(Artwork by Matt Plotecher and Chip Lundsmark)
Sociology of Popular Culture
Dr. Celestino Fernández
April 29, 1999
"Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" is a cartoon series, aimed at children and produced by Disney, which premiered in syndication in 1989, and ran from 1990 until 1993 as part of the Disney Afternoon block of programming, with 65 episodes (a standard number for syndicated cartoons). It can now be seen on the Disney Channel. The program was fairly popular in its day, and now holds a modest following of Internet fans. This paper seeks to discuss the program itself and also its fan community, analyzing its members' attitude towards the show, and towards each other. Much more detailed analysis, along with statistics and explanations of data sets, are available on the World Wide Web at the URL http://juliestudio.simplenet.com/rangers/.
"Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" as television
The premise of the program "Rescue Rangers" is that a group of small rodents (as illustrated on the cover page--from left to right, Monterey Jack, Dale, Chip, Gadget, Zipper) fights crime, taking on cases too small for the police to worry about. These cases generally develop into larger, wacky schemes by a supervillain, such as a plot to shrink automobiles and smuggle them into America by passing them off as cereal box premiums. Chip and Dale are characters modified from the Disney cartoon shorts; Chip is the fedora-wearing, adventurous, take-charge member (often referred to in fan works as the leader of the group, although the series does not generally address him as such, and Disney press releases claim Chip and Dale are both the leaders). Dale wears a loud Hawaiian shirt and is generally the 'goof-off' of the group, although he often comes up with useful and creative ideas and is a valuable member of the team. Three new characters were also created for the series--Monterey Jack is a large, adventuresome mouse with a weakness for cheese and a fear of cats (and nothing else). Zipper, the fly, is sometimes seen as his sidekick or pet. Although the series makes it clear that he is just as smart as the other Rangers, Zipper can only communicate through pantomime and squeaks, so his personality is rather difficult to pin down. The fly is exceptionally strong for his size, and very loyal. Gadget is the most popular character of the program, a brilliant and beautiful female inventor mouse. In fact, she was one of the first female cartoon characters in recent memory to serve as something besides an object to be rescued; she is a full member of the Rescue Rangers. Her popularity seems to stem from her compassion, her absent-mindedness, and her intelligence, as well as from her beauty.
"Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" as popular culture
Even before the series came out, its main characters, Chip and Dale, were probably a part of popular culture, being well-known to the average American, at least, from their days in the Disney shorts. From 1989 through 1993, when the series "Rescue Rangers" was on the airwaves, the program and its characters were indisputably a part of popular culture. Merchandise such as comic books, ice cream bars, party invitations, dolls, cereal box giveaways, and even a set of dishes and children's underwear were produced (Courtnier). The series received fairly high ratings, and was well-known to most children in grade school while it was on broadcast television. But even today, the show remains a part of public consciousness, to some degree. Chip and Dale are still popular, and Gadget is well-remembered by many, and even has her own roller coaster in both Disneyland in California and Tokyo Disneyland in Japan. Rescue Rangers videos and other merchandise are occasionally seen in retail stores, although Disney doesn't seem to be producing any new merchandise. "Rescue Rangers" may not be a part of popular culture at this point, and the Internet fan community is certainly a subculture, but the show is still fairly well remembered.
"Come Along, You Belong, Feel the Fizz"
"Finally, I found the Acorn Cafe [online Rescue Rangers message board]. I lurked on it for about a year, too afraid to say anything at first. Then I finally got my guts up and introduced myself. It was wonderful to be accepted! I found that most of the Rangerphiles had similar viewpoints and reasons for watching the Rangers. I knew I'd finally found a place where I belonged..." (Indy, open-ended online survey)
In "The Case of the Cola Cult," a well-loved episode of "Rescue Rangers," a group of mice forms a close community based on their universal love for the beverage 'Cuckoo Cola.' Their slogan is, "Come along, you belong, feel the fizz of Cuckoo Cola," which also happens to be a line in the soda's commercial. This group's members forsake all their worldly belongings in order to join the group; they dance to the commercial and take showers in soda. By the end of the episode, the whole cult is exposed as a fraud, but Gadget comforts the disillusioned group by saying, "Golly, you don't need the Cola Cult as an excuse to get together! As long as you know where you belong, that's what's important."
