimate objects of study as much as any other of their “more respectable” fellow dancers. Though Hegel does not discuss cartoon characters in Phenomenology of Spirit, their evolution provides an case study for his Three Stages of History and as an indicator of the future development of the Third Stage.

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