Friday, January 06, 2006

Goofus and Gallant: A Film Stock Extra

Remember Goofus and Gallant? I just thought of these guys the other day for no apparent reason.

For those of you too young to remember the original Goofus and Gallant, I hate you for being younger than me. Goofus and Gallant were two characters in a cartoon meant to teach etiquette in Highlights Magazine for Children.

Highlights Magazine was harmless enough, I suppose, but in my mind, it just has this network of really creepy, foreboding associations because the only place I ever read it was in the waiting room at the dentist or doctor's office.

Full of dread, I flipped through that strangely old-fashioned kid's magazine, always dripping with subscription cards. I tried to distract myself by looking at page after page of puzzles already filled in sloppily with crayon, obscene appendages scribbled onto the little cartoon rabbits in the story illustrations, inky newsprint fingerprints on the cover from all the kids who had waited where I waited, flipping through the same exact magazine.

Anyway, in the strip, Goofus did things badly and impolitely. He pushed in line, talked loudly at the movies. Gallant was Mr. Perfect, offering his seat to old ladies on the bus, helping blind people cross the street. The idea was that kids would want to imitate Gallant, and shun the Goofus that lurks inside of each and every one of us.

The captions always ran like this: "Goofus pushes in line. Gallant waits his turn." underneath an illustration of said behavior. If I'm not mistaken, sometimes it was two pictures, sometimes it was the same picture: ie Goofus and Gallant waiting in the same line, Goofus pushing, Gallant and his oh-so-perfect friends looking on in shock and moral approbation.

Goofus and Gallant have remained cultural touchstones, but, sadly, I don't think many people are exposed to the original anymore. A Google search for images turned up lots of little G&G parodies and satires, but very few original images. There's no Goofus and Gallant homepage.

Like with a lot of things you saw when you were a kid, there seemed to be an unspoken back-story to the little strips. I mean, why were they always doing the same things? Gallant takes a drink of water, and there's Goofus, doing the same but in his own inimitable style. Gallant takes a swim at the beach and who shows up? Yep, You guessed it. Goofus, making a mess of things as usual. You'd think that with their totally opposite moral leanings they'd be more inclined to avoid each other. What was going on? What was the strange link between them? Total opposites in every way, and yet kindred brothers beneath the skin? How was it possible?

And if I'm not mistaken there were minor characters who made cameo appearances from time to time... Girls, grandparents, friends, etc. as in... Gallant offers his jacket to Mary Jane. Goofus says "The world's a cold place, bitch. Deal." How could these people make room for both of them, such polar opposites, in their lives?

And who were all these people anyway? I mean, the world they inhabited--tree-lined sidewalks and kittens in trees and smiling policemen and boys carrying girls' books home--seemed old-fashioned and removed even back then.

And what do you suppose happened to them when they grew up? According to my calculations, they'd be in their early forties now. I'm not so sure the straight and narrow path turned out to be the right thing for Gallant.

First of all, I bet Goofus ended up getting way more chicks than Gallant. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect most girls say they want a Gallant, but secretly desire a Goofus.

Highlights really should have followed the two into adulthood for a more complex, in-depth moral instruction for American youth:

Gallant gets fired for blowing the whistle on the shady business practices of his corporate bosses.

Goofus gets named vice-president of a Fortune 500 company.

Gallant stays faithful to his wife even after she tells him she doesn't love him anymore.

Goofus gets a divorce, pays palimony and dates a supermodel.

In the extensive research I did for this little essay, I took a look at the Highlights web-site. Goofus and Gallant have made a comeback in the magazine. Eerily, they're still young, but they've got a whole new hipper, cable-cartoon-friendly look. The old cartoon captions are gone and now it's a sort of "choose your own adventure" style story where you have to decide whether to follow Goofus or Gallant's advice.

Here's a hint for you, kids of today, learned from my years of reading Highlights when I was your age. Just do what Gallant says. It's a sure way to win the game.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're hilarious...It's funny how you associate stuff from your childhood like that! It sucks when people don't remember stuff cause they're younger than you. Weird how that sorta starts happening all a sudden.

9:50 AM  
Blogger FilmStocker said...

It's so true! A friend of mine who's a TA at a local college got the shock of her life when she tried to make some reference to Kurt Cobain, thinking the "kids of today" would get it. She had students who were so young when all that happened they were only vaguely familiar with who he was!

And here I was still thinking of Nirvana as "youth culture." Pass the geritol.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your kind words.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are either going to think that I am super creepy or you are going to be totally jealous. I had a subscription to Highlights Magazine as a kid. The puzzles and mazes were all mine and germ free. I also had a subscription to Cricket magazine. No YM for me at age 11.
Thanks for coming over for dinner on Sunday and bringing such yummy black eyed peas. We still need to make Inari. I keep ordering it out and it is getting expensive ;p

4:36 PM  
Blogger FilmStocker said...

A subscription to Highlights?! Man, your parents spoiled you rotten!


Your New Year's day party was fabulous... I'm not letting Jeff wear the scarf because I'm totally hogging it.

Let's get together soon!

7:33 PM  
Blogger Daphne Ruth Jenkins said...

Hey Andrew,

Your post on Goofus and Gallant totally brought me back. I remember ripping the latest issue out of the hands of the other sick children when I'd visit the doctor. That Goofus was totally HOT and yummy!

Love your blog and can't wait to see what childhood memories you dredge up next. By the way, even though I remember Goofus and Gallant, you're still older than me, bitch!


10:08 AM  
Blogger FilmStocker said...

Hmmm. Snatching magazines from sick children? Is there no depth to which Daph will not stoop?

Maybe Highlights should have had a third character who demonstrated really REALLY bad behavior:

Gallant waits politely in line.

Goofus pushes the people in front of him.

Daphne says, "Screw lines. I'm on the guest list... And someone better bring me *%$@!&* Cosmopolitan. Yesterday."

6:06 PM  

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