Safer to stay at home

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic is an odd mix of cuteness – bears gaily gadding about &c – and danger. From a sweet picture of playing and shouting, the text and the key move (2 mins 13 sec) to a more sombre tone:

“You’d better not go alone.”

“Lovely – but safer to stay at home.”

It’s as if the Teddy Bears are involved in the scene from the Bacchae that King Pentheus is lured into watching. A  pastoral scene: a little valley, shaded by pines, a very rural scene where Pentheus watches the ritual abandon of the Bacchae who are “unawares” – until  Dionysos reveals the watching king and the terrible tragedy unfolds.

What would the Teddy Bears have done if we, the watchers hadn’t stayed at home? They would have torn us, as Agave does her son, limb from limb – because they are not Teddies; they are bears.

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic is perhaps the last gasp of this understanding, arising from the event in 1902 when “Teddy” Roosevelt encountered a bear – a real bear – on a hunting trip. Bears (until the Teddy) sat alongside wolves as dangerous; the tension of wild and dangerous versus tame and cuddly is evident in the change of tone in the song.

And with this tension comes the greater dilemma: how safe it is Out There?



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