Monday, September 28, 2009

Family Guy and Disney's Anti-Semitism

Stewie and Brian and Disneyland! In a pirated clip! Arrgh!

Family Guy had an amusing segment on Disney animation last night, ending with an unhappy tag ... (spoiler below) ...

... where a Jewish man comes to the door and gets beaten up.

This references, of course, the corporate/urban myth that Walt was a raging anti-semite.

There might be some smidgen of truth to it, I don't know. Walt Disney was a mid-westerner, and there weren't a lot of Jews hanging out there in the early twentieth century, so who can say with total certainty?

All I know is that when I landed at Walt Disney Productions in 1976, I went to work with story artist Ted Berman, a lontime stalwart of the feature animation department. He'd come to the studio in 1940, and retired from the studio in 1985, as a feature director.

So, my question. If Walt was such a hard-core anti-semite, what was Ted doing there all those years?

(Then, of course, there's the twenty years of Disney that had Michael Eisner in charge, with Jeffrey Katzenberg running the studio for ten of them. Walt was long dead, but Roy Disney was instrumental in having them come over from Paramount.)

56 comments:

Floyd Norman said...

Total hogwash!

The "Old Man" had plenty of Jewish animators back in the fifties, including Ed Solomon and Lou Apett. Plus, writer, Dave Detiege married Phyllis Bounds, the niece of Disney's wife, Lillian.

Paul Naas said...

Great to hear from someone who actually worked with Walt and knows what it was like back then. Floyd, you've got to come to SF and see the new Walt Disney museum. Amazing, and your perspective on it would be great to hear. Plus, I still owe you a lunch! :0)

Anonymous said...

Oh brother. This has been brought up and debunked countless times-along with the stupid "frozen" trope. Enough already. It's not "new" or "daring" or even interesting anymore. It's also disgusting to slander a dead man who can't speak for himself.

It's impossible to say what thoughts Walt Disney held in his his innermost heart(or for that matter what people walking around today do, all PCness aside). But regardless, what's annoying is the insistence so prevalent nowadays of applying 2009 attitudes to people who lived almost 100 years ago and in a very different society.

It wouldn't be surprising if midwestern farm boy Walt had-or heard-preconceptions about jews who probably weren't in large supply in Marceline MO. On the other hand, the absence of peoples from another culture might have meant that it was a non issue that never came up.

Ethnic stereotyping (eg. the original Big Bad Wolf "jewish peddler" in "Three Little Pigs") was common in all forms of show business entertainment and did NOT mean that the perpetrators were probably "racist" (a word way, way too often tossed around today) OR that they were "anti-semitic"(ditto). It meant they just used common preconceptions that audiences recognized and laughed at, like drunken irishmen and cheap scotsmen-and jewish salesmen or overbearing mamas. In other words there's a BIG difference between evil Naziesque propaganda intended to slur an ethnicity, fomenting hatred for that group, and using common stereotypes (we now recognize as distasteful) for comedy.

As written up in the Wikipedia entry on "Pigs":
it's important to know and understand that at that time, ethnic and racial stereotypes were a staple in Hollywood movies, including those in movies produced by Jews."

Anyway, whatever Walt's upbringing, he fitted into Hollywood as a major producer and public figure who worked side by side and was on familiar terms with the other studio bosses, virtually all of whom were jewish.
Apart from gags all studios used, in the running of his studio there's NO proof that Walt practised discrimination based on anyone's jewish origins. It's absurd to think the Warners, Selznick, Cohn, Mayer and others would have been cool having any dealings with Walt were he a known anti-semite-and word would have privately got around fast if that were true.
Walt employed jewish artists. Everything about him that he said and did suggests he was the sort of man who didn't give a damn what someone's "background" was, only their talents and what they were able to do for him at the Studio.

Anonymous said...

I was entranced by that Family Guy Disneyesque sequence too - and also disgusted by the ugly anti-Semite "joke". Note to Seth: everybody knows Walt wasn't an anti-Semite. If you have to stoop to using that lie to poke fun at him, then you're obviously at the end of your creative rope. Your ideology is tainting your output. And it's YOUR narrowness of mind and ugly prejudice that's on display.

Anonymous said...

Everyone bitching about the "Walt was a Jew hater" joke has no idea what farce is. This is the reason why most animation in this town lacks humor. And no - I'm not a Family Guy fan, but geez it's a freaking joke...

Bob said...

How do we know he was'ent anti-semtic, he was againt andthing that would have shut his studio down nazis,communists,unions and he hated them with a passion. I think he did'ent have the utmost respect for the jewish faith and people, but he was'ent full on nazi hate on them either. It probly was'ent out of place for him to drop a few anti semtic jokes and slurs here and there.

