Saturday, March 7, 2009

Racism In Tom And Jerry Cartoons

Whilst late-night blogging I happened upon a Tom and Jerry cartoon on Cartoon Network called "Sleepy-Time Tom". The basic plot of the 'toon was that Tom the cat had come home drunk after a night of debauchery with his feline brethren and was charged with guarding the refrigerator from Jerry (a mouse with the extra-ordinary ability to open a 1950's-era fridge whilst only standing 3 inches high).

My exception with the short was that I could have sworn from memories of my early childhood (late seventies and early eighties) that "Mammy-Two Shoes", as she's called, spoke with a decidedly less than politically correct "Negro" patois when I had watched these cartoon shorts as a child. In fact, the transcript from the Wikipedia article about this episode lays out her dialogue as follows:

Well, Mr. Playboy, while you is out partyin' all night, I has to keep that mouse out of the frigerator.

Is you asleep?

Was you sleeping?

You hasn't better be.
Yet when I was watching the same episode last night I was quite sure that the patently offensive and politically-incorrect phrases from the transcript had been voiced-over by a decidedly non-black female voice actor. I guess my complaint about this practice (I've noticed it in other Tom and Jerry episodes; yeah, I watch that many old cartoons) is that there was absolutely no acknowledgement by Hanna-Barbera that they had made the changes.

Am I such a child of the Internet and the blogosphere that I require an acknowledgement by the corporation that now owns Hanna-Barbera as to the obvious cover-up of their racist past? Obviously I am, but I'm not holding my breath.

Jerry was a little asshole, by the way.


Anonymous said...

...and if they put that disclaimer up there then they also run the risk of being self-aggrandizing. I don't have a problem with it being dubbed over and there being no acknowledgement.

Van Zan said...

Disney... (which I love)

Remember the crows in Dumbo? That's quite a snapshot in time. Have a listen to them...

A tangentially related subject: The Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp were called Si and Am... logically. However in an earlier draft - done during WWII - they were called Nip and Tuck and were more malevolent than in the final film.

Should we get upset....? Nah. But it's interesting to spot stuff like this.

JBW said...

I'm not getting upset about it by any means, just found it interesting. My observation was essentially that after witnessing the incredible efforts of the blogosphere to increase accountability in all areas online, an old cartoon was changed with what I would imagine are no accessible public records of the editing, including in the credits after the show (which are now wrong).

I understand that there has been plenty of rather blatant racism in the entertainment industry in the past and I don't necessarily blame those involved to a great degree: they were products of their time and place. This one was just personal to me as an old fan of these cartoons; I remember the old voice and never thought anything of it as a kid. Just interesting to watch societies reaction through now older eyes.

repsac3 said...

I think the new voice (& perhaps new writing, too) should've gotten a new credit, myself... I could do without a "sanitized for your protection" disclaimer, but acknowledging that this is not the original work, and at the same time giving the new people credit, would be the right thing to do.

Wiping away one's ("sordid," by current standards, though "perfectly acceptable" at the time) past as though it never happened just doesn't seem right, to me...

As to whether to change such things so as not to perpetuate the stereotypes, or leave them in to be used as teachable moments and tributes to how far we've come is a whole lot stickier question. I'm reasonably OK with changing a Tom & Jerry or Disney cartoon I guess, but would feel very different* about a similar rewrite to Huck Finn, even if it was loudly acknowledged.

In fact, wasn't there a company dedicated to editing the "naughty bits" out of classic and contemporary movies, after the fact? Why yes, there was: CleanFlicks. On the totem pole of wrong, that was the lowest face. It's one thing when the original director or film studio changes the original work... But when a third party company does it, that's going too far.

*(If there's any grammar cops reading this, please let me know if that should be "differently." That latter seems more correct to me intellectually, but the former sounds better--prolly because so few of us are grammar cops, anymore.)

JBW said...

Thanks Reppy, that's pretty much all I was saying. You did it much more succinctly however.

S.logan said...

Despite the fact that, as a Republican, I suck at humor (that's not generalizing, at all), we still agree on one thing: Jerry was an asshole.

Okay, maybe we agree on two things: I'm generally more appealing to liberals when I'm not talking.


JBW said...

How depressing is it that one commenter can up the hot chick ratio so significantly around here? I need to write fewer Star Wars posts. Thanks for stopping by, Suzanna.

repsac3 said...

Give yourself more credit than that, S.logan... You're a whole lot funnier (intentionally, I mean) than many Republican bloggers I've read... (...though no, now that you mention it--and now that I've seen the response--I wasn't impressed by your little ditty either, mostly because it made statements as generalized and therefore foolish as some of the responses you received, and ended up reacting to, and that's to say nothing of the offensiveness of the thing.)

As to whether you're more appealing to liberals or anyone else when quiet, that may have more to do with the class of people with which you choose to interact than anything else... Right or left, wrong or right, I prefer folks who have an opinion, and aren't afraid to express it... ...or to have others question or otherwise disagree with it.

I worry far more about those who prefer to stifle dissent (namecalling & other dismissive ridicule, moderation for content, sweeping generalizations, ...), than those who welcome disagreements and face them head on.

Van Zan said...

If you reduce your Star Wars posts to divert more power to some tractor beam on chicks I will feed you to a compactor on the detention level.

JBW said...

Guys with chicks can say shit like that and make me laugh VZ, but when I'm between girls I need to concentrate on pulling in the virtual wool. You know what I'm saying, homie.

Van Zan said...

Mr Spock once said about that exact predicament: "you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true".

JBW said...

If you can explain logic to my irresponsible penis I'll cut you a fairly large check, VZ. And props on the Sci-Fi geek cred you've displayed here.

sheshel said...

I Like tom n jerry cartoon....jerry's behavior is very funny

JBW said...

So now my dilemma: do I delete sheshel's comment for being completely incoherent or do I let it stand as a testament to Jerry's awesomeness?

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