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Sexual awakening and culture wars: How Lola Bunny broke the internet one wet dream at a time

Up until the winter of 1996, humanity had been plagued with sexual boredom on the then-newly-introduced concept of internet 1.0. Being absolute noobs on the cyberspace, our species frequently looked up to graphical content doused in webcore graphics—until an anthropomorphic female basketball player quite literally waltzed into our lives decked in the most impractical sports gear we’d ever laid our eyes on.

Enter Lola Bunny, the wide-hipped, long-lashed, powder puff-tailed cartoon character from the sports fantasy film Space Jam wearing the croppiest crop top and bootiest booty shorts during basketball tryouts at the Looney Tunes’ Schlesinger Gym. Hosted by professional ‘3D’ player Michael Jordan, Lola’s jazzy entry leaves Bugs Bunny starstruck as his eye bulge and jaws drop. Heck, it even makes baby bird Tweety extinguish an imaginary fire and go: “Ooh, she’s hot.”

While Lola proceeds to showcase her proficiency on court, her skills are often overshadowed by her provocative appearance as she’s then depicted fixing her crop top to sultry music and blowing her pinned-up ears out of her face—leaving Bugs… visibly hardened. I mean, just look at this last image and tell me if Bugs’ gaze had any business being this sus for a kid’s entertainment film:

At the time, Lola was reportedly introduced to bring more “balance” to the male-heavy Looney Tunes cast with an additional objective of creating more lucrative merchandising opportunities. After Space Jam, the character spent years at a stretch appearing only in cameos—later surfacing as a tomboy lead in Baby Looney Tunes (voiced by Britt McKillip), a typical trainwreck gen Zer in The Looney Tunes Show (voiced by Kristen Wiig), an invisible potion-making perfumer in Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run (voiced by Rachel Ramras) and happy-go-lucky sidekick in New Looney Tunes (marking Space Jam’s original voice actress Kath Soucie’s return to the franchise).

Although Lola underwent huge personality overhauls in all of her appearances following Space Jam, each of the media mentioned above received its own share of criticisms from fans who were hung up on the character’s original eyelid-batting debut.

For many, Lola—dripped in an impractical basketball costume that “left very little to the imagination”—was the cartoon animal responsible for their sexual awakenings. With every other subreddit, Twitter and TikTok hashtag, NSFW furry art, GIF, Wattpad smut fanfiction, hentai edit, Etsy resin figurine, speedrun, Pornhub roleplay, YouTube Poop, video game skin and, of course, fursuit, making its much-awaited and questionably-warm-welcomed debut on the internet, horny fans of the characters continue to imagine themselves quite literally at it like rabbits with Lola even to this day in 2022. There goes another sentence I never thought I’d pen down in my entire life.

A wet history of ‘sexy’ cartoon characters

Now, it’s a known fact that women have been hypersexualised in the media for centuries—the animation industry is no different. The 1930s witnessed the rise of Betty Boop, a coy, garter-wearing flapper woman with a baby face who often falls prey to rule 34 of the internet (also known as if it exists, there is porn of it).

Then, in 1940, Disney introduced Cleo, the first—and hopefully the last—‘sexy’ pet goldfish with unrealistic ideals like doe eyes, curled lashes and an unquenchable thirst for kisses. The list also includes “cartoon bombshell” Jessica Rabbit, Roger Rabbit’s toon human wife who is reimagined as a sultry-but-moral actress and singer in the 1988 hybrid feature film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

“You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do,” Jessica is heard saying in a scene as private investigator Eddie Valiant replies with a “You don’t know how hard it is being a man looking at a woman looking the way you do.” Peak 1980s energy… right?

Lola, Angelina Jolie’s hourglassed character from the 2004 family adventure movie Shark Tale, is yet another example, with her supposedly manipulative femme fatale features leveraged to render her personality as nothing more than shallow and superficial. Another noteworthy star on the bottomless list is Sandy Cheeks from SpongeBob SquarePants—who was designed with a single bra, whereas in reality, squirrels have around ten nipples. So if Sandy’s bikini was really essential to the kid’s entertainment series, she would have sported five bras in total.