Anonymous said...

He who among you who hasnt told an off-color joke cast the first computer mouse

Anonymous said...

Anyone defending that Walt anti-Semite joke has no idea what humor is.

Anonymous said...

Bob, you're basing your ill-spelled opinions on supposition and not fact. Do you write for Family Guy?

Anonymous said...

"Anyone defending that Walt anti-Semite joke has no idea what humor is."

And in my small, insignificant opinion, I sometimes think people are too easily offended...

Anonymous said...

The Disney bit was beautifully designed, but full of floaty, weightless animation. If it had been done in 3D, this thread would be full of people lining up to bash it mercilessly.

Racattack Force said...

Whether or not that rumor is true, the joke had to be used. Why? Because the writers needed a reason for the characters to want to leave that universe and return to their own.

Kevin Koch said...

Except for the unfunny anti-Semitic bit, it was probably my favorite Family Guy ever. I think because I really don't enjoy the usual FG universe, seeing those characters in other environments made them more fun and interesting, and I thought it was a well written and well designed/animated show.

As for the ant-Semitic bit, I get satire and farce and parody -- it just didn't function on any of those levels. But it was easy to ignore that section and enjoy the rest. Congrats to the FG crew and Mainstreet and Darlie and everyone else who had a hand in it.

Anonymous said...

I think the anti-semite bit was a cheap shot, and I'm Jewish. Even though it was farce, people always assume that where there is smoke, there is fire. It's also dated. Most people know better. They also know he wasn't frozen, but exploiting that rumor would have made for a funnier gag. Maybe a communist or a radical could have knocked on the door, or Pete Seeger, or a baby executive in diapers firing everybody.

Anonymous said...

Did the same people who normally animate FG work on this sequence or was it farmed out? It is impressive, and I was under the impression the FG couldn't animate anyway else which is why the are on FG. If so, kudos to the animators and boo to the producers who don't allow talented animators to do more animation like this and instead rely on 30 second holds to waste time and cause awkward "humor".

Stephen Worth said...

I remember Tom Sito interviewing Joe Grant at an ASIFA "Evening With". Tom asked, "We all hear stories about Disney's anti-Semitism. Why was it that you were the only Jew at Disney's?" Joe grant replied, "Because I kept my mouth shut about it."

Anonymous said...

In the comments to the post on CartoonBrew about this episode are numerous details about who animated it, how long it took, and why it isn't typical.

The only redemption for the jew-hating gag was that the JFK assassination gag a few minutes later was even unfunnier.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Worth posted: I remember Tom Sito interviewing Joe Grant at an ASIFA "Evening With". Tom asked, "We all hear stories about Disney's anti-Semitism. Why was it that you were the only Jew at Disney's?" Joe grant replied, "Because I kept my mouth shut about it."

Stephen, read Floyd Norman's post and educate yourself. As for Joe Grant, here's a quote from the recent Disney biography from Neal Gabler: "...It was hard to find any (Jews) who thought Walt was an anti-Semite. Joe Grant, who had been an artist, the head of the model department, and the storyman responsible for Dumbo along with Dick Huemer, declared emphatically that Walt was not an anti-Semite. "Some of the most influential people at the studio were Jewish," Grant recalled, thinking no doubt of himself, production manager Harry Tytle, and Kay Kamen, who once quipped that Disney's New York office had more Jews than the Book of Leviticus."

Now can we all agree, given the vast sea of evidence, that Walt was NOT an anti-Semite and that Seth McFarlane is an ass?

Anonymous said...

"Now can we all agree, given the vast sea of evidence, that Walt was NOT an anti-Semite and that Seth McFarlane is an ass?"

We all agree that Walt was not an anti-Semite and that Seth McFarlane is an ass and you have no fucking sense of humor.

Anonymous # 347 said...

Dear Anonymous 9:42:00

Not all Anonymous posters are the same Anonymous posters

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous #347

But some are more Anonymous than others.

Anonymous said...

If I accused a person who's trying to set the record straight regarding a vile and baseless slander played for laughs of having "no fucking sense of humor", then I'd want to remain Anonymous too.

And since that particular Anonymous might become violent, ditto.

Anonymous said...

I have several senses of humor, actually. Just not that one.

AnonyMouse said...

Wouldnt it be funny if we all worked at the same company and were all actually friends!?

Anonymous said...

As far as his remark at an ASIFA thing, I'm sure Joe G. just saw a good place for a one-liner and used it. *shrug*

He wasn't the only jew at Disney's and he knew it. It truly wasn't any kind of deal, big or small.