Almost ten years after that episode of "Rescue Rangers" first aired, there is a small but thriving online community devoted to the program, with at least 50 separate websites focused on the program, an active message board, and hundreds of works of fan fiction and fan art. The Rescue Rangers Internet community (often called "Rangerphiles") is generally a tight-knit group, a place where many members have forged close friendships, and a place where most Ranger fans feel they 'belong.' I theorize that this small community (probably numbering under 120 members, although most of those are not active (Hunt)) is brought together not only by its love of the characters (especially Gadget), but also from common viewpoints of group members and its relatively small size.
Rangerphiles generally share common attitudes towards the Rescue Rangers. About sixty percent of them are in favor of Chip and Gadget becoming a couple (Bihn). This particular issue caused at least two major wars in the community, but members on both sides of the argument are now fairly reconciled to the opinions of the other members of the community. In fact, agreement occurs a lot in this group--opinions seen as 'radical' (such as Dale and Gadget becoming a couple) are generally discarded, or, when possible, altered so that they fit more closely with mainstream beliefs. This issue of the modification of radical opinions is not addressed in Textual Poachers, possibly because all the fan communities Jenkins examines are relatively large. The Rescue Rangers fan community does not have enough members to support a split into smaller factions, so it is forced to accept divergent opinions, to some extent, although group forces obviously come to affect these opinions.
However, the unity of this group is not forged simply from a grudging acceptance of other people's thoughts. Many Rangerphiles call members of this community their friends, although these people have never met face to face. A casual meaning of 'friendship' can be seen throughout the Internet, but in the case of the Internet Rescue Rangers community, there is a genuine camaraderie. For example, when one member of the community was in the hospital with lung cancer, about twenty Rangerphiles scanned their signatures into the computer and had a card compiled on the computer and printed up and sent to him, to wish him a speedy recovery. These people are genuinely friends with each other. Obviously, this friendship stems from a common love of the show "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers," but the solidarity and friendship go deeper than that. The majority of Rangerphiles seem to be fairly conservative, and the majority (according to survey data) are also Christians, leading to a solidarity among that section of the group. Shared moral values and even quirky senses of humor or other outside interests, such as Star Trek, can contribute to group friendships, regardless of religious and political beliefs.
It should be noted that not every potential member of the online Rangerphile community feels welcomed to the group. Some are put off by the fans' extreme affection for what they view as simply a cartoon, while others may think the group is too conservative in its treatment of the characters. However, enough members have discovered the group and actively participated, often noting how much they love the group, that analyzing this feeling of 'belonging' is still valid.
Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers Fan Fiction
Fan fiction, coupled with fan art, are the main ways for Rangerphiles on the Internet to show their love for the Rangers, and also allow authors to form various interpretations of the characters. Jenkins claims that fan writing falls into ten categories: Recontextualization, Expanding the Series Timeline, Refocalization, Moral Realignment, Genre Shifting, Cross Overs, Character Dislocation, Personalization, Emotional Intensification, and Eroticization (1992: 162-176). There are Rescue Rangers fan fictions to represent all those categories, to some extent, but some forms of fan fiction are more common (and prolific) than others.
When the series timeline is expanded, for instance, the Rescue Rangers are given a past or a future. Most Rescue Rangers fan fiction falls into this category; few fan fictions take place within the actual span of the show. Though I have not counted, it seems like the most common (or, at least, most visible) form of expanding the series timeline is when the Rangers have adventures after the series' end. This is probably because the show's episodes generally do not have to be shown in any particular order, and authors like to build on what has happened during the series. In fact, writing a story that takes place during the show and writing one that takes place shortly after are generally considered to be the same thing--both could be seen as an extra episode. And, since there is no accepted timeline for the series, a fan fiction that supposedly takes place after, say, "Does Pavlov Ring a Bell," may sound amiss to some readers if it mentions Foxglove (a very popular character who only appeared in one episode), since it is unclear if the Rangers had met her before that episode or not. There are some fan fictions that are basically extensions of the program, but most fan works add emotion and drama that was not possible in a cartoon series filled with self-contained episodes. Some authors maintain their own specific timeline in their fan works, timelines which may or may not be compatible with those of other authors. Many authors also see a marriage of Chip and Gadget, and Dale and Foxglove (a female bat who appeared in only one episode and was infatuated with Dale) as a logical point in their new timeline, and write their works accordingly. They are able to effect character development that could never be done in the program, not just because the episodes were self-contained, but also because it is doubtful that the young children the program was initially aimed for would be interested in watching characters fall in love. Expanding the series timeline can also happen by writing about the Rangers before they met. Such fan works almost always focus on some aspect of Gadget's past, although some authors write about the other Rangers' experiences.
