Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's Up With That, Doc?

So many celebrities are turning 70 this year.

The list includes Tom Jones, Don Imus, Chuck Norris, Herbie Hancock, Alex Trebek, and, yes, Ringo Starr. But the biggest name on the list is Bugs Bunny.

I’m a lifelong Looney Tunes fan—Bugs, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig—I love the whole crew.

I worked an eveing shift when I was a reporter at the Pocono Record. Since I leave nearby, I often went home for dinner where I could relax for a little while and watch the cartoons at 6pm instead of the nightly news.

TNT used to run their cartoon program in the morning and the evening. They had a great commercial for the show that appealed to the child in all adults.

The spot featured a series of rapidly edited scenes of various Warner Brothers characters pounding the beejesus out of each other while a driving drum beat kept time with the mayhem.

“On twice a day,” the announcer intoned, “because you need it now more than ever!”

Truer words were never said.

Recently I was thinking of a Bugs Bunny short called “Any Bonds Today?” As you can no doubt surmise, the cartoon was part of the war effort—and by “the war” I mean World War II.

In the short, Bugs sings and dances as he extols loyal Americans to buy war bonds. As with all the Warner Brothers cartoons of that era, the animation in this cartoon is fabulous.

Any bonds today?” Bugs sings in his famous Brooklyn accent. “Bonds of freedom, that's what I'm selling. Any bonds today?

I had seen a clip of “Any Bonds Today?” several years ago on a PBS documentary and I remember my mother and I had a good laugh at it. So naturally I was pretty happy when I came across this short on YouTube and I was all set to post it on my Facebook page.

Luckily, I decided to watch it first.

This cartoon, which was completed eight days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, is less than two minutes long. About halfway through the thing, Bugs whips around and suddenly he’s in blackface, dropping to his knees and doing an Al Jolson impersonation.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. My favorite cartoon character was putting on this incredibly offensive display.

I know that this was a different time, when such humor was acceptable—at least to white people. And some of the posters on YouTube argued that Bugs is actually mocking Al Jolson and thus not guilty of any ethic offense.

I don’t know about that, but the thing creeped me out. I grew up on the sanitized version of Bugs, which was free of this kind of alleged humor.

Please understand that I’m not calling for censorship nor am I accusing people who are long dead of racism.

I don’t think children should see this stuff for what I hope are obvious reasons, but I believe adults should have access to see this and other cartoons with similar controversial material.

We need to keep these cartoons in their entirety if only as an example of how far we’ve come.

Say The Secret Word

When I was a student at Brooklyn Tech, the school held a screening of “Duck Soup,” my favorite Marx Brothers movie. I forget the occasion—some kind of assembly day, I guess, but I remember the room was packed and everybody was laughing at this old black and white comedy from another generation.

However, this was an uncensored print of the film and at one point Groucho recites some little ditty that ends with the line “…and that’s where little darkies come from.”

The room, which seconds before had been filled with laughter, suddenly fell silent, split between the black kids who were offended and the white kids who were embarrassed—at least I was embarrassed. We stopped being an audience at that moment and became two separate camps.

The awkward moment passed and we all got back into the movie, but it was a shame that race had cropped up in the middle of such a good time.

Yes, I know—that was then and this is now. But this material was never funny and the fact that we don’t engage it in anymore—at least not on screen—is a sign of progress, not stifling political correctness, as some would have you believe.

Race has always been a troublesome issue and to my mind it has gotten worse since Barak Obama was elected president.

You’re free to hate the guy, that’s your right, but if you keep claiming he’s a Muslim from Kenya, or if you refer to the First Lady of the United States as a gorilla—the way a Republican state senator did—well, guess what? You’re a racist.

The Shirley Sharrod fiasco was a new twist on the race issue as notorious rightwing hatchet man Andrew Breitbart released a doctored videotape that “proved” Sharrod was a “racist” when, of course, the entire recording proved the exact opposite.

It was a despicable act, but not surprising given the source. Rats crawl through garbage, vultures feast on rotting corpses, and Briethbart traffics in falsehoods. No news there.

The real losers in this story were the NAACP and the White House, who instantly caved into the bogus pressure and dropkicked Sharrod into the abyss.

What is going on here is the swift-boating of the race issue. John Kerry’s war record was a nightmare for the Republicans in the 2004 election. I mean, Jesus, here was a man who actually fought for his country, running against George Bush, who just kind of...dropped out the National Guard, apparently.

And his running mate was Dick Cheney, the architect of the disaster in Iraq and the serial draft dodger who had “other priorities” when it came to serving his country in Vietnam.

So what did the Republicans do? They attacked Kerry’s war record in one of the most disgusting political campaigns that has ever been my displeasure to witness.

Now we see the same thing is happening again with race. Glenn Beck—who actually stuck up for Sharrod—called Barack Obama a racist with a deep-seated hatred for white people.

Rush Limbaugh, a pill popper as well as a draft dodger, called the NAACP a racist organization and claimed Barack Obama is secretly plotting to destroy the United States to get revenge on white people.

And then there’s the Republican candidate for New Hampshire State House, who declared that “It is time for white people in New Hampshire and across the country to take a stand.”

And, please, don’t forget about Billy Roper, the write-in candidate and proud Teabagger, who said "I don't want non-whites in my country in any form or fashion or any status."

Obviously, bigotry comes in all colors and I used to believe that some people hit the racism button far too quickly. But the reaction to Obama’s election has opened my eyes.

If this keeps up, Bugs Bunny might be appearing in blackface once again.


Anonymous said...

Any time I have come across Hollywood bigotry in old films/cartoons, I instantly cringe. It's hard to believe the world was so....tolerant of intolerance...Thoughtful piece, Rob. http://Back2Brooklyn.blogspot.com

Rob K said...

Thanks. The painful thing is that a lot of these films and cartoons are otherwise very well made--but then these ugly reminders pop up.

Morgan Stevenson said...

Great blog entry, man. It really sucks that you don't have to go back in history too far before you see some disgusting images. However, I hope we never lose footage like this; it's proof that at certain points in history,racism pentrated every aspect of life, even children's entertainment.