Brainiac On Banjo #022: Road Runner, Coyote, Ripley & Hubris

This September, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner will turn 70 years old. I’m telling you this now so you don’t have to wait until the last minute to get them presents – I do not know if there’s an Acme Prime. They were created by director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese as a response to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s Tom and Jerry, which MGM sandwiched in between the trailers and the A-movies at your local neighborhood theater back in a time when there still were local neighborhood theaters.

Both Tom and Jerry and Coyote and Road Runner were quite successful; both received Oscar nominations, although only the cat and mouse copped a statuette. Amusingly, when Bill and Joe discovered the flip book and left MGM to produce vaguely animated cartoons for television, Chuck moved over from Warner Bros’ withering termite terrace to take their places.

O.K. I’m not a big fan of Hanna-Barbera. Sue me. Hang in there; I’ll get back to the Endless Chase in a moment. But first… 

Way back in 1918, sports cartoonist Robert Ripley created a feature he soon called “Believe It Or Not!” and it was as successful as anything could be, generating endless reprint books, museums, radio shows, television shows (there’s a new one starring Bruce Campbell that goes up on the Travel Channel this summer), comic books, and all sorts of merchandising. That original newspaper strip is still around in the gifted hands of John Graziano, who has been no stranger to the comics convention circuit. If you’re at all familiar with “mathematics,” you’ve probably figured out that “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” is in its 100th anniversary year.

Chuck Jones

You might ask “what does this have to do with Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner?” To which I would respond: this.

Last week, Graziano and the good folks at Ripley’s Entertainment ran the bit in the upper-left corner (your browser might vary) shooting down the myth that the Road Runner, or at least the average road runner, is faster than Wile E. Coyote, or at least the average coyote. OK, fine. That’s Ripley’s job. They were the original Mythbusters.

Robert Ripley

I was disappointed to have still another childhood illusion shot down in flames; by now, you’d think I’d be used to that. Nonetheless, Graziano made me think about. If coyotes have a 23 MPH advantage over road runners, why does Wile E. go hungry at the end of almost each cartoon?

Because he thinks he’s smarter than the average coyote and, therefore, he can do a spectacular job of trapping dinner… as long as he maintains his payments on his Acme credit card. He doesn’t need to actually run for his supper; he can spend far more energy and time making an overwhelmingly elaborate device that will capture the purple bird for him. He does this just before he inevitably falls into his chasm of doom.

We know this because we are familiar with the Bugs Bunny corpus. Wile E. Coyote also appeared in several Bugs Bunny cartoons, each similar to the Road Runner stuff in concept with one significant addition: here, Wile E. was permitted to speak! And as he often told Bugs – it was even on his business card – he was a super-genius. This was according to Wile E. Coyote. Like the Road Runner, Bugs Bunny had a different view.

So why does Wile E. Coyote get defeated by the Road Runner?

Hubris, my friend. Hubris.

I’ve got one more fun fact about Ripley Entertainment. Their Asia office is in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, formerly known as Saigon. When it comes to western businesses with their Asian headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City, they are hardly alone. Nielsen Research, Intel, KPMG, Bosch, HSBC, Deloitte, Unilever, and many other companies are located in what was once, and may soon be again, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Yup. Believe it or not…