Monday, June 1, 2015

Mall Rodent: Bunny Man

The most interesting thing about Sean Seamus McWhinny's Bunny Man: My Life In The Easter Charade was not that his job dressing up as the Easter Bunny at a mall was terrible, but how he endured it with a remarkable sense of calm. In a comic that subtly reminds the reader of Easter Egg colors with a different pastel wash for each chapter, McWhinny doesn't bore the reader with complaints or a woe-is-me attitude as he's forced to sweat like crazy, never speak, deal with out-of-control children with little or no supervision and fulfill his given task of "creating memories". Instead, he simply gives the reader a remarkably dispassionate account of making the best out of a horrible situation because he desperately needed the money. He's very much the straight man in his own story, surrounded by weirdos, creeps and parents surprisingly willing to put tiny babies in his oversized paws; the Easter Bunny himself is the least cartoony character in this narrative.

Playing it as straight and dry as possible was certainly the way to go, because the odd people he encountered really spoke for themselves in terms of their eccentricity. From the beginning, where he dealt with a remarkably high level of secrecy and security for the job of dressing up in a bunny suit, to his job in a dying mall to his creepy "handler", the grandson of a Navajo "medicine woman" who claimed to be able to hear the thoughts of animals, McWhinny simply adapted to the idea of there being a new normal in this job. He later revealed that more supposedly bad ass people than him either freaked out on the first day or that seemingly nice people went to jail; by virtue of his steadiness and a real concentration on deep breathing and other yoga tactics, he managed to survive while keeping his sanity.

McWhinny's line is effective. The thing that he rendered in the most naturalistic manner was the bunny suit itself, and his ability to get across to the reader precisely what it was like to look at the suit from the outside as well as what it looked like from his perspective in the suit was absolutely crucial to making the book work. Without a real sense of the mechanics of what the experience was like, McWhinny's narrative wouldn't have been nearly as visceral. Every other character is drawn in a far more cartoony style, allowing McWhinny a little license in playing up their behaviors, like the family of twin girls with a monstrous mother. That said, McWhinny is careful not to condemn most of the people who came to see him, especially the children. For every out of control "Megan" who threatened to pull off his head and step on his feet, there was a sweet and shy Nicole who gave him a personalized note thanking him. McWhinny is careful to avoid repetitive anecdotes and paces the book languidly but with enough momentum in each chapter's vignette to keep the reader turning the page. The book acts, without harping on it too much, as a critique of consumer culture and the ways in which it's indistinguishable from simple snake oil salesmanship. It's a personal account that doesn't navel-gaze, keeping the reader's focus solely on the actual experience of being in the bunny suit. It's funny, cringe-inducing and sobering all at once.

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