Goofy as Hell

By Ian Shoales, March 2011

The other day my daughter confided that she and her friends had that day engaged in an argument, one that’s been raging, it seems, forever. They weren’t discussing the origins of war, or why evil exists, or whether God exists, but a question just as troubling— is Goofy a dog?

My heart was warmed that these young people were confronting the same issues I’d confronted when I was their age. How well I remember those youthful discourses!

Pluto is a dog— that’s a given. And yet Pluto cannot speak. Goofy appears to be a dog, yet he possesses the power of speech. What’s the deal here?

Take a trip around Duckburg. See the Beagle Boys? They have shiny black noses like dogs, yet they walk just as men! Most of the citizens of Duckburg, as a matter of fact, are some kind of bizarre dog/human hybrid— werewolves, if you will, or some ungodly mutant created by Gyro Gearloose in his fiendish laboratory. And who paid for it? I’m not going to accuse anybody in print, but I will say that every time I see that miserly plutocrat Scrooge McDuck my blood runs cold.

But let’s not go there.

Instead let’s look at the larger picture. What are the Cartoon Rules of Dogs?

1. All cartoon dogs like bones. If they don’t have bones, they scheme to take bones from others.

2. Cartoon dogs are always male. There are a few exceptions (Lady comes to mind), but if you look at the pantheon— Deputy Dawg, Tramp, Mighty Manfred, Snoopy, Foghorn Leghorn’s nameless adversary, or the cast of All Dogs go to Heaven— they are always male. Female dogs only exist in cartoons so a male dog can howl, slaver, make his eyes bug out and get distracted by them, so some other dog can steal his bone.

3. If a dog has a comfortable existence inside a warm, cozy house, some outside force will arrive to drive him into the yard where it’s always pouring rain. This outside force is usually a cat. If a dog has a comfortable existence in his doghouse, some outside force is always trying to get him to leave it. This outside force can be represented by many things— a mailman, a cat, a bird, even a rival dog trying to gain access to his bone.

4. In the cartoon universe, if a dog is the protagonist, a cat usually represents the force of evil and/or chaos, unless it’s a cute little fuzzy kitten. Either way, the dog will be distracted from his bone.

5. Cartoon dogs can go from joy to rage in an instant, and back again.

6. A dog’s personality is determined by its breed. Sheepdogs are loyal. Dobermans are fierce. St. Bernards are tenacious. Shepherds are protective. Chihuahuas are nervous. Poodles are vain. Bulldogs are irascible. Mutts are scrappy. Etc.

7. If a dog is clever, he’s usually not clever enough. If a dog is stupid, he usually perseveres— that is, he gets the bone in the end.

8. Dogs are never evil. They can be obsessive, but never self-absorbed.

9. There are no cowardly dogs. If they’re needed, cartoon dogs always come through.

10. In confrontations with cats, dogs usually lose. In the cartoon universe, mice and cats defeat dogs.

I think these rules are pretty much written in stone, don’t you? So what does that make Goofy? Well, he’s male, he’s stupid and he’s not evil. But does he like bones? No. Do cats give him a hard time? No.

I have to stand by my original assessment, and I’ve had a lifetime to think about it. I don’t know what the hell Goofy is. He may even be part dog for all I know, but by and large I’d have to say that Goofy is the unholy spawn of hell, an unnatural creature who should be destroyed while there’s still time. But that’s probably just me.

Ian Shoales is the alter ego of writer and performer Merle Kessler. Ian and Merle both currently reside in San Francisco.

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