Comedy With(out) The Coconut Bras:
Baloo and Sexism in TaleSpin Examined
Reviewing the episodes of TaleSpin and through various fan sites, it’s been mentioned time and again that the series (one character was actually named Amelia Airhead) and the main protagonist, Baloo, has expressed sexist behavior.
Most would state this, considering that he resents his employer, Rebecca Cunningham, for giving him orders and for holding his beloved plane the Sea Duck and uses it to coerce him to work (i.e. War Of The Weirds).
This is most prominent in the pilot episode, “Plunder and Lightning, Part 2” where Rebecca is introduced to the series and starts taking charge right away much, to Baloo’s chagrin in quotes such as “If you think I’m flyin’ fer you, Brown Eyes, you got yer hair tied too tight!” and “She may have a head fer business, but she’s gotta lot ta learn ‘bout planes!”
While it could be misconstrued to be sexist, it’s basically because, as seen in the Jungle Book and TaleSpin series, Baloo is a free spirit who greatly enjoys his freedom and only resents that fact that another person can have that much control over him and his airplane, not because Rebecca is a woman.
Of course, there’s the pin-up posters plastered on the walls of the Sea Duck (“My Fair Baloo”) the hula dancer lamp seen a various episodes in his room at Higher for Hire and various moments of dressing in drag (i.e. Baloo Thunder, A Spy In The Ointment, Feminine Air), seen as poking fun at women.
Given that the series is set in the 1930s and the women’s liberation movement was a generation away, women after World War I had already begun to think for themselves, and took charge of their own destinies and lives.
Baloo would have guessed this, with such strong female characters like Plane Jane, Katie Dodd and Princess Lotta Lamour; the women in his life in the pre-Higher for Higher days that probably gave him a moment of pause and as he said in The Road To Macadamia: “That gal’s got spunk!” is meant more to be of a compliment.
And this continues, as we also see this with such characters as Mary Lamb (Feminine Air), Myra Foxworthy (In Search of Ancient Blunders), Clementine Clevenger (Citizen Khan), Louise Lamount (The Ransom of Red Chimp) and Una (Destiny Rides Again), are all capable women handling their affairs competently.
In Feminine Air, he’s agitated that Higher for Hire is in a work slow-down because of rival Coolhands Luke’s deliberate sabotaging of their business and getting a lot of flack from other colleagues for “working for a woman” (“Oh yeah… you’re that wash-up who works for a skirt!”), but moreover as a threat to his livelihood and ego than his manhood.
So in his traditional drag as “Tan Margaret,” Baloo gains further insight into the capabilities women in general are able to do during the scavenger hunt and afterwards when Rebecca says “We’re going to win this contest like ladies, by using our brains.”
Feminine Air achieves all of this, and in the end, employer and employee earn a new level of sincere admiration and respect for each other – now more solidified in the series afterwards.
As to taking the “drag” show on the road, as seen in episodes Baloo Thunder, A Spy In The Ointment and the aforementioned Feminine Air, Baloo often complains about the commitment it takes to wear such clothing yet enduring it just like most women do (i.e. “Man, this girdle’s cuttin’ off the blood to my brain!”), but it just extends his resourcefulness in a comedic way.
The hula dancer lamp and pin-up posters are no different to what they are now these days, where it’s often more extreme compared to the tamer 1930s sense of daring. Baloo is a bear of his era, but is more open-minded to women rather than the opposite and probably a leftover during his pre-Higher for Hire days.
In conclusion, Baloo is not a sexist character and neither is the series. The writers had to keep it in the context of the era, where the sex barrier was (and unfortunately, still is) in effect, but yet the female characters remain undaunted by these setbacks.
While it could be argued about some of the norms and behavior of some of the characters (Rebecca and Molly in constant need of rescue; Katie a screeching damsel in distress; Kitten Kaboodle the classic femme fatale vamp), as was stated before the writers were trying to take those movie serials of the 1930s, yet added some modern-day strengths to them.
But when the chips are down, Baloo will drop everything for the greater good and less for himself and for Rebecca (and the other women). Maybe he’s not a pro-feminist character (while some episodes are), but he is more respectful of women and a better person out of it, because of them.
© 2003 Julian “jb” Bynoe