Refocalization--making a minor character the center of a fan work--is nearly as widespread as expanding the series timeline. Lots of works star Gadget as the main character--she was certainly not a minor character on the program, but the "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" was geared to focus mostly on Chip and Dale, as shown by the program's very title. An even more striking use of refocalization is making Foxglove a major character of a work. Some authors have given her a personality of her own, simply based on her one appearance that lasted less than twenty minutes. In fact, in the fan community, this personality has been widely accepted, and she is often seen as a full member of the Rangers, or at least a full-fledged character. Stories, and even poetry, focusing on either Gadget or Foxglove are not necessarily written by females (in fact, most fan fiction in the Internet Rangerphile community is written by males) but these stories are often more emotional and romantic than standard Rescue Rangers fan fiction. This may be due to their focus on females. However, Gadget is only rarely a romantic character in the series, but in many fan fictions, she is either very sad about her 'tragic past' (the show did say she 'lost her father,' but nothing more) or, alternately, more interested in other things (such as acting on stage) than her inventing. These fan works are not necessarily out of character--sometimes these aspects are merely a logical development of Gadget's character--but they show that the emotions put forth in these refocalized stories are just as likely to be originating in the author's personal opinions and biases as they are to stem from the characters themselves.
Genre shifting also happens in many fan fictions. To some extent, cross overs--fan fictions where the Rescue Rangers either are cast as other characters (such as the Power Rangers) or are put alongside characters from another show--are a form of genre shifting. There are also some stories which purposely and drastically change genres, such as writing a romance novel from Gadget's point of view. However, most genre shifting in Rescue Rangers fan fiction is much less blatant.
For instance, the original series has extremely light romantic content--Chip and Dale are just as likely to be fighting over Gadget, or not going after her at all, as they are to be doing any kind of flirting. Yet, in almost all of the stories where Chip and Gadget or Dale and Foxglove grow closer, this romantic content escalates noticeably. The romance is usually no longer a game, but instead, a serious confession of Chip's long-held love and longing. This is partially due to 'genre interpretations'--fans who write in this style probably see romance as an important part of the genre of the show, while fans who dislike the idea of the Rangers pairing up see these confessions as a sudden genre shift, from action and adventure to romance (Jenkins 1992: 123).
Going along these same lines of genre expectations, most fan works downplay some other aspects of the show. Few Rescue Rangers fan fictions have a really good mystery, and even fewer have wacky and humorous mysteries, yet almost every episode of the series is a puzzle that must be solved. Jenkins might argue that this is because the fans are refocusing on aspects of the show they enjoy, but I believe this is more due to the inherent difficulty of writing a compelling yet lighthearted mystery as seen on the show, as well as the authors simply forgetting about the mystery part of the program. When I started to write fan fiction, I completely focused on the action-adventure genre, simply not remembering that the show also focused on slowly unraveling mysteries until I had written several stories.
Actually, there is a definite problem with writing in the original style of the series in the Internet Rescue Rangers fan community. Most authors take definite liberties with the characters. This probably doesn't stem from a lack of talent on the part of the authors, but instead, may come from the fact that many Rangerphiles have not seen the episodes in several years, and a few have yet to see all the episodes at all! Also, there are currently more works of fan fiction than there were episodes of the program. Thus, the community often relies on the fan fictions of its members to get a true grasp of the characters and typical storylines, while even well-written fan fictions generally deviate somewhat from the program's original vision. This unconscious group rewriting leads to Gadget becoming less absent-minded and more potentially depressed, and her naivete becoming a mask for her true emotions. Chip suddenly becomes gentler, and Dale's 'stupidity' comes to serve to hide an underlying wit. Though all of these can be legitimate evolutions of the characters through time, writers often unconsciously pick up attitudes from other authors, without even thinking about where these changes come from. This leads to a fan-constructed reality, originally building on the original program, but now starting to take on a life of its own.
