Duck is rather listlessly watching television. Every now and then he sighs deeply and attempts to give Rabbit a sidelong glance – in vain, since they share one eye. Rabbit’s nose is buried in a thick book (volume 1 of Peter Sloterdijk’s Sphären trilogy, which she is, of course, reading in the original German), her posture clearly meant to indicate her determination to remain immersed in her reading.
DUCK: (Inhales deeply and then lets air slowly out through his bill, making a slightly raspy whistling sound.)
RABBIT: (Buries nose more deeply in book.)
DUCK: (Makes clicking sound by rapidly moving his tongue against his bill.)
RABBIT: (Continues to stare determinedly at page, which she has been reading for several minutes. Her nose twitches rapidly.)
DUCK: (Makes another raspy whistling sound.)
RABBIT: (Finally looking up from her book. Her voice trembles slightly in her effort to prevent herself from raising it.) Could you. Please. Be quiet.
DUCK: (affecting surprise) What? Oh, sorry.
(There is a minute of silence, which is finally punctuated by more bill-clicking from Duck.)
RABBIT: (Puts down the book. Voice rising in volume.) Duck. I am trying to concentrate. But I can’t concentrate when you make those noises. You do understand that when you make a noise it rings in my ears?
DUCK: (Sullenly) Right. Sorry. (Pause.)
(There is another minute’s silence.)
DUCK: The thing is ….
RABBIT: (Slams the book shut dramatically) Jesus Christ.
DUCK: … I just wanted to ask you something. But if it’s not a good time….
RABBIT: (In a tone of weary resignation) No, you go right ahead. Fire away.
DUCK: (Excited to have Rabbit’s attention) OK. So, you know how I like watching cartoons?
DUCK: And you know how I’ve been in a Tex Avery phase recently?
RABBIT: (Listlessly) No, but, sure, whatever.
DUCK: (Unconcerned by Rabbit’s utter lack of interest in what he is saying) Well, I’ve been thinking. Do you think he was inspired by us?
RABBIT: (Uncomprehendingly) Us?
DUCK: (Impatiently) Yes, by us, by “the Duck-Rabbit.”
RABBIT: Look, Duck, you know I’m not interested in popular culture. And I really have no idea what you’re talking about, and frankly –
DUCK: (Interrupting in his eagerness for Rabbit to grasp his point) I mean Daffy and Bugs! It’s you and me, right? Think about it: the playful, wacky duck and the smooth-talking, cool rabbit …
RABBIT: (Interested for the first time): Do you really think I’m cool, Duck?
DUCK: I meant cool as in “not warm.”
RABBIT: So what?
DUCK: So what do you think? Do you think I’m right? Do you think that Avery might have seen the duck-rabbit and thought, I know what would be funny, I’ll create a kind of love/hate, can’t-live-with-‘em/can’t-live-without-‘em, oil-and-water dramatic relationship just by riffing on this one image?
(Pause. Rabbit ponders.)
RABBIT: That is one of the most absurd hypotheses I’ve ever heard.
DUCK: What, you mean because he probably wouldn’t have been aware of our existence?
RABBIT: No, I mean what kind of person would come across a bi-stable figure in a textbook and think, “Oooh, those should be a couple of crazy characters. That seems like a good idea.” I’ll tell you what kind of person would do that: someone with extremely poor judgment.
DUCK: [Feathers ruffled] Are you dissing Tex Avery?
RABBIT. [Carefully] No, I’m saying that as a person with good judgment, he probably didn’t get his inspiration from psychology journals and philosophical treatises.
DUCK: I think you’re in denial, Rabbit.
RABBIT: Really? What is it you suppose I’m in denial about?
DUCK: You say you’re not interested in popular culture, but we are popular culture. You’re so insistent on policing the divisions between high-brow and low-brow, but that’s not the way these things work. You do know that we were first published in a German humour magazine?
RABBIT: [Snarkily] “A German humour magazine.” There’s no such thing.
DUCK: [Severely] First of all, that’s racist –
RABBIT [Interrupting] It is not racist…
DUCK: – and second of all, you’re changing the subject.
RABBIT [Sarcastically] So you’re saying Tex Avery had a subscription to this alleged German humour magazine.
DUCK: No, that’s not what I’m saying. A version of the image was also published in the American magazine, Harper’s; perhaps you’ve heard of it? And it was published in all sorts of popular psychology books in the 1930s. It was in the zeitgeist (that’s a German phrase, by the way) well before Wittgenstein –
RABBIT: Shhhh now, show a little respect. You mean “He” ….
DUCK: Whatever. Well before He gave his lectures.
RABBIT: (Suspiciously) Where are you getting all this information anyway? You’ve never shown any interest in this subject before now. What are your sources?
DUCK: (Surly, mumbling) Internet.
