During the 1930’s-40, an age of global conflict, war bonds, and political propaganda, Americans reveled in the idea that we are better and smarter than the rest of the world. It certainly showed in the cartoons we were watching, where even children were exposed to subversive, racist imagery disguised as humor. Warner Brothers cartoon characters have come a long way since then; when racial propaganda was prevalent and negative stereotypes were celebrated. Those episodes have since been banned or censored due to their poor taste. Today’s cartoons contain more “family friendly” content, focusing on morals and ideals.
Nips the Nips (1944) is one of the many banned cartoons in the U.S. It’s an eight-minute long racial attack on the Japanese which portrays them as an unintelligent and militant culture with oversized teeth and poor diction. Starting off the episode is the very familiar orchestrated theme music. The opening scene shows the loveable Bugs Bunny who lands on an island after a period of time floating around on the Pacific in a crate. Upon arrival, he is shot at from all different directions. Finding refuge in a haystack, he discovers that he isn’t the only one hiding. A Japanese soldier jumps out and chases Bugs with a knife while shouting nonsense in a Japanese-esque tone. The two continue to chase each other around, Bugs outsmarting him with each encounter. A sumo wrestler, which serves no purpose other than to emphasize the stereotype, walks into the scene and challenges Bugs to a match. After Bugs looses, he runs away only to change into a Geisha costume and returns to the Sumo man and bashes him on the head with a mallet. “Japs! Hundreds of em’!” Noticing he is soon to be outnumbered, Bugs has to think quickly to get out of this predicament. Playing of the ignorance of the Japanese, Bugs drives up in a “Good Rumor” ice cream truck to hand out grenade filled ice cream pops to the troops. “Here ya go monkey-face. Here’s one for you slant eyes.” One by one he passes them all out until the troops eventually explode out of frame proving to children and adults everywhere that the good guys, or rabbits, always win.
Cartoons like these ran in many movie theaters for almost 40 years. They were shown back to back with war-front news reel propaganda. Bugs was portrayed as a true American patriot, outwitting the enemies of the U.S. These cartoons provided a service to the government during this time; promoting animosity and hatred towards the nations and cultures that we were at war with. Since the end of WWII and the civil rights movement of the 60’s, the general public no longer accepted these racially charged images. They are now deemed tasteless and wrong. Warner Brothers has since been forced to ban or censor many of its earlier creations such as Speedy Gonzalez.
During the 90’s Warner Bros. produced a more age-appropriate series called Tiny Toon Adventures. It centers around a university for cartoon characters attended by younger versions of the original Warner Brothers characters. The teachers of the school are the previous loveable characters that have not since been banned: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd to name a few. This particular episode, The Potty Years, focuses on the traditional family roles of potty training a toddler. The opening scene pans into a cozy cottage where the Duck family resides. Soft music plays in the background. The overly adorable character of Plucky is finally learning potty training. Like most children, he has some troubles. Refusing to learn how to use the toilet appropriately, he flushes whatever he can. “Diaper go down the hole. Toot Toot go down the hole.” The family dog wags his way into the bathroom and takes a drink out of the toilet bowl, then licks the face of little Plucky. Here we see the recurring joke of Plucky saying “ewwww” in his sweet childlike voice. Once everything has clogged the toilet, it overflows and begins to flood the bathroom. The parents walk into a huge mess, where Plucky is given a minor scolding. Thus being a more widely accepted attempt at humor compared to that in Nips the Nips. Racial jokes not included.
As one can see, no longer are we instilling politically incorrect views in the minds of children. Rather, Warner Brothers is using humor to reinforce values and ideals instead of purporting racial stereotypes.
About BMC 277: Media and Diversity
This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.