Tarzan and the jungle bunnies

Summer 1988

A close reading and deconstruction of the racist insult ‘jungle bunny’, with reference to groups of boys who use it. The term is deconstructed: ‘jungle’ signifies not merely exotic, primitive, foreign environments but their modern urban analogue; ‘bunny’ carries a number of contradictory meanings - among them, ‘whore’ (by association with Playboy), ‘idiot’ and ‘mouthy’. The racist trap is that such contradictions render the insult self-fulfilling, so that however its victim responds they will play into one of these associations. The ‘bunny’ also ties into sexist rhetoric. The boys interviewed still idolise the character of Tarzan, who combines ‘noble savage[ry]’ with an aristocratic heritage in what is also a highly sexist text. In this light, Cohen considers some of the possible, problematic interchanges between (anti)sexism and (anti)racism.

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