Monday, October 06, 2014

Misogynistic Cartoons

The issue of racism in Tom and Jerry cartoons has re-reared its unattractive head over the past week, but Nikki Gloudeman in the Huffington Post focuses on its cousin:

... Amazon Prime recently add[ed] a racism disclaimer to a Tom and Jerry collection it's selling. While some commended the move, others have called it needless censorship.

More complicated still, some parse out the outcry even further insisting it's a bit ludicrous to cry "censorship!" over a simple disclaimer. ... There's another element this brouhaha has brought up, if only on the fringes of the conversation: sexism in classic old cartoons. And this "ism," while not as egregiously offensive as racism, is still worth scrutinizing. ...

Tom & Jerry, for its part, featured Toodles Galore, an eyelash-batting seductress who rarely spoke (because being mute is hot) and made Tom go ga-ga.

These particular stereotypes however, are to be expected in programs hailing from decades ago, when sexism was both rampant and sanctioned. But what do we make of the sexism that continues to reign in children's cartoons?

In 2012, when writing about a previous disclaimer regarding Tom and Jerry racism, Margot Magowan said in the SF Gate:

"Unfortunately, the reason that there's no disclaimer and no introduction [about sexism] is because sexist stereotypes in kids' cartoons are just as accepted in 2012 as they were sixty years ago. Sexist jokes in animation are, apparently, still hilarious."

But of course Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and selected Mickey Mouse shorts have racist/sexist images. T and J and all those other cartoons of the thirties, forties and fifties are eight minutes of Technicolored popular entertainment that (hold on to your iPads) reflect the mores and standards of the times in which they were made. One simple solution to putting them on display in 2014?

... When Whoopi Goldberg introduces a 2005 Looney Tunes Golden Collection, she addresses its politically incorrect themes, stressing that “they are presented here to accurately reflect a part of our history that cannot and should not be ignored” and that “removing these inexcusable images and jokes from this collection would be the same as saying [these prejudices] never existed.” ...

I'm not big on censorship. There are novels, movies and cartoons circulating through the zeitgeist that many people would consider over the line. But I'm not sure what, in the fourteenth year of the new millennium, that line actually is, given what Family Guy and South Park do for thirty minutes of any particular weekend.

Disney shies away from distributing Song of the South in the U.S. of A., but has no problem selling the title everywhere else on the globe, so tell me again what we're getting our undergarments in a knot about? And Time-Warner is now in the process of celebrating Gone With The Wind's 75th anniversary, even though the picture -- Scarlett and Rhett's steamy clinches notwithstanding -- is several clicks more racist than Uncle Walt's depiction of the Old South.

As for the sexism of cartoons, it's hard to see that changing anytime soon because gender mores change slowly, and the creative end of the animation industry continues to be a male preserve. (And yeah, there are lots of women executives in the business, and Cal Arts is now 50% female, but women still make up only 17% of unionized animation employees And the men-folk don't think there are any major problems with gender presentation in American cartoons).

Whoopi Goldberg, I think, has it right. Call out racist or sexist cartoons for what they are, even as you point out that, like them or not, they're part of America's ever-changing culture. But please don't sweep shorts and features with unsavory characters and sequences under the rug, pretending they never existed. Denial is the last thing we need.


Sarah O said...

I'm proud to be one of that 17%, which will surely only grow in the coming years. Just wanted to note that more and more often, it's my male coworkers who are noticing tired gender tropes and updating them with well-rounded female characters. It's not just us women with the power to change things! And better now than sometime in the indeterminate future.

attmay said...

The fact that you can buy Birth of a Nation, which was so racist it wouldn't even cast black actors and depicted the KKK as the heroes, legally practically anywhere movies are sold, but not Song of the South makes this debate about warnings so absurd.

Amazon had better put this same warning before Soul Plane, just in case anyone actually wants to watch it.

Unknown said...

As long as we're concerned about being PC, doesn't GWTW also celebrate rape..?

Celshader said...

"Children's entertainment" has a higher set of standards to clear in American society than entertainment aimed at an older, presumably wiser audience (ex: Family Guy).

I suspect that as long as Song of the South remains a G-rated "children's film," it will not get the same treatment as Gone with the Wind or South Park.

attmay said...

Getting gored by a bull isn't worthy of at least a PG?

Even so, they still sell films with racial, sexual and other cultural stereotypes that get off without warnings.

Steve Hulett said...

At various times American movies have ridiculed hunchbacks, cripples, gays, blacks, and lots of other "types".

And yeah, Gone With The Wind depicts rape. And has Scarlet enjoying the memory of it the following morning.

Unknown said...

spike lee made a LOT of racist films--most of them flops, of course. They're mostly still available at your local bargain bin.

Celshader said...

F. Kousac, Spike Lee's films are neither G-rated nor considered to be children's fare.

I still think SotS's problem is that it's considered a "kiddie film" here in the States, so it's held to a higher standard than Gone with the Wind or Spike Lee's films.

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