(Silence for a few moments.)
DUCK: One thing I thought was really interesting … if you want to hear any more, that is …
RABBIT: Go on, then.
DUCK: (Cheering up) Well, there was this BBC television show in the 1950s called Right Hand, Left Hand where they showed the viewers an image of us and then told people to write in saying what they saw. Thousands wrote in. A 2010 study analyzed the data properly for the first time and the results are fascinating.
(Rabbit looks skeptical but intrigued despite himself. Duck continues.)
For example, aside from the thousands who wrote that they saw a duck or a rabbit, there were lots of other suggestions including ‘‘umbrella handle,” ‘‘rabbit drawn by left-handed person,” ‘‘pipe and tobacco pouch arranged to look like a bird’s head’’ –
RABBIT: (Interjecting triumphantly) I told you ducks look like upside-down pipes!
DUCK: – and a ‘‘shadow of clenched left hand holding a pencil.’’*
RABBIT: Interesting, very interesting; but cut to the chase: how many saw a rabbit and how many saw a duck?
DUCK: You won’t like it, I’m afraid. 72.6% saw the image as duck-like, 37.1% saw it as rabbit-like, and the rest saw it as something else altogether.
RABBIT: (Nonplussed) Blimey.
(Deflated) Did they … did they speculate as to why such a skewed result might have occurred? Something perhaps to do with the demographics of the television audience … less cultured, perhaps, something like that?
DUCK: (Mumbling) You’re not going to like it, Rabbit.
RABBIT: (Bracing himself) Don’t hold back. I can take it.
DUCK: (Sighing) The show’s presenter had just been reading the Philosophical Investigations and he used a version of Wittgenstein’s (Sees Rabbit frowning), fine, of His image.
RABBIT: And …
DUCK: … And the study concludes that the image in the Philosophical Investigations is, and I quote, “very biased towards the duck.”
RABBIT: (sharp intake of breath) No!
DUCK: Wait, there’s more ….
RABBIT: (In disbelief) More? Isn’t that enough?
DUCK: The study noted that younger viewers were more likely to see the figure as a duck, and it suggests that this “might reflect the popularity of the cartoon figure Donald Duck, which was at its zenith in the 1940s and early 1950s.”
(A moment’s silence.)
RABBIT: (Yelling wildly, all sense of decorum vanished) BUT WHAT ABOUT BUGS??? ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT THAT RIDICULOUS SAILOR-SUITED MUFFLE-MOUTHED DUCK WAS MORE RECOGNIZABLE THAN BUGS???. THAT DAMN DUCK DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A CATCH-PHRASE. ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT THE PUBLIC PREFERRED DISNEY’S JUVENILE, SACCHARINE PRANKSTER OF A DUCK OVER AVERY’S SOPHISTICATED, META-FICTIONAL WIT OF A RABBIT? REALLY? IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME?
DUCK: Hush now, hush … you’re getting yourself all worked up. You don’t care about popular culture, remember?
RABBIT: (Wiping away angry tears) That’s just what unpopular people say. Ask Karl Philipp Moritz.
RABBIT: Never mind. I just mean that sometimes, I’ll admit, the disregard I have for popular culture comes from the fact that I know deep down that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be popular. People just don’t like me that much ….
DUCK: Awww, Rabbit, don’t say that! You are popular. Well, you’re popular with me, anyway—by which I mean both that I like you and that other people like you as long as you’re, er, conjoined with me ….
(Rabbit gives Duck withering look.)
RABBIT: (Stiffly) Well, if you’ve finished demolishing my entire sense of self-worth for today, I think I’ll get back to my book.
DUCK: (Cheerfully) Yup, all done.
(Duck resumes watching television. Rabbit, sighing, picks up her book. The two sit in silence for a few minutes.)
DUCK: (Up-talking, because he knows it annoys Rabbit): Uh, I’m actually trying to watch television here?
RABBIT: Sorry. (Pause) I just thought you might be interested to know that the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who’s the author of the acclaimed Sphären trilogy, which doubtless even you have heard of—
(At this Duck starts sniggering)
—actually has his own very popular television show in Germany.
DUCK: (Glued to his show): Uh-huh.
RABBIT: So … it does sometimes happen: philosophers can be popular: they can be part of the popular culture.
DUCK: Yeah, but that would only ever happen in Germany because they’re so starved of humour over there that they’ll watch anything.
(At this, Duck and Rabbit exchange smiles. Then Rabbit re-opens her book and Duck resumes watching television.)
And Dat’s De End!
* All of Duck’s references are taken from I. C. McManus, Matthew Freegard, James Moore, and Richard Rawles, “Science in the Making: Right Hand, Left Hand. II. The duck-rabbit figure.” LATERALITY, 2010, 15 (1/2), 166-185.