Although intended for children below the age of 13, it can’t be denied that all of these characters were created from the male gaze, for the male gaze. That being said, however, it’s also worth noting how some of them, Betty Boop for example, have a liberative layer to their no-nonsense personalities—though this aspect is blatantly masked by stereotypical femininity aimed to, in turn, ease their journey into becoming sex symbols.

In Lola Bunny’s case, the cartoon basketball player’s initial debut came during the peak of the ‘sex bunny’ phenomenon that kicked off following Hugh Hefner’s inception of the Playboy Mansion and the concept of ‘Playmates’ in the mid-1950s. The trend then reportedly climaxed in the 1990s with the vibrating sex toy Rampant Rabbit’s popularisation by a viral episode of HBO’s Sex and the City.

Fast forward to 2022, the sex bunny phenomenon can either be manifested as cutthroat-expensive fursuits or free-to-use Snapchat filters. This effortless evolution of the phenomenon, however, has been significantly impacted by Lola Bunny’s 2021 makeover. Or should I say, makeunder.

The ‘desexualisation’ of Lola Bunny

It was Thursday 4 March 2021 that Lola’s fictosexual fanbois were first hit with the shocking news. Having waited for Space Jam: A New Legacy (the sequel of the 1996 hit film) since its official announcement in February 2014, much of the internet was anticipating the LeBron James-starrer which marked Lola’s busty return to the big screen.

But alas, when Entertainment Weekly published the first look of the upcoming movie, the set of promotional images featured a redesigned version of Lola.

Gone were her hourglass figure, thigh-riding shorts and midriff-baring crop top. Instead, Lola was reincarnated sans breasts—dressed in comparatively baggier and practical basketball gear, even going as far as wearing compression leggings under her track shorts.

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“Lola was very sexualised, like Betty Boop mixed with Jessica Rabbit,” director Malcolm D. Lee told Entertainment Weekly at the time, adding that her old design was “not politically correct” and “unnecessary.” He continued, “This is 2021. It’s important to reflect the authenticity of strong, capable female characters… So we reworked a lot of things, not only her look, like making sure she had an appropriate length on her shorts and was feminine without being objectified, but gave her a real voice. For us, it was, ‘Let’s ground her athletic prowess, her leadership skills, and make her as full a character as the others’.”

Simply put, in Space Jam: A New Legacy, Lola was intended to be more than just a marketing ploy. She was finding her own footing in the Tune Squad, away from Bugs’ iron-board-stiffening simping. And that’s exactly what hit a nerve with Lola’s, dare I say, horndog fans.

With comments like “Damn what have they done to our fury goddess?” “Communist China has won. Liberty is dead,” and “Oh great, they may as well just call this #WokeJam,” enthusiasts immediately took to social media platforms to start a culture war based on the latest visual hindrance to their wet dreams. They genuinely believed the left-wing had seized control over Warner Bros. and routinely blamed ‘cancel culture’ for drawing lines over a children’s film.

On the other end, the discourse also sparked opinions on what it means to be a “strong female character.” Did Lola really have to get her breasts sanded down to be perceived more seriously? Heck, did the animators have to remove her knees in the process too?

Many argued that Lola’s ‘desexualisation’ perpetuates yet another stereotype that women can’t be sexy and athletic at the same time. Proof of this can be traced back to a 2016 Vox article which mentioned how Serena Williams, during the 2015 French Open, was “compared to an animal, likened to a man, and deemed frightening and horrifyingly unattractive.”

In fact, animation director Tony Cervone once explained that Lola was originally intended to be more of a “tomboy,” but the production team feared that she would appear “too masculine” and chose to emphasise her “feminine attributes” instead. Way to go, team!

With trends like Lola Chungus (the viral Big Chungus edit of the character in question) nearly fizzling out as we speak, Lola Bunny’s controversial redesign is increasingly being buried under NSFW fanart and recreations of fresh characters like Judy Hopps from Disney’s 2016 animated feature film, Zootopia.

While the Space Jam series, at its core, is about teamwork, friendship, and the power of setting your mind on a goal and working hard to achieve the same, it has now become a case study on how its only female character fails to overpower its native depiction rooted in hypersexuality—as she firmly states “don’t ever call me ‘doll’,” while everyone continues to do just that.

