Years ago, I watched Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in a rarely seen today 1941 Busby Berkeley musical called Babes On Broadway. As always, they were kids putting on a show. The big finale is a minstrel number with the two stars singing in blackface. I remember two things: how strange they both looked blacked up like that and how much I enjoyed Judy Garland’s rendition of Waiting For The Robert. E. Lee (for years I thought it was called ‘See Dem Shufflin’ Along’). I didn’t think about that film again until years later in 2000 when I reviewed Spike Lee’s Bamboozled.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one reason to see Spike’s somewhat muddled film: the thought-provoking, disturbing montage right at the end. It features the worst stereotypes of black people from movies, TV shows and cartoons: bug-eyed, big lipped, ants-in-pants, nappy-haired, watermelon-eating, cannibalistic savages who shuffled, sang, jived and danced. These images were taken from Hollywood classics such as The Birth Of A Nation, The Jazz Singer, Gone With The Wind etc. and also Ub Iwerks’ cartoon Little Black Sambo, Walter Lantz’s cartoon Scrub Me Mama With A Boogie Beat, the Merrie Melodies short All This And Rabbit Stew (featuring Bugs Bunny) and Tom and Jerry, among others.
I mentioned in one of my previous entries that I have no plans to dispose of my VHS Tom and Jerry cartoons due to the fact that the DVD releases have fallen victim to political correctness: they’re cut to shreds. No blackface, no blatant ethnic stereotyping, no original voice for Mammy Two Shoes (the female black character famous for shouting "Taaaaaaaaaaamas!"). This much-loved character has been de-Mammy-fied courtesy of a new voice and correct grammar ("This" instead of "Dis" etc). Soon, there’ll be no cartoon characters smoking either. When America’s Supreme Court declared racism unconstitutional in 1954, the studios were under pressure – this explains the Tom and Jerry cartoons of the mid 1950s featuring the pair living with a white woman/couple rather than Mammy Two Shoes. In addition, it accounts for why fans may come across two versions of the same cartoon: the 1940s Fred Quimby-produced shorts with Mammy Two Shoes and an exact copy made without her by Chuck Jones’ team in the 1950s. Carelessness led to instances of anomalies: my Chuck Jones version of Saturday Evening Puss, for example, has the white character with the black southern Mammy Two Shoes voice originally provided by Lillian Randolph.
Today, measures are even more stringent and only dubbed/edited versions of cartoon greats can be seen on kids channels such as The Cartoon Network and Boomerang. Fair enough – the audience is made up of kids. However, my blood boils whenever I contemplate the hatchet job that is Tom and Jerry on DVD. I have spent years searching for the original version of Saturday Evening Puss (now only available for view on a certain video sharing site) to no avail. And yet, when the Looney Tunes collection got a DVD release, the cartoons were uncut. Whoopi Goldberg provided an introduction to the set explaining why some of the ethnic gags are no longer appropriate. She also correctly states that removing them would falsify both the history of animation and also, American culture. The mind boggles as to why Tom and Jerry didn’t receive similar treatment.
While I am prepared to watch black people bug eyes, shuffle and chow down on watermelons etc whenever I watch movies from a certain period of time, I vehemently object to doing so in these supposedly enlightened days. That’s why I was one of the thousands who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about Cadbury Schweppes’ Trident chewing gum advert. I’m talking about the one featuring a black minstrel-like character’s faux-Caribbean accented cry of "Mastication for de nation!" Insensitive in the extreme, it was rightly axed.
However, ask me if I want Gone With The Wind or Imitation Of Life (the 1934 version) butchered. Ask me if cartoons like Tex Avery’s Uncle Tom’s Bungalow and Fritz Freleng’s Jungle Jitters should be banned forever. My answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Unpleasant as they undoubtedly are, these Hollywood stereotypes (largely by white and Jewish Americans) must be viewed within the context of their era. I wouldn’t expect a child to understand that – but I’d certainly expect an adult to. So Ted Turner et al, give us the choice and give us back our cartoons in their original condition on DVD. In the words of Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter: you know it makes sense.
Today I am mostly lovin’ – Marcool for writing in and putting me out of my misery. The song used on the Sure Biorhythm advert is My Life by Elmo. Cheers mate!
Today I am mostly hatin’ – I’m an Arsenal fan; we’re top of the table, Spurs are in the bottom three, Moaninho has gone – what’s to hate aside from the fact that the season can’t end right now?
MSN Editor Coops