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10 Politically Incorrect Vintage Cartoons
At times it can feel like social progress moves at a snail’s pace, but one only need watch a few minutes of old-timey cartoons to see how far we’ve actually come. What was once deemed child-friendly TV is now viewed as a cringe-worthy display of racism, indoctrination, drug use, and violence.
10 ‘Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs’
In 1968, United Artists owned the distribution rights to Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons and chose to permanently ban 11 cartoons that were deemed too offensive. These cartoons are now known as the “Censored Eleven” and, although they were removed from syndication, most of them can be found online.
Among the 11 is “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs,” which fits more racial stereotypes into seven minutes than would seem humanly possible. While it follows the basic premise of Snow White, it features an all-black cast, including a gold-toothed “Prince Chawmin.” The Snow White character, known as “So White,” is voluptuous and overtly sexual in her short skirt and low-cut shirt. All the other characters are depicted as caricatures with extremely dark skin and overly large, light-colored lips. As if the open racism against African Americans wasn’t enough, the creators also threw in a bigoted jab at both “midgets” and “Japs” when the story’s assassins offered to “rub out” the former for a mere 50 cents and the latter for free.
Instead of considering it racist, the cartoon’s producer, Bob Clampett, long defended it as a tribute to blacks and felt it was a stepping stone in race relations, since it was one of the first films featuring all African-Americans with a soundtrack of jazz, swing, and blues music.
9 ‘Jungle Jitters’
“Jungle Jitters,” another one of the Censored Eleven, is set in a jungle and features dark-skinned, big-lipped Africans. The tribesmen all wear grass skirts and dance wildly about while thrusting spears in the air. Some are seen drumming with their butts while others jump rope with their nose rings. However, things get even more condescending when a traveling salesman shows up and the locals fantasize about cannibalizing him.
The salesman can save himself if he marries the tribe’s white queen, yet he chooses to jump in a pot of boiling water and become dinner rather than commit to the homely woman.
8 Tom And Jerry—‘Plane Dumb’
Before the well-known cat and mouse came around, the Van Beuren studios had their own cartoon pair named Tom and Jerry. Instead of archenemies, the earlier duo were best friends who, in each episode, ended up in a crazy adventure.
In the 1932 cartoon above, Tom and Jerry are flying in a plane over Africa when they decide to go down and do some exploring. But, they believe the only way to stay safe is to put on blackface disguises and talk in a stereotypical African-American dialect. The two never break “character,” even when alone, and only wipe off the black paint when they are viciously chased off the continent by spear-chucking natives.
Today, the Van Beuren cartoons are in the public domain, so feel free to explore the entire Tom and Jerry series and look for other instances of blatant racism.
7 Betty Boop—‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’
In this 1934 short animation, Betty Boop and her buddy KoKo the clown draw themselves into a dentist’s office in hopes of relieving KoKo of a toothache. However, KoKo is less than cooperative and, try as she might, Betty can’t seem to pull the offending tooth out of his mouth. So, she decides to drug him up with some laughing gas and then carelessly allows the gas to flow freely into the room, which sends both of them into a fit of laughter and impromptu singing. The gas eventually flows off the page of the “cartoon world” and seeps into the real world where it causes people and inanimate objects alike to become hysterical.
Apparently, this cartoon is banned for glorifying drug use and perhaps encouraging do-it-yourself dentistry. However, we find the whole film simply bizarre—from Betty’s risque outfit, to her giggling every time the clown screams in pain, and let’s not forget the brief interlude between the pliers and dentures while Betty powders her nose. While not the most offensive cartoon on the list, it’s definitely the most strange.
Tokio Jokio is yet another Looney Tunes short dedicated to World War II propaganda.
Ironically, the cartoon is introduced as a recently released Japanese propaganda film designed to show off advanced Japanese technology and skill. It follows with Japanese characters with obnoxious accents displaying their innovations—except all their demonstrations end in disaster or are utterly ridiculous. For instance, the aircraft spotter is simply someone painting spots on a plane, and the delicious Japanese club sandwich is nothing more than a meat ration card placed between a cut-in-half bread ration card.
Like the Popeye cartoon, the Japanese are caricaturized with buck teeth, glasses, and an overall sinister manner. It’s this type of systematic dehumanizing of the Japanese (or at least making them look sub-human) that undoubtedly made it easier for the average citizen to accept the war and ultimately the atomic bomb.
5 ‘Injun Trouble’
It seems Warner Brothers liked the name “Injun Trouble” so much they decided to make it the title for two cartoons. The first was from 1938 and featured Porky Pig. Currently, a video of the short is nowhere to be found on the Internet, but according to various descriptions, it involves a whole slew of racial stereotypes as Porky ventures into “Injun Joe Territory.”
