The Seven Cardinal Vices Of J. Wellington Wimpy

We all want to get away with it. Admit it. Its ok, you are amongst friends. Impulse is one of the great things about being alive–it drives us to make good, and sometimes (many would argue always) bad decisions. Perhaps that is why we are drawn to fictional characters of what one can sometimes feel best as categorizing as a purveyor of ill repute, those that seem to always get away free of the shackles of societal, or even dogmatic, morals and laws that keep us in line as good, upstanding citizenry, at least in public view.

Our need to see our impulses carried out drive us to seek out those that help us to fantasize our behaviors–and there is no better escape than our fictions, or even, as exhibited in the last ten to fifteen years, the rise of “reality” television. It would seem that repression actually helps to drive art. The repression can be either based on a want to find one’s place in society– the ability to help or save people in need; standing up truly for one’s beliefs and finding acceptance, appreciation, and loyalty from others; Or perhaps the repression can be more an exercise in selfishness, e.g., to completely not inhibit who one is as an individual regardless of the social situation. (although both reasons lean towards egocentrism). The latter category seems to me of the more realistic dreams of the everyday, even if arguably the former may only require often us to take action of some kind. The latter fits more the animalistic, a way in which we can construct someone as disagreeable, or somewhat of a heel, or cur, based on an ideology of some kind extolling “good” versus” bad” virtues.

Now before you think this will be a series of pieces focusing in on only the serious, let me remind you that the role of the heel, the cur, the blackguard, can be found in unlikely places also, serving a narrative as a comic foil or relief. Yes, we want to get away with the forbidden, but we also like to laugh at those who do or get caught. Roger Langridge has resurrected a great comic foil in his new ongoing Popeye monthly that helps, I believe, showcase not only the vices we love as human beings, but does so in the best way–using humor as a mirror. Langridge has a perfect vehicle for showcasing the comedic aspects of our traditional base desires in the character of J. Wellington Wimpy. I want to break down what I believe is how Wimpy is arguable the best example of some of western societies great desires–namely the seven deadly sins, in the initial seven issues of the series. For each sin, or vice, I will situate it with an example of Wimpy’s behavior in each issue, although he actually normally incorporates many (or all) of the vices in a single issue. Proceed if you dare…

Lust, or the vice of an intense desire for something

If you are a person in their mid to late thirties and early forties, you are probably most familiar (as am I) with the character of Wimpy as he was presented in the movie musical version of Popeye directed by Robert Altman. In that film, his musical tagline , when he first meets Popeye, is “I will gladly pay you tuesday for a hamburger today”. He is painted the rest of the movie as a harmless con man, but as with most con men, there is always a hint of danger that they could sell you out for whatever capriciousness move them to action.
In issue one, once securing refuge on board a boat that popeye is helming in order to get to Jeep island, Wimpy is given the task by popeye of being a lookout perched in the crowsnest. He of course cannot overcome his hunger, which seems to be a motivation all upon itself, and is unable to really help in alerting the crew to not only Bluto and his pirates, but a shark as well. His lust here causes the danger to others, as even as the battle rages, he continues to feed himself, first on the carcass of the shark (in a very funny hobo manner), and then upon the provisions of the rest of the ship. Popeye at this point, having dispatched with the multiplicity of problems, puts wimpy in a lifeboat and sends him out to sea, promising to pick him up later.

It is Wimpy’s lust here, his desire to feed himself both physically and egocentrically that is fascinating in these scenes. Wimpy never displays remorse, nor awareness that he has caused any danger, or adversity to those around him, about letting down those that feel strongly enough to be his friends. But Wimpy is not ignorant, as ignorance could be a scapegoat for his lustful feelings. Wimpy is very capable and perhaps the smartest of all the characters. This is best exemplified in a scene late in the issue. After night has fallen, Wimpy is still drifting in the ocean. He spies, in the dark, another vessel he can paddle over too. His need for self preservation sends him paddling that way, and as he paddles, Langridge provides him with the following poetic lines (which, if you are not familiar with Roger Langridge, poetry and rhyming verse is a recurring, wonderful motif).

“For when all hope was lost at sea, and I feared it was the end of me, a sign of life I did espy! I took no time to ponder why…/ for what is hope, but clutching straws from mother nature’s very maws? and holding them to bosoms dear in vain attempts to quell ones fear?/ Indeed it may well even be that vessel has not heard of me and I’ll enjoy an brand new start being met with open minds and hearts!”

Wimpy believes that even though he is rejected by those that know him, that will call him on his vices, he always is looking for those that “ have not heard of me” in order to “enjoy a brand new start”. This new start will not be new for Wimpy, rather, as with such a drive, it is for self preservation in maintaining a lifestyle–a lifestyle built upon his own lusts.

Next time, we will look at issues 2-3 and tackle some more of the devilish that makes Wimpy who he is! Till then gentle reader….

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