Thursday, May 19, 2011

A "Nobler" Age

I remember a long flight I took as a child. Due to some sort of mix-up, I was seated next to a man in a business suit instead of with my mom and sister.

The stewardess came by and asked what we wanted to drink. Excited that my mom wasn't there to tell me to order a milk, I gleefully asked for a Coke. The man in the suit next to me had other things on his mind.

"Do you have TWA coffee?" he asked.

"Yes," said the stewardess.

He grinned. "Do you have TWA tea?"

She blushed very deeply and responded in a faint whisper, "Yes, sir. We have tea."

And he leaned forward, leering the whole time. "Well, see you when tea is ready."

I do remember that she seemed to shrink in on herself and slunk away.

The man in the suit turned to me with a triumphant look on his face. "You have to let them know who's in charge, young man."

My eight-year-old self had short hair that summer, due to an incident with some bubble-gum. I had been called "young man" the entire trip and this was the last straw. I kicked the guy in the knee and yelled, "I'm a girl and you're mean!"

To prevent any further ruckus, the stewardesses moved the man in the suit to the back of the plane. My new neighbor was a very nice old man who taught me logic problems.

The stewardess gave me a candy bar. For free.

So, what does that have to do with cartoons?


If you watch "Tom and Jerry" on TV these days, it's not Lillian Randolph voicing that maid. Her voice was redubbed by Turner in the mid-1990s in hopes of making the character sound less stereotypical; the resulting accent sounded more Irish (no stereotypes there!).

This is what we call bowdlerizing. We get the term from Thomas Bowdler, who wanted Shakespeare to be more "appropriate" for women and children. What this means is Love's Labour Lost is probably only about twenty minutes long.

What it also means is we cannot learn from the past, because it's been dumped down some kind of memory hole.

Offended? You should be. Does that mean that the offensive material should not be available? No. You can't remake the past and it has to be there, no matter how awful or offensive it might be. This was made when we were at war and so we had to make the enemy something slightly less than human. You can't kill someone if you think they're just like you. They have to be something inhuman or else you won't be able to pull the trigger.

Oh! Those Nazis are so funny! How could they ever hope to defeat us? No...we're smarter than them.

They can't even speak correctly! Ha ha! Silly Nazis.

Let's fast-forward a bit here and look at something fairly innocuous from 1959.

Living in Texas, I can't watch this without wincing a bit, so I guess I'm well programmed. All the classic stereotypes are here: lazy, stupid, greedy....

If you think those haven't had any influence, check out this video and its title. Don't read the comments.

Remember that whole thing about making the enemy less than human? Yeah.

Works both ways.

Anyone can make propaganda! That's part of the fun. That's also the disgusting thing about it. And you should be offended by that video; it proves you're still a human being.

But the most important part about this dreadful collection is it actually happened. Maybe you laughed a little. Maybe you got upset. Maybe the whole thing put you into a full-on rage. We can't ignore these things or pretend that they didn't happen.

I don't think I'd be the person I am today if that little incident on the plane hadn't happened. I know that it happened and that similar things still happen. It doesn't make me hate guys, just assholes.

We show this cartoon at shows. Sometimes, we show a live-action version. You know why?

Because that guy was a total douchenozzle. We're making fun of his dumb ass. Everyone sing along and mock that guy who thought he was doing SERIOUS BUSINESS and ended up in a ditch, covered in petrol, on fire.

See how far propaganda gets you? It just gives the future something to make fun of.


Chris Sobieniak said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one!

Unknown said...

There will always be those people who want to clean up culture. The ones who want to protect the children from some terrible thing. And they never see themselves as censors or bookburners. Those people always see themselves on the side of the righteous. Removing and replacing a word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn makes the world a better and safer place for them. They've never read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but they are certain that the word is hateful and bad and the children must be protected from that hate.

And so it goes. Books are banned, removed from shelves, removed from schools and classrooms, again and again, year after year, generation after generation.

And yet, those books always seem to find their way back into the hands of the children. Because there are librarians and booksellers, collectors and archivists, who see that one reader who is looking for something and they place these books in those hands. And the connection is made.

There will always be the collectors and archivists who seek out and distribute the uncensored books, music, film, and video. It seems to be part of human nature to drag things in to the light what others try to remove or hide away.

Dr. Mila said...

Now let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic-books survive. And the three-dimensional sex-magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade-journals.

--Fahrenheit 451

Unknown said...

But they don't lock up the writers and their typewriters. There's no need. It's far easier to ignore the writers and not buy their books, time forgets them.

However, if the writers ideas are good or dangerous they're always shared between readers. The best writers always get their stories stolen from them. The same story is retold over and over. There must be an infinite number of Romeo and Juliets in existence, there were Romeo and Juliets before ol' Bill crafted his take.

Bradbury was wrong. People don't limit themselves to confessions and trade journals. People want good stories. Whether they come from books, music, TV, movies or video games.

Romeo and Juliet the videogame?

Unknown said...

They'd try to ban a Romeo and Juliet videogame. Teenaged sex, gang violence, and suicide? Think of the children!

Chris Sobieniak said...

See why I'm too damn progressive in my thinking. None of this really matters to me at all, but I can see how people just need to learn soon enough.

Chris Sobieniak said...

In the end, it's all about how we characterize ourselves as caricatures and stereotypes we now see as uncomfortable, but it's so true. We have nothing else to go on besides a generic blank slate.