The second “Injun Trouble” is a Cool Cat cartoon from 1968. Similar to Porky, Cool Cat wanders onto an Indian reservation where he is immediately chased down by a hollering Native American. Throughout Cool Cat’s journey he is shot at with arrows and is nearly tricked into taking an overweight Indian woman as his wife. And of course, all the natives use the word “how,” speak in broken English, and are portrayed as angry savages.
4 Popeye—‘You’re A Sap, Mr. Jap’
This World War II–era cartoon begins with an upbeat song and the repeated lyric of “You’re a sap, Mr. Jap.” While sailing the seas, Popeye comes across some bucktooth, sandal-wearing, gibberish-speaking Japanese military members who feign like they want to sign a peace treaty with Popeye, yet smash him with a giant hammer as soon as his back is turned. Naturally a fight ensues, and after chugging down the requisite can of spinach, Popeye says, “So, you want to tangle with us Americans, huh?” Then he proceeds to kick the Japanese’s butts, calls them “Ja-pansies,” and even drives the lone surviving naval commander to chug gasoline in a suicide attempt.
Today, it’s easy to recognize this cartoon as an obvious form of propaganda meant to indoctrinate children into thinking the Japanese were sneaky, double-crossing cowards.
3 Bugs Bunny—‘Herr Meets Hare’
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine someone getting a pass to make a children’s cartoon featuring Nazi leaders Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler as well as a cameo from Stalin, but in 1945 those were the ingredients of great entertainment.
In this episode, Bugs Bunny takes a wrong turn at “Albakoikie” for the very first time and finds himself in Nazi Germany, where he approaches Hermann Goering and asks for directions. Shortly thereafter, Goering chases Bugs with a musket and the rabbit successfully eludes him through a series of gags. In the clip above, Bugs easily bends Goering’s beloved medals (proving they are nothing more than cheap phonies) and then slaps some mud on his own face to disguise himself as Hitler. Once dressed as the Fuehrer, he proceeds to strip Goering of his medals while scolding him in fake German, saying “Klooten-flooten-blooten-pooten-meirooten-tooten!”
Finally, Goering traps Bugs and takes him back to the real Hitler, but when the Nazi leader peers into the bag that’s supposed to contain the rabbit, he finds Stalin instead, which of course, is merely Bugs Bunny dressed up as Stalin. Still, the sight gives Goering and Hitler such a scare they run off in fright.
Around four months after this cartoon aired, the Third Reich fell.
2 Flintstones—Winston Cigarette Commercial
In the late 1990s, public outcry forced Camel cigarettes to ditch their cartoonish “Joe Camel” mascot, as folks feared he was marketing tobacco to children. That considered, it’s amazing to think that just a few decades earlier everyone thought it was perfectly fine for adored cartoon characters like the Flintstones to happily smoke Winston Cigarettes at the end of their show.
As sponsors of the show, Winston launched a series of Flintstones-themed ads that were readily viewed by children. In the ad above, Fred and Barney decide to go on a smoke break and leave their wives to complete all the house work. They lounge on a rock while puffing away and praising the cigarette’s quality and rich flavor. Fred sums it up by repeating the brand’s famous slogan, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”
As it turns out, there was some controversy surrounding these ads, but oddly enough, it was for grammatical reasons and not because smoking was being glamorized on children’s entertainment. The hullabaloo started because of Winston’s blatant disregard for proper grammar when they used “like” as a conjunction (apparently this was a big deal back then). People argued that Winston should switch the “like” to “as,” so the catchphrase would say “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”
Incidentally, the uproar about the grammar worked out well for Winston, as it caused even more people to talk about their brand.
1 Bugs Bunny—‘Rhapsody Rabbit’
For whatever reason, cartoons from the 1930s to the 1960s were notoriously violent, and it seems no group of characters was quite as vicious as the Looney Tunes. They were constantly blowing each other up, dropping anvils on heads, and defying the laws of physics all in the name of inflicting more pain.
One of the most shockingly brutal moments happened in “Rhapsody Rabbit” when pianist Bugs Bunny, tired of being interrupted by a coughing audience member, removes a gun from his coat and smoothly shoots the guy dead. It’s not that this act was particularly more gruesome than many of the other scenes in Looney Tunes history, but there’s something about using a real weapon (not cartoon violence) and the look of pure vitriol on Bugs’ face that makes this bit seem all too realistic.
Content and copy writer by day and list writer by night, S. Grant enjoys exploring the bizarre, unusual, and topics that hide in plain sight. You can Email S. Grant.