Saturday, June 30, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

Scrub Me Mama (1943)

In my Harlem in the 1920's: Black Art and Literature class we learned about the many pervasive black stereotypes in entertainment - entertainment geared towards white audiences. They are all classic and you've seen them all before. There's the big bosomed mammy, the Uncle Tom, the light-skinned mulatto jezebel, the lazy sambo, the unkempt pickaninny children. All are represented in this morning's cartoon, including the ravenous consumption of watermelon and picking cotton. The only stereotypes missing are are the zip coon, urban coon and black buck. Those guys were probably too threatening for the fun-loving boogie-woogie tone of this piece. It all seems in fun, but you have to realize that this cartoon was almost 100 years after the Civil War and black people still couldn't get a break in how they were represented in the media. And it's a cartoon! It's directed at children. So, for white children with little or no exposure to black people, this the image that got installed in their minds. For black children without role models, this also got installed as possible identities to emulate.

Cartoons like this used to run all the time on TV until the late 60's and early 70's until pressure from parental groups forced the producers to self-impose a ban on questionable material for kids. Unfortunately, they went overboard and banned a lot stuff because of violence, too. As a kid, all it takes is stepping on a rake and getting smacked in the bean ONCE to get the difference between the physics of life versus cartoons (I know this from experience, by the way). All the cartoons that have been banned do show up on DVD's and on cable, usually late at night and with a disclaimer.

This is a Dave Fleischer cartoon. Fleischer directed many classic Superman and Popeye cartoons. The animation is excellent, it's a catchy tune, and I did chuckle a few times in spite of the racism.