A case study everyone fails to learn from even today, to be more specific.

Russian artist faces six years in jail for pro-LGBTQ+ and body-positive cartoons

Yulia Tsvetkova, a 27-year-old feminist and queer rights activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in East Russia, has been charged with violating the Russian “gay propaganda” law and distribution of “pornography” for sharing drawings of same-sex families and vaginas on social media.

Last month, the prosecutor’s office in charge of her case approved the indictment against Tsvetkova; if convicted, she could face up to six years in prison. Tsvetkova’s persecution by the Russian authorities reflects a broader campaign by the government to crackdown on members of the queer community and muzzle anyone advocating for their freedom and rights.

All Out, an international NGO fighting for LGBTQ rights, has teamed up with the Moscow Community Center and launched a petition calling for the elimination of the charges against Tsvetkova and for the abolition of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law.

The authorities’ persecution of Tsvetkova began in 2019, when she was preparing to stage a play titled ‘Blue and Pink’ which dealt with gender stereotypes and criticised the country’s culture of militarism. Following mounting pressure from the authorities, Tsvetkova cancelled the play.

“I don’t know which was worse for the authorities, the play about gender, which they don’t understand and are afraid of, or the other play, which was pretty political, very sharp. I guess it’s the combination of both that got me here,” Tsvetkova told CNN.

Following the play incident, Tsvetkova and her mother were summoned to the police station either on a weekly or bi-weekly recurrence as the authorities scoured for any shred of evidence that could help them press criminal charges against her. Finally, the police came across a blog titled ‘The Vagina Monologues’ that Tsvetkova had founded and managed, in which she featured drawings of female body parts created by herself and others.

Through her work, Tsvetkova sought to shatter stereotypes surrounding the vagina and promote body positivity. The text in one of her drawings, for instance, read “Women who are alive have body fat and this is fine!”

Russian artist faces six years in jail for pro LGBTQ+ and body positive cartoons

It was for posting these drawings that the authorities charged Tsvetkova with promoting pornography. Then, in January 2020, she was charged with violating the notorious “gay propaganda law” after she posted a drawing featuring same-sex families along with the caption “A family is where there is love. Support LGBT+ families!”

After being placed under house arrest, Tsvetkova was released in March 2020, but has since been prohibited from leaving the country or changing her address.

Tsvetkova’s arrest has drawn sharp criticism from human and LGBTQ rights activists and organisations around the world. Last year, Amnesty International, along with several other NGOs, had recognised Tsvetkova as a political prisoner and called for the charges against her to be dropped.

“Russian authorities have tried everything to intimidate Yulia: They searched her home, put her under house arrest for over three months, ordered her not to leave the country, fined her twice for violating the Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law, and brought trumped-up charges against her for ‘distributing pornography’,” said Matt Beard, Executive Director of All Out. “Now her trial can happen any time and she could go to jail for up to six years. And all of this just for sharing on social media innocent drawings of same-sex families and motives promoting inclusivity. Nobody should be prosecuted simply for expressing their wish for equality,” he added.

The controversy has also spread throughout Russia, where, despite the public’s deep-rooted conservatism, individuals and groups have nonetheless taken to social media and the streets to protest Tsvetkova’s arrest. On social media, women have been posting pictures of their bodies (often emphasising hair, curves and skin blemishes) along with the phrase “my body is not pornography” in solidarity with Tsvetkova.

Protests against Tsvetkova’s arrest have been taking place throughout Russia, and have even reached her hometown in the far Eastern region of the country. Numerous artists and media figures have also come out in support of her, something Tsvetkova claims has made her feel less alone in her struggle.

Anonymity is the scariest thing,” she told DW, “and I know that because I was alone at the beginning. It meant that if I was at the police station, I knew that they could do whatever they want and no one would ever find out.”

“[Tsvetkova] is not the first person to be targeted under the ‘gay propaganda’ law. But with your help, she might be the last,” reads All Out’s petition, which has so far garnered over 165,000 signatures. Her trial could begin any day now.