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Early Cartoons and Sitcoms - Political Incorrectness, Stereotypes and Chauvinism, by Laura Thykeson
Early Black and White Cartoons
Unfortunately, the majority of the cartoons I loved to watch when young turned out to be some of the "banned 11" cartoons that will never be shown again. I was born in 1960, but the ones I loved were the black and white ones from the 1930's and 1940's. In 1968, 11 different cartoons were banned from ever being shown again, because of the blackface gags and racial stereotyping of African Americans, Jews, Japanese, Chinese and Germans. The list of the banned 11 can be found on Wikipedia, if you wish to know the names of them, but I don't want to even list them, as just the names could be considered offensive to certain ethnic groups. On "The Golden Age of Looney Tunes" collection, a few of the cartoons have been included, but only in edited form. The banned 11 haven't been shown in their original form since the late 1960's, as United Artists and Merrie Melodies withheld them from syndication because they were so controversial. In effect, they have literally been sealed up in a vault, never to be seen again. I still remember many of them, and they were very stereotypical and I can see why they were banned. The fact that the world, at one time thought nothing of showing these cartoons to children, is amazing to me.
Some of these banned cartoons are actually landmarks in animation history, because they were some of the first times that the animation and soundtrack actually was synchronized with the speech and dancing combination of the shows. These cartoons were being produced on a shoestring budget of around $6,000 each, when Disney was already spending $10,000 per cartoon.
The "Merrie Melodies" cartoons featured songs from Warner Brothers that were popular at the time, basically serving as advertisements for the songs. As a matter of fact, in 1932, "It's Got Me Again" was actually nominated for an Academy Award for animation. Each Warner Brothers cartoon had to include at least one full chorus from a Warner Brothers song, which they insisted be performed with "big name bands", which proved to be too costly as well as difficult to coordinate, so this idea was abandoned after a few of the original shorts (as they called the cartoons back then). It was also a problem for the animators, with the equipment they had at the time, to keep the figures on the screen in rhythym with the cartoons momentum and different pacings when the music was included. It was during this time that Friz Freleng, the producer, often didn't know whether Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies were going to be releasing the cartoon. Looking back, it still amazes me that the world thought it was alright to release some of these absolutely racist cartoons to children. Then I look at the world now, and we actually have a President that is of mixed race and see how we have made some really huge strides in overcoming that racism. Thank God! The ignorance and fear of other races was ridiculous from those eras.
Anyway, another series of cartoons that were my absolute favorites were called "Car-Tunes" and were the musical cartoons where they would put the words of the song across the screen as they played the music and pre-recorded artists sang the song, and you could "follow the bouncing ball" and sing along. My personal favorites were "Shine on Harvest Moon" and "Moonlight Bay". I can remember singing along at the top of my lungs to these songs around the age of 6 or 7. I still sing these songs to my grandchildren, and almost consider those "bouncing ball" musical cartoons as an early form of Karaoke! These particular cartoons were developed by the Fleischer Studios, but changed to "Screen Songs" in 1945 and the Fleischer's were fired by Paramount. Tin Pan Alley songs were also sometimes used, along with popular vaudeville tunes. Another form of musical cartoons were called "Spooney Melodies", which featured music by the Abe Lyman Band.
There is one particular cartoon that I dearly loved, and no one else seems to remember it, or anything like it, so I am hoping someone can help me with some input on it. It involved a factory of some type, where things were normal and people were going about their jobs during the day. Then when the whistle blew signaling the end of the work day, and everyone had gone home, all of the factory machines and odds and ends at the factory would come to life. Things like the mop and broom would become either singers, announcers, or microphone stands, and other pieces and parts of the factory would literally come to life and put on a musical show, all while the workers were gone at night. I even seem to remember one of them featuring a voice like Jack Benny (which I just found out actually DID do some voice over work for some cartoons, so maybe I'm not nuts after all) as the announcer. Perhaps some of you readers remember these type cartoons also and can enlighten me, since I have driven my family nuts about these for the last few years!
Early Sitcoms, Chauvinism and Stereotypes
I watched "I Love Lucy" every single day. I absolutely loved that show, although even as a young girl, I couldn't figure out why "Ricky" wouldn't let "Lucy" be in his shows or even work most of the time. She had to ask for money from him, and he was always yelling at her about something she had done to make him angry. Of course, that was the whole premise of the show, her doing silly things, trying to be in the shows at his "club", as well as sneaking out to get jobs like the one where she and Ethel worked in the candy factory, as well as the famous "Vita-Veta-Vegamin" commercial she did where she got plastered from drinking it over and over again because of all the retakes. But even as a young girl, I would get really angry at Ricky because of how he would belittle Lucy and treat her like she was basically his slave. These days, that type of behavior would be classified as an abusive relationship, at least emotionally. Of course, this was back in the 1950's and times were different. The roles women played were almost always second best to the men, but behind the scenes, from what I understand, Lucille Ball was the REAL star and called the shots, which Desi Arnaz resented. From what I understand, she came up with the idea for the show because of Desi's famous womanizing, and if they were working together, she could keep a closer watch on him. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't, but she did break new ground in television by sharing her real life pregnancy, along with their son she gave birth to, with the rest of the world by portraying it boldly on the television series.
On "Leave It To Beaver" June Cleaver really set us women up for a fall, by wearing a dress, heels, pearls and an apron every day of her life on the show. I don't think I remember ever seeing her anywhere in the house besides the kitchen and the dining room. Oh, there may have been other scenes I don't remember, but when I think of her, I always see her in her kitchen. Mary Tyler Moore finally broke the mold when she played the part of a single woman with a career on a new series of her own, after being "Rob's" wife on "The Dick Van Dyke" show. After that, stereotypes for women, along with racial boundaries began to blur and disappear, which is a wonderful thing.
I could go on and on about all of my favorite old shows on television, but I think I will stop for now. If you happen to remember the cartoon I mentioned earlier in this hub, where the factory comes to life, maybe you can clue me in. I will be waiting to hear from you!