And perpetuating a "gag" based on such tired old stuff as "Disney hated jews! OMG!" isn't proof of a sense of humor. It's easy and dumb pretending childishly to be "edgy" and dark. Snore.

Stephen Worth said...

I was there when Joe Grant said that, and Tom Sito was lighthearted about it, but Joe wasn't. He seemed serious to me. I doubt Walt overtly persecuted Jews, but I also doubt that Joe Grant would have dared to ask for Jewish holidays off. After discussing that subject, Tom and Joe discussed the one black employee at the studio in the 30s... the studio barber. Things changed at the studio after the war.

Walt definitely had some political beliefs early on that grated on some of his staff- for instance, there was a signed photo of Mussolini in his office during the 30s. ("At least he makes the trains run on time...") The photo was quietly retired to a drawer once it was obvious that the US was headed for war.

There is a big push on to "clean up" Walt's reputation- too much so at times. He was a human being with faults. He wasn't always the friendly old guy perched on the edge of the desk in the Disneyland TV show. Saying that out loud isn't the same as disrespecting his legacy. It's just being honest.

Anonymous said...

If Joe Grant was serious, then he grossly contradicted himself according to Neal Gabler - and why would he tell two different stories?). Let's not forget that Grant left Disney after he pushed a reluctant Walt to make Alice In Wonderland, and it failed at the box office; later on, he was angry at Walt for not giving him credit for the basic story of Lady and the Tramp; he might have had some reason there, except for the fact that Walt specifically asked him to write a story about his Springer spaniel - so who's idea was it, really? - plus the story was completely reworked and the Tramp added by Ward Greene and Erdman Penner. And come on, Stephen; Walt was once a guest of Mussolini prior to the war because Mussolini was a huge Mickey Mouse fan. That Mussolini was a monster wasn't obvious at that time. I don't think there's a push to "clean up" Walt's image. I think there's a push to try to besmirch it, and that push has been going on for years.

Anonymous said...

"but I also doubt that Joe Grant would have dared to ask for Jewish holidays off".

I love the way some people are happy to state their speculations as if they actually support their prejudices. Just because some people have made a cottage industry out of burnishing Walt's posthumous reputation doesn't mean the folks invested in peddling nasty innuendo are justified.

Maybe Joe Grant did ask for Jewish holidays off. Or maybe he didn't. Maybe Joe Grant couldn't have cared less about taking those holidays that other employees didn't get. Maybe he cared, but made assumptions about how Walt would react. Maybe his assumptions, if he had them, were wrong. Or maybe not.

At the end of the day, Stephen, you're speculating about what Joe Grant might or might not have done. From the stories I've heard about Walt (including from people who actually knew him), Walt was not someone who wore his innermost self on his sleeve, and even his long-time employees didn't know how he really felt about a lot of personal things.

Anonymous said...

You think this discussion has gotten intense - you should see the tumult over at Cartoon Brew. One of the animators of the sequence, Darlie B., proceeded to start ranting and foaming the most ignorant spew of leftist ideology you'd ever hear outside of a Democratic convention. She got mad because people were upset at the Walt anti-semite smear when there are people who think Obama's not an American citizen. She then attacked someone who protested her remarks by saying that that person "was a Republican, while I'm an American." Hoo boy. Hopefully nobody'll ever let that girl have something sharper than a pencil in her possession.

I'm the Fuller Brush Man said...

'"but I also doubt that Joe Grant would have dared to ask for Jewish holidays off"."

Heck, didn't JK used to drive certain people at Disney nuts by holding meetings on the Sabbath or on holy days ?

(and by the way, The Disney-esque sequence of Family Guy looked great because of the talent working on it and kudos to them for their high level of skill , but the gag about Disney hating Jews was offensive (and untrue) , as was the Kennedy joke in a later segment. Macfarlane always goes for the low blow, the cheap laff. None for me thanks. He's a sad, mean little guy.)

Anonymous said...

Darlie B proves that not every Hollywood leftwing nutcase performs in FRONT of the camera. And that talented doesn't=smart.

Anonymous said...

What cracks me up is the fact that there are more of zealots defending Walt Disney's honor more than Jesus' honor when besmirched by Family Guy. Now that's humor!!!

Anonymous said...

But what about those shorts about nazis, and those with black stereotypes?

Stephen Worth said...

I just tell you what I personally saw and heard Joe Grant say. I know that isn't what he said when he was "on the record". I'm not speculating. All I am saying is that it isn't as cut and dried as some might make it sound.

Mussolini wasn't clearly a fascist until the US declared war on the axis?! Yow!

Anonymous said...

Stephen Worth at 1:13 PM: "I'm not speculating."

