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.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Cartoons Teach Us About Race & Gender

Michael Rodeno

When we were kids one of the things that we hold most dear to us is what we watch on television. Most of the time parents take for granted what their kids are watching. Parents think this show or game is made for kids so there is not any content that would be inappropriate for them to watch. When I was a child I did not see any of the stereotypes because I didn’t know they existed. When I look back on some these portrayals now from old cartoons such as Bugs Bunny or Popeye I am shocked by the blatant forms of racism. My blog will focus on what a child can learn from cartoons in terms of race and gender.

After watching a few older cartoons such as Bugs Bunny and Popeye that are still somewhat prevalent to this day I asked myself what could a young mind take away from these portrayals of race, gender and social class? The first cartoon I viewed was on YouTube it was an old Speedy Gonzalez with his cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez. This particular cartoon stereotyped Mexican people as either being fast and energetic or slow, lazy and hungry. Speedy Gonzalez is the fast and energetic character who is always running around screaming Andale or Arriba while Slowpoke Rodriguez is lethargic and sings la cuca racha very slowly. Even the two characters attire is stereotypical Speedy and Slowpoke both wear all white outfits with sombreros. On top of their clothing, accents and behavior even their food choices are stereotyped in this particular cartoon. When Slowpoke suggests to speedy in order to enjoy their cheese they need Tabasco sauce. This particular cartoon suggests that Mexicans are slow and lazy or energetic and annoying as well as hot sauce eating sombrero wearing people. These perceptions are disturbing to say the least.

Warner Brothers had another very controversial and shocking racist cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny. This included the Original Elmer Fudd who was an African American character originally. Elmer Fudd is extremely dark with huge light colored lips and is all slouched over he looks more like an animal then an human being. Elmer is not very intelligent either you can barley understand the words that are coming out of his mouth and he uses all slang instead of proper English. Although this particular cartoon was made a long time ago it is very offensive and would not be accepted in todays culture. This particular cartoon did not even portray the Elmer Fudd as a human being this gives young white children that black people are stupid and animal looking people. This particular portrayal would be very hard inpaticular for a black child because a cartoon like this could be very degrading to their confidence and may make them feel inferior.

An example of gender roles in cartoons is in the Disney Pixar movie Toy Story. The scene when Woody and Buzz are arguing over whether Buzz can fly or not. Woody is the dominant male in this group of toys until Buzz enters their lives. Woody tries to convince the other toys that Buzz is all bells and whistles. The main toy he is trying to convince is his girlfriend Bo Peep she has clearly moved on from Woody to Buzz because he is more dominant and has more desirable physical features when she says “Looks like I found myself a new moving partner”. This sends a wrong message to little girls that they should be looking for materialistic traits in a man instead of looking for a man with a great personality who really cares about her.

Another cartoon that shows stereotypical gender roles is the Jetsons. In the intro of the show we observe George Jetson giving his wife Jane money to go shopping. This act promotes the fact that Jane does not have her own money or make her own money. The only way that she is able to go shopping is to use her husband’s money. In the show she also fits the stereotypical housewife role in the capacity of staying home all day and preparing the meals. This tells a little girl that when I’m older I’ll find the right man and won’t have to work George is the breadwinner for the family he goes to work makes the money for the family and does not lift a finger when he is home. A little boy who watches this gets the idea that he does not have to help his wife with duties around the house and all he has to do is go to work. Even the kids fit stereotypes Elroy the Jetsons son is interested in sports and does anything to please his father and Judy is a typical high school girl who is interested in boys and shopping. These stereotypes in this show goes with times in which the show was made. However the Jetsons are still is prevalent today and may cause children to think that they need to fit these stereotypical gender roles.

Past cartoons and even some current ones can teach a child about race and gender in a negative way. Parents should monitor what their child watches and explain to them that these cartoons do not portray reality. These cartoons are generally harmless but obviously there are many messages about race and gender that we don’t really realize until we are really looking for it.

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