If you watch “Tom and Jerry” on DVD, before the cartoon begins, a disclaimer appears on the screen informing the viewer that while some episodes show racial stereotypes, they haven’t been censored because editing them out would be denying the racism ever happened which is worse than showing it. There is also an introduction by Whoopi Goldberg, which does not come on automatically but can be selected on the menu, essentially explaining the same thing.
The racism in “Tom and Jerry” is often shown when a character gets too close to an explosive, it goes off, and he turns up in blackface. Ha ha ha.
I know this because I have three daughters ages 2 – 8. A while ago we saw a “Tom and Jerry” episode on TV (no racism in that one.) They loved it, and I enjoyed it as well. I liked the old fashioned, no bells and whistles animation, and I thought the classical music accompaniment along with the minimal dialogue was pretty cool. So I bought them a couple of DVDs full of cartoons.
But as we watched them together, not only was there some racism, but in all of the episodes, there were practically no female characters. If one did finally saunter onto the screen, she was so sexualized with her bow-red lips curling and spidery eyelashes incessantly batting as Tom and Jerry competed over her, I wanted to put my hands over my daughters’ eyes.
The non-sexualized female in Tom and Jerry? That would be the African-American one, Mammy Two-Shoes, most often shown headless with a pink ruffled apron snugly tied below her large breasts.
So why is there no disclaimer that appears on the screen about the female stereotypes in “Tom and Jerry?” Where is the introduction from Gloria Steinem explaining the historical relevance of this distorted gender stereotyping as a product of its time?
Unfortunately, the reason that there’s no disclaimer and no introduction is because sexist stereotypes in kids’ cartoons are just as accepted in 2012 as they were sixty years ago. Sexist jokes in animation are, apparently, still hilarious. In fact, if you go to theater right now, you’ll be treated to two of them prominently featured in previews for upcoming films: one about how girls can’t fight in Madagascar 3 and an ugly woman joke in The Lorax.
Keep in mind that these movies are made for kids. Parents, do you really want to pay $10 a pop so your sons and daughters can be taught to laugh because girls supposedly can’t toss a pillow or aren’t skinny enough to be pretty?
What can you do about the rampant sexism in animation? That girls have basically gone missing from kids’ films? If you’re in a theater and you see one of these sexist jokes, start with calling out: NOT FUNNY. Do it for your kids.
Update: I’ve gotten a couple comments on SFGate about how in her foreward, Whoopi Goldberg refers to “women.”
It’s clear that the emphasis of her intro is race. She talks about the how “racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in the name of entertainment” and how people were made fun of “especially when it came to racial and ethnic groups.” She talks quite a bit about Mammy Two Shoes and the talent of the actress who voices her as well as the artist who drew her. She never refers to the sexualization of women and girls. I never get the impression that this is the kind of stereotyping that she is referring to. Because the racism in “Tom and Jerry” is worse, more blatant, and less accepted today, just as with Tintin, it gets called out while most of sexism is allowed to pass unnoticed. The same kind of sexism is rarely called out when it appears, as it often does, in animated films today. You can watch Goldberg’s intro here.