Stephen Worth speculating on Sept. 30: "I also doubt that Joe Grant would have dared to ask for Jewish holidays off."

Anonymous said...

What cracks me up is the fact that there are more of zealots defending Walt Disney's honor more than Jesus' honor when besmirched by Family Guy. Now that's humor!!!

Maybe because Jesus is fictional? Duh.

Anonymous said...

Seeing previews for the Family Guy episode "Family Goy" I suspect it might not be Disney who had a problem with Jews and maybe Seth was conveying his own feelings...

Anonymous said...

You people are truly amazing. There once was a movie called "Life of Brian". This movie made fun of all those movies about Jesus. But many Christians got it wrong and thought it were making fun of Jesus himself. -

Here, Family Guy is not making fun of Disney, or of Jews. They are making fun of the people who just love to believe such rumours. Just as The Simpson did it when they talked about the "evil gene" that Hitler and Disney shared. -

If someone really wanted to attack Disney, they would talk about his raging hatred towards Communists and everyone he thought might be a Communist. THAT was Disney's real dark side.

Anonymous said...

Boy, are yoiu assighning WAAAAy too much subtlety and wit to Family Guy. This show spends most of it's efforts on making fart and penis jokes.

Even suggesting it's in the same league as Monty Python is funnier than anything ever shown on FG. Not to mention you missed the fact that LoB was skewering more than just religious films. You were right about one thing, they weren't making fun of Jesus, but they sure were making fun of many of his followers.

Anonymous said...

From day one, the basic ideology of Disney has been to promote a conservative, agrarian, monarchal, ethnocentric society over some urban, democratic, cosmopolitan alternative. Therefore, if you define anti-semitism as anti-cosmopolitanism - and many Jewish people do just that - then both Walt and the Disney company itself are (or were) anti-semitic.

This is clearly an unfair definition, though. A person isn't a racist just because they don't accept globalism. Many people on the populist left - including many Jews - are opposed to globalism, and could hardly be described as closet fascists.

Of course it's possible Walt harbored some personal resentment against Jews, but this seems highly unlikely given his associations with the Jewish community in Hollywood. Someone who is truly a racist would allow their bias to show at some point, and no one has ever produced any convincing evidence that Walt had a problem working or associating with Jews.

It would be neat if Walt Disney could somehow still be alive today so we could see how he would resolve the obvious conflict between his politics and those of the modern world. On the one hand, he was an ardent capitalist, so he would have a strong incentive to align himself with the globalist-capitalist movement. On the other, his personal sentiments were blatantly nationalistic and anti-globalist, so he would likely oppose free trade agreements and open borders. My guess is he would be largely apolitical, since there is no movement with which he could align himself.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Not only do you know what Walt thought or how he would act, but you also know how the Jewish community think and feel about globalism as well. God? Is that you?

Anonymous said...

I don't have time to trace it down, but in late 1987 to early 1989, there was a biography of Disney in which I saw the quote from Disney: "Hollywood is controlled by Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, and Womanizers. And the National Labor Relations Board made it so!!" My brother's second wife's dad was a Methodist minister who wouldn't even let his kids watch Disney due to Walt's renowned anti-Semitism. Just remember that if a moronic naysayer posts something on snopes against an idea, that doesn't mean the idea has no merit.

Anonymous said...

"Boy, are yoiu assighning WAAAAy too much subtlety and wit to Family Guy."

It all depends on what FG wanted here. Did they create the whole Disney-alternate-universe-bit only to slander Disney in the end? Or did they WANT to make a Disney-alternate-universe-bit, just to show what it would look like, and then ended it making fun of the old Disney-was-anti-semite stereotype? To me, the latter seems more likely.

Anonymous said...

My father worked at Disney Studios fo 45 years in the Animation/Story Department as an animator, writer and director and he was Jewish. He had a great relationship with all of his co-workers, was well-respected, beloved by staff and studio employees. In retrospect I feel he operated "under the radar" and did not draw any undue attention to himself or his background. He was often brought into projects to "punch up" the humor. Additionally, he was sent around the country and also to Europe to represent the Studio and promote the films he worked on.

Anonymous said...

I love that people are totally enraged about the Walt gag, but have no problem with Meg's 36Ds, or Japanese, Kennedy or Robot Chicken skits ...

Anonymous said...

The Big Bad Wolf dressed as a "jewish" peddler might be more of telling of the people claiming that the peddler was Jewish. Did the wolf wear a Talit? ...a Chai? ...a star of David? Or did the wold look just like any other poor Eastern european peddler that one might have seen a hundred years ago?

