The Rescue Rangers--from left to right: Monterey Jack,
Dale, Chip, Gadget, Zipper
Artwork by Matt
Plotecher and Chip
[The online Rescue Rangers community is] "truly
the nicest, most caring, generous and friendly group of people
I could ever want to meet...the spirit of friendship and unison
of the community has totally changed the way I think about things..."
(Chris, survey response)
"I can honestly say the RR community has changed
my life." (Natasha, survey response)
"This is the best bunch of people I've ever
met in my life, and really the only true friends I've ever had."
(Tom, survey response)
Case of the Cola Cult," a well-loved episode of the children's
cartoon program "Chip 'n Dale 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 and an active message board. 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 (certainly
numbering under 150 members) 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. In
short, I intend to analyze both fan practices of the group (as
done with other, non-Internet communities in Henry Jenkins's Textual
Poachers) and the attitudes of the group members towards each
other. I have been an active member of this community since late
1997, and an observer since 1995, so I feel well-equipped to do
an ethnographic study of it. I also use statistics gleaned from
my own surveys, as well as the Rangerphile
Directory (a self-selected online listing of Rangerphiles),
and other sources. By combining ethnographic and statistical approaches,
a detailed analysis of the community is possible.
However, before the development of the fan community
and its works can be analyzed, it is important to have a basic
knowledge of the program in question.
In the Spring of 1989, the show "Chip 'n Dale
Rescue Rangers" premiered on the Disney Channel. The following
fall, it moved into daily afternoon syndication, and the next
year, joined the Disney Afternoon, a two-hour block of animated
cartoons. The program was aimed towards a young audience, but,
like most Disney cartoons of the time, contained elements for
all ages. 65 episodes were produced.
The basic premise of "Rescue Rangers" is
that a group of small animals goes around solving crimes that
are too small for the police to care about. These cases generally
expand to be more far-reaching than the group had expected, however,
and usually involve a supervillain's wacky plot. In "Catteries Not Included,"
for instance, the Rangers search for a girl's missing kitten.
It turns out that the kitten--along with all the cats in the city--were
stolen by the evil Professor Nimnul. Nimnul has a great machine
rub all the cats, producing enough static electrictiy to wreak
havoc on the city. (Of course, our heroes stop him in time, and
return the girl's kitten.) There is an air of 'fun' throughout
the program; slapstick comedy runs rampant. Though fans are able
to pick out bits of information about their favorite characters
from the program, the characters generally do not evolve throughout
the show; there are only a few episodes which obviously occur
before each other. This is necessary in syndication,when episodes
are aired out of order all the time. The order of the episodes
is so unclear that, to the best of my knowledge, no fan has even
drawn up a specific order that the episodes occurred in.
Though the premise of the show is important, it is
even more important to get a sense of the characters, as many
fanworks overlook some major elements of the show (slapstick,
mystery, action) in favor of closer character interaction. In
fact, in an open-ended survey, the
most common reason Rangerphiles online cited for their love of
the show was the characters.
Chip and Dale were both lifted from their old Disney
shorts and Donald Duck cartoons. Chip is the fedora-wearing, adventurous
one of the group; he is usually referred to as the leader in fanfictions,
although he is never called such on the show. Dale wears a loud
Hawaiian shirt and is generally portrayed as a goof-off. He is
also used as comedy relief.
Chip and Dale are joined by three new characters. Monterey
Jack is an adventuresome mouse, afraid of cats, and often going
off into fits called 'cheese attacks' whenever he catches a whiff
of the stuff. His good friend--and a full member of the team--
is Zipper, the fly. He squeaks and uses pantomine to get his ideas
across, but cannot speak, making his personality hard to analyze.
But "the most important--and
the most successful creation in the series" (Grant 1993:
142) is Gadget Hackwrench, the beautiful female inventor mouse
of the group. She is indisputably the most popular character of
the series, and also the only specifically Disney Afternoon cartoon
character to get her own
ride--a short roller coaster--in Mickey's Toontown in Disneyland,
California. Though she is an unstereotypical woman in many ways
(she wears dresses less often than Chip and Dale in the series!),
she still serves as an object of competition between Chip and
Dale, who both find her very attractive.
It is also important to know Foxglove,
a pretty bat who only appears in one episode, "Good Times,
Bat Times." She falls in love with Dale, and, by the end
of the episode, has, at least, won his friendship. She never shows
up in another episode, yet a whole slew of fan fiction and fan
art involving her (and her love for Dale, which is generally requited)
has sprung up; many Rangerphiles consider her to be a 'sixth Ranger.'
Once a rudimentary grasp of the program has been achieved,
it is useful to examine the history of
the online Rescue Rangers community.
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