Jenkins argues that when authors and fans focus on the more romantic and emotional elements of a program, it is a 'feminine' reading of the program (1992: 80). This makes sense in the context of Textual Poachers; his focus is on offline fan communities whose members are mostly women. However, the online Rescue Rangers fan community is mostly male, more so than even the general Internet community. And most fan fictions in this community--including emotional fan fictions and poems--are written by males, not females, despite the 1986 estimate that 90 percent of fan fiction writers are female (Bacon-Smith, 1986). So, if this community is about seventy percent male (Hunt, Bihn), why do these 'feminine' readings persist? It is true that many of the works by males in this community are more action-oriented than works by females, but only works by males focus on the potential 'family' aspect which comes into play after characters get married, and most poems in the community are written by males. Also, even the action-filled stories generally feature genuine emotional content, although at times it may seem tacked on. And males seem to enjoy the more emotional stories, no matter who they are written by. It could be argued that these male fans prefer a feminine reading to a masculine one, but, in light of the finding that male Rangerphiles write about emotions--sometimes forsaking most action in the process--it seems more logical to refer to this form of reading as an emotional reading instead of a feminine reading.
Since the Rescue Rangers community is mostly male, the idea of personalization in the form of "Mary Sue" stories--stories where an author writes herself into the story as a bright, young, new character--is not really an issue. Generally, Rangerphiles are not opposed to a well-written new female character, since the show features so few. However, males occasionally write themselves in as characters who sweep Gadget off her feet in what the community calls 'self-insertion' fan fiction. This practice is just about universally frowned upon, as Jenkins claims (1992: 173). If the potential writers of these stories wish to be respected members of the fan community, they generally discard their ideas of having 'their character' win Gadget's affections, and often go on to decide that Chip is the right match for Gadget after all (probably due to social pressures). It has been suggested that some Rangerphiles decide to have Chip get together with Gadget and thereby live vicariously through him (Ace Heart, "Acorn Cafe" post, April 19, 1999). Interestingly, the only fan fictions which have won praise for pairing Gadget up with someone other than Chip are from a series where Gadget discovers she is a lesbian. These works are so well-written that even some seemingly conservative members of the Internet Rangerphile community praise them, although others dislike them. In general, if a story is written well, even if it depicts an unpopular or unique vision of the Rangers, there is a good chance it will receive praise, and it may even alter the fans' conception of the characters.
The Rescue Rangers Internet fan community is able to put aside its differences to form a united group. This is necessary when a show has few active fans; staying together as a group is important for the fandom's survival. Moral and religious similarities may serve to draw the group closer, but the main thing which the group shares is an interest in "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers." Through conversations on the Acorn Cafe, the message board frequented by many Internet Rangerphiles, the show's depictions of the characters are refined, and the characters are given character depth never allowed in the series (and probably never envisioned by the writers). In addition, fan fictions, despite their many tangents and varying, incompatible plot lines, serve to influence the group, and thus, its view of the characters, so that Rangerphiles may view the characters very differently from how non fans would. These fan fictions also generally add more emotion to the characters, and romance--even action-oriented stories written by males have genuine romantic content, and strong emotions. Thus, Jenkins's idea that fans practice a feminine reading of the shows they enjoy seems to be slightly flawed when applied to this particular community, as it seems somewhat awkward to call a reading style practiced by a male-dominated community 'feminine.' In fact, although the basic ideas of Jenkins's work holds up when applied to this online community, almost all of his comments on gender are weakened, because this small community is mostly male, yet participates in practices Jenkins considers feminine. If other Internet fan communities, those with mostly males and those with mostly females, have similar reading styles to the Rescue Rangers online fan community, perhaps it would be appropriate to change the adjective describing how television fans 'read' their favorite programs from 'feminine' to 'fannish,' meaning that fans in general, not just female fans, magnify aspects of emotion which are only hinted at in the original programs. Alternately, it could be the case that Internet Rangerphiles are a rare community that tends to see their program in a more emotional light, but, even if this is true, this community is an example of how readings which emphasize emotions are not always done by females, regardless of what adjective is used to describe this style of reading.
Bacon-Smith, Camille. 1986. "Spock among the Women." As cited in Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers. New York, New York: Routledge. p. 191
Bihn, Julie. "Come Along, You Belong, Feel the Fizz: An Analysis of the Internet Rescue Rangers Fan Community." Online web page. Viewed April 1999. http://juliestudio.simplenet.com/rangers/
Courtnier, Candy. "Everything Rescue Ranger." Online web page. Viewed April 1999. http://www.cybercomm.net/~paltiel/CDRR/EverythingRR/listing.html
Hunt, Tom. "The Rangerphile Directory." Online webpage. http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/Studio/1787/rrdir.html
Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers. New York, New York: Routledge.
Plotecher, Matt. "The RR Database." Online web page. Viewed
April 1999. http://members.tripod.com/~StrangeCEO/
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