Of course, if Disney knew much about Judaism, he might use the disguise of a Jewish peddler intentionally based on the Talmud's account of Gentile criminals durring the Roman occupation dressing as Jews to get close to their victims on the highway. Or if he just had a good opinion of Jews he might depict the disguise of a good person as an honest harmless Jewish peddler that anyone could trust.

Quite frankly, as a Jew, I see no reason to suspect Walt Disney of antisemitism. A lot of people who are not racist or antisemitic innocently say or do things that might offend others. There is no reason to waste time being offended by someont who meant no harm in the first place. If a person is racist or antisemitic they diminish themselves not the people they they hate. Racism and antisemitism are their own punishments; I don't need to get upset.

Anonymous said...

The whole joke was was merely playing on a popular/common misconception. If Seth Macfarlane wanted to slander Walt Disney, he would have made that scene much more hardcore where ort gets beaten up. And it was necessary to move the episode along. You don't need a liberal sense of hum our to understand this. It was a good scene, with a lot of attention to the animation style.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, Lighten up, everyone! You don't like the show, then change the channel.

Anonymous said...

Walt Disney was the only major Hollywood studio figure willing to meet with Leni Riefenstahl, Nazi propagandaist who was best known for the movie Triumph of the Will.

Most say that he met with her for her talent as a filmmaker. But her only notable films were propaganda pieces on behalf of the Nazis.

Does his meeting with her make Disney a Nazi? No, absolutely not. Was his meeting with her to his credit? No, absolutely not.

Beyond his contacts with Riefenstahl, there were some anti-Jewish gags in cartoons (and Disney personally approved every scene of every Disney short). The aforementioned Big Bad Wolf dressed as a Jewish peddler stereotype was one. Mickey Mouse dressing as a Hasidic Jew in The Opry House was another.

Walt Disney was involved with the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi American group.

Between his meetings with Riefenstahl, his involvement with the Bund, and some of the anti-Jew imagery in Disney shorts of the era, there may not be enough to sustain a charge of anti-semitism, but it should not be dismissed out of hand, either. There's plenty of shades of grey here.

Anonymous said...

I think it is hypocritical for the Family Guy people to call anyone anti-semitic. Have any of you seen the episode titled "Family Goy"? The entire episode involves racist stereotyping of Jews, hairy jokes, money grubbing jokes, jokes about their language, their beliefs, and finally a very offensive scene in which Peter pretends to be amon Goeth and shoots at Jews from his balcony/bedroom window. Just because you call it "satire" Mr. McFarlane does not excuse the fact that you spent 30 minutes cracking Jew Jokes and perpetuating insulting stereotypes...Family Guy calling Disney racist is a joke. They should turn the mirror on themselves.

Anonymous said...

@Anon,
Wasn't/Isn't Seth not jewish?

Anonymous said...

Oh ... and there were plenty of Jews in the midwest in the early 20th century. Reform Judaism in America was born when Isaac Mayer Wise opened a synagogue in Cincinatti, OH. The movement's main seminary is still there (just down the street from Graeters and Skyline)

Matthew said...

OK, personally I don't really give a crap about whether the stuff about Disney is true or false, but either way, the FG bit is funny. You people accusing Seth of having no sense of humor or going only for cheap laughs obviously have no idea what satire is. And the ones accusing SETH of being anti-Semitic - you are fools; in addition to the episodes you cite, there was also "When you wish upon a Weinstein," which was based entirely around Jewish stereotypes. Seth likes to make fun of stereotypes - all stereotypes; he is not indulging them. To be an observer and commentator on society's prejudices, you must be above those prejudices. You people are just looking for a reason to bash the show instead of exercising your brains and trying to understand what it's saying.

Ken said...

Food for thought: the most successful songwriters ever employed by Walt Disney were the Sherman Brothers. They were hired by Walt. And they were Jewish. Doesn't prove anything either way, I know, and I love Seth McFarlane despite his lapses of taste and consistency, I'm as bad as that character of Woody Allen's who saw antisemitism in just about anything, but it makes me wonder: if Walt hated Jews, would he have hired the Shermans? I kinda doubt it.

There are far worse examples of genuine antisemitism in US history - Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, etc. I'd say Walt deserves a pass.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason many (most?) Jews think Walt was antisemitic was because he was outspoken against communism during the McCarthy era etc. Jews were heavy left, many came from Eastern Europe, revolutionary and reactionary. They were supporting minorities against "White America", working to change America socially etc. Jews are hyper sensitive to anyone being critical of something they have a hand in, are involved in or support. They are always thinking that eventually it will be turned on them and they will be 'outed'.

Anonymous said...

I correct myself about the "McCarthy era" statement. What I was thinking of was the committee on un-American activities (HUAC).

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