The “New” Sounds of the Slap-of-the-Stick: Termite Terrace (1937-1943) and the Slapstick Tradition

Andres Lombana

Andres Lombana

This thesis argues that slapstick is a mode of comedy that has become a tradition because its basic principles of physical violence and disruption, and its conventions of grotesque movement and of mockery and abuse of the body, have been developed across media, cultures, and eras. Accordingly, this thesis examines the comic routines or lazzi –independent and modular micronarratives—where the slapstick principles and conventions have been formalized, and explores their different reinterpretations: from Commedia dell’Arte to American Vaudeville to American live-action comedy to American animation. Since sound plays a major role inside the lazzi, the analysis focuses on the sound practices and technologies that have been used across media to produce comic effects. In addition, this thesis claims that the theatrical animated cartoons -Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies- made at Termite Terrace between 1937 and 1943 embody the slapstick tradition, reinvigorate it, and transform it. The thesis explains the production processes (technologies and practices) that led up to the creation of an energetic audiovisual rhythm and the sophisticated orchestration of all the sound elements (music, voices, sound-effects) in complex soundtracks. Finally, an audiovisual analysis of seven animated shorts reveals a sonic vocabulary for depicting the cartoon body and shows the schizophonic mimesis that takes place when using it. All in all, the study of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies of this time period reveals the interplay between convention and innovation that characterizes the slapstick style of Termite Terrace, a style that years later became the trademark of Warner Bros. animation.


Andres Lombana Bermudez

About Andres Lombana-Bermudez

Andres Lombana-Bermudez is a researcher and designer working at the intersection of digital technology, youth, innovation, and learning. His approach is transdisciplinary and collaborative, combining ethnographic and quantitative research methods, design-based research, and media technology design. He is a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a Research Associate with the Connected Learning Research Network. Andres has worked in the field of digital media and learning for over a decade and collaborated in projects such as the Digital Edge, Berkman's Youth and Media Lab, the New Media Literacies Project, and KLRU-Austin PBS summer STEM. His dissertation research focused on digital inequalities, immigrant assimilation, and participation gaps among Latino/Hispanic youth. Andres has a doctorate in Media Studies from UT-Austin with concentration in digital literacy and education, a masters in Comparative Media Studies from MIT, and bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Literature from Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. Thesis: The “New” Sounds of the Slap-of-the-Stick: Termite Terrace (1937-1943) and the Slapstick Tradition


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