Saving us from ourselves, one cartoon at a time

tom and jerryMedia outlets are reporting that Amazon Prime Instant Video is warning subscribers who view old Tom and Jerry cartoons that the venerable series may depict scenes of “racial prejudice.”

The cartoons, produced between 1940 and 1957, are being tagged by Amazon for its depiction of a black maid and for the use of blackface in some episodes.

Tom and Jerry: The Complete Second Volume is accompanied by this warning: “Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

Amazon’s warning says such prejudice was once “commonplace” in US society, according to the BBC.

The warning was attacked as “empty-headed” by sociology professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent, who said it was a form of a “false piousness” and a type of censorship which “seems to be sweeping cultural life.”

“We’re reading history backwards, judging people in the past by our values,” Furedi said.

Tom and Jerry was a longtime mainstay on American and British children’s programming, and can still be seen today.

However, it does seem rather difficult to believe that there’s a need to attach a warning to a children’s cartoon that identifies the stereotyping of blacks as wrong. Blackface is pretty much accepted as verboten in our culture today and has been for several decades.

Furedi said calls for such warnings are a form of “narcissism,” with the concerns not really being about the content of a book or work of art but about individuals asserting their own importance.

Ironically, Amazon found no need to issue such a disclaimer over the violence inherent in Tom and Jerry.

According to Wikipedia, Tom and Jerry “… cartoons are infamous for some of the most violent cartoon gags ever devised in theatrical animation such as Tom using everything from axes, hammers, firearms, firecrackers, explosives, traps and poison to kill Jerry. On the other hand, Jerry’s methods of retaliation are far more violent due to their frequent success, including slicing Tom in half, shutting his head in a window or a door, stuffing Tom’s tail in a waffle iron or a mangle, kicking him into a refrigerator, getting him electrocuted, pounding him with a mace, club or mallet, causing a tree or an electric pole to drive him into the ground, sticking matches into his feet and lighting them, tying him to a firework and setting it off, and so on.”

The violence is so over the top that The Simpsons based the cartoon characters of Itchy and Scratchy on Tom and Jerry, albeit with even more violence and a whole lot o’ blood.

Amazon may have to rethink not warning viewers about violence after a recent incident in Asia.

In China last month, an 8-year-old boy almost blew his head off with a homemade shotgun when he and friends decided to re-enact a scene from the cartoon.

The kids allegedly swiped the makeshift gun from a neighbor and proceeded to stuff partially dismantled fireworks down the gun’s barrel, according to the New York Post.

When Wu Yuan ignited the device, it created a massive blast that detonated a shotgun shell inside the weapon’s barrel and sent 130 individual pellets flying directly into his face. The police said the only reason the young boy survived the blast is because the fireworks stuffed into the barrel blocked many of the pellets.

For the record, adding a warning to such cartoons about violence isn’t going to prevent exceptionally rare events like the above from occurring. Parents keeping tabs on mischievous-minded children are the only remedy for that challenge.


10 thoughts on “ Saving us from ourselves, one cartoon at a time

    • “Yet” being the key word in that sentence.

      If I do end up killing someone, it won’t be because I was exposed to Little Black Sambo or Tom and Jerry, that I can assure you. I know several people worthy of being bludgeoned on their own merits.

  1. I just found a box my mother saved in her scrap book for chocolate babies candies. I don’t know why she saved it, but when I saw it, I thought, well that would certainly be politically incorrect today. Maybe they should have made vanilla and strawberry babies.

    • Ha! I get the feeling pretty much anything made before 1960 would be considered politically incorrect today. Some of its was certainly inappropriate, tasteless and classless, but not nearly as much as some would lead us to believe.

  2. I have a children’s book from 1946 that would raise anyone’s hackles today with its stereotyping of various cultures. I take it out for a laugh every now and then (little black children wearing rags, eating watermelon, and dancing, etc.etc.) I think those old cartoons are even more fascinating now. OH well.

    • They’re indicative of a different time and mindset. The fact that my children have never actually seen, say, a black man or woman perpetuating any of the stereotypes that appear in a 70-year-old cartoon – along with the fact that I’ve sought to teach them about stereotypes – gives me a reasonable belief that they’re not going to assume that those broad characterizations are true.

  3. That’s funny. However, I have noticed it is more and more difficult to find the classic cartoons from WWII; such as Bugs Bunny in Japan. It’s irritating.

    • I would think YouTube is one of the few places you could find such cartoons today. I wouldn’t be surprised if those were stricken from that site before long, though, which would be unfortunate because they provide a window into what America was thinking 70 years ago.

      • Well, I’m slowly but surely downloading them. Thankfully, Disney produced a DVD a few years ago with their entire WWII propaganda collection. They are pretty open about all of theirs; perhaps that is because it is more anti-Nazi is only slightly racist. The WB cartoons with WWII propaganda is incredibly racist and usually gives me Asian students a lot of laughs; despite the fact that most of the racism is about them. Granted, the majority of my Asian students are not Japanese.

  4. And where are the gollywogs, I ask?
    Nothing in my childhood reading of Little Black Sambo led me to have a poor opinion of black people in general.
    I remember advertisements for rooms to let which stated ‘No dogs, no Irish’….didn’t put me off dogs and Irish people either….

    Just another corporation showing how PC it is: pity, as you point out, that it doesn’t apologise for the violence.

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