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Pee-Wee’s Daddy

by Ethan Tussey

by Kevin L. Ferguson for IN MEDIA RES

While rich fathers play a role in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (dir. Tim Burton, 1985), Pee-Wee’s own parents are rarely mentioned in either that film or the television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse. In fact, Ian Balfour supposes that “[f]or all we know, Pee-wee may have generated spontaneously into the adolescent age he is stuck in.” To support this self-birthed appearance, Balfour, Lynne Joyrich, and Constance Penley point out a variety of Oedipal references in Pee-wee’s Playhouse: his cyclopean bicycle helmet, the Sphinx on his Playhouse, the threatening scissors hanging on the wall, and disembodied Jambi.

I know of only one brief scene in the show where Pee-wee does make explicit reference to his father, in the “Rainy Day” episode (CBS, 27 Sept. 1986).

The most salient detail of this short gag is Pee-wee’s comment on the visual action “just like daddy.” On the one hand, what he says identifies the play behind his otherwise goofy action and hints at the unseen source of his fantasy. On the other hand, this is a great example of how Pee-wee calls attention to his imitation of childhood as a performance. In literary terms, we see the distinction between metaphor and simile; both make a comparison between unlike things, but similes, which generally use “like” or “as,” also call attention to the fact that a comparison is being made.

In Pee-wee’s case, not only is he comparing his playtime activities to the dissimilar adult activities of Daddy, but he is making this comparison explicit, and thereby drawing attention to the fact that scraping whipped cream off his face with a spoon is rather unlike real shaving, a point underscored when he next licks the spoon. Here, Pee-wee intricately “ventriloquies” childhood by parodying adulthood.

Or another turn, more horrifying: that Pee-wee really is shaving just like his daddy, and we have neither metaphor nor simile but a kind of frozen ontogeny: Pee-wee miming adulthood that is itself a mime taught by his father before him.

Pee-Wee’s Daddy

by Ethan Tussey

by Kevin L. Ferguson for IN MEDIA RES

While rich fathers play a role in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (dir. Tim Burton, 1985), Pee-Wee’s own parents are rarely mentioned in either that film or the television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse. In fact, Ian Balfour supposes that “[f]or all we know, Pee-wee may have generated spontaneously into the adolescent age he is stuck in.” To support this self-birthed appearance, Balfour, Lynne Joyrich, and Constance Penley point out a variety of Oedipal references in Pee-wee’s Playhouse: his cyclopean bicycle helmet, the Sphinx on his Playhouse, the threatening scissors hanging on the wall, and disembodied Jambi.

I know of only one brief scene in the show where Pee-wee does make explicit reference to his father, in the “Rainy Day” episode (CBS, 27 Sept. 1986).

The most salient detail of this short gag is Pee-wee’s comment on the visual action “just like daddy.” On the one hand, what he says identifies the play behind his otherwise goofy action and hints at the unseen source of his fantasy. On the other hand, this is a great example of how Pee-wee calls attention to his imitation of childhood as a performance. In literary terms, we see the distinction between metaphor and simile; both make a comparison between unlike things, but similes, which generally use “like” or “as,” also call attention to the fact that a comparison is being made.

In Pee-wee’s case, not only is he comparing his playtime activities to the dissimilar adult activities of Daddy, but he is making this comparison explicit, and thereby drawing attention to the fact that scraping whipped cream off his face with a spoon is rather unlike real shaving, a point underscored when he next licks the spoon. Here, Pee-wee intricately “ventriloquies” childhood by parodying adulthood.

Or another turn, more horrifying: that Pee-wee really is shaving just like his daddy, and we have neither metaphor nor simile but a kind of frozen ontogeny: Pee-wee miming adulthood that is itself a mime taught by his father before him.

Pee-Wee and Fatherhood

A clip from Pee-Wee's Playhouse

from Pee-Wee's Playhouse (1986)
Creator: Paul Reubens
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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