Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Shameful Ignorant Stereotype


ARE ALL NORDIC PEOPLES THE SAME?When I created Sven Hoek, I didn't go and study all Nordic cultures. I had a conglomerate stereotype in my head of what I thought was funny about nordic white folks. I combined the funniest stereotypical attributes from different branches of Germanic peoples.

Sven talks with a Swedish accent. An extreme caricature of the accent. Billy West had Sven use the Y phoneme for completely random consonants that Swedes in reality pronounce perfectly, just because it sounded even more ignorant than the real accent.

Sven wears Swiss lederhosen, which I don't think Swedes ever wore.

Part of what makes an extreme generality of a race or culture funny is just how ignorant it is. It's that we know nothing of any detail or specificity of the culture. When I made fun of northern European people, I was also making fun of my own ignorance. I actually lived in Germany when I was a kid and remember vaguely - and with much love and admiration the way everything and everyone looked. But it is also extremely funny. Anything that has a clear visual statement is funny.


What makes a different culture funny? Is it merely that it is just different? Is it that anything are not used to seeing every day we think of as ignorant? That's part of it. The farther removed something is to us, then the stranger it seems to us, and therefore funnier - but that's only part of it. Even more key to me is how extreme and confident the superficial look of the traditional costume and general expressions of the people are.


Is this worth making fun of?The whole point of this ad campaign is to show the contrast between 2 different kinds of white nerds. But I don't see much contrast. Both of these looks are so bland, nondescript and unfunny that they aren't even worth making fun of. There is nothing to caricature. Modern Americans have to be the blandest unfunniest peoples in history. We go out of our way to have no cultural statements and nothing concrete to believe in. We live in the era of mush and fear.

This wasn't always the case.
Only a few decades ago, we had plenty of great concrete stereotypical statements that could be made fun of by American cartoonists - and anyone else.
Is it evil to generalize some cultures and not others?

It must be OK to stereotype Nordics, because no one complained when I did it.

If you really look closely at different times and people and costumes of various Nordic countries, you can see differences between each look.

How many people here or even in modern Europe can tell just by looking at these photographs exactly which culture is which? To most people who are not intimately familiar with these tradional costumes and facial features, they all share something similar that groups this whole branch of humanity into a common recognizable segment. They are all funny, but funny in a similar way.
Do all traditional Germanic people wear lederhosen?


I'm sure the differences between the people in each of these pictures would be much stronger to each other than to us. They'd probably each think the other was hilarious, while they were normal. General and specific is all relative to how familiar you are to something.


General traits are funny and specific variations are also funny. It's all fair game and worthy of study and exploration - and humor.
Cartoonists and comedians love the obvious differences between all groups of people. They love to make fun of costumes, accents, dialects, physical features. This is all part of the historical tradition of comedy.


No Swedes, Swiss, Germans or Bavarians ever got mad at me for making Sven Hoek a totally ignorant caricature of a huge territory on earth that encompasses at least hundreds of diverse cultures and physical types. In fact I got quite a few letters from various Nordics who loved the cartoon.

Sven was so popular that we planned to do more cartoons with more characters from his mythical alpine country of Ungerland. We made up all kinds of ignorant folk tales, had them worshipping sausages, yodeling and playing accordians. Everything about the humor in the cartoons was completely based on our ignorance of the actual details of any specific real traditions of any particular culture in any particular era. That was the joke. It was a joke on us as much as it was making fun of pale people who live in cold climates. Ignorance is funny from both sides. It doesn't mean we hate anybody, or think they are inferior to us. Extreme looks are even funnier when the people themselves don't think there is anything extreme about them. When cartoonists want to draw certain looks, it means we like them. We don't find them boring, as we do modern blandness.

The more outlandish the look (and I admit it's relative outlandishness) of any group of people, the more fun it is to caricature. Who wants everything and everyone to look the same? Besides modern Americans. Not anyone who takes a true interest in the world.


Are we allowed to make fun of these cultures and traditional costumes?


Is there a list somewhere of which people are ok to have fun with?


Borat outraged a whole country by making up traditions and attitudes they don't even have! No one complained here, because Americans think all other cultures are ignorant and backwards- which is funny in itself. Like Sven Hoek, Borat makes fun of both sides - the viewer and the object of his ridicule.
Oh, and thanks to Ryan G. for the Sven drawings

84 comments:

Bleego! said...

Really strong post.

It's funny because I'm as liberal leftist pinko as they come, but it's always struck me as odd just what is "allowed" for poking fun at. We're becoming militantly politically correct which is draining any kind of fun from celebrating our differences in a humorous way.

I especially related to your statement about making fun of or drawing what you think is most interesting. Lots of folks equate jokes with insults which is simply not the case.

Thanks again, really well thought out with great examples.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

It's about time that was put into writing! Thanks Mr. K!

Gajonauta said...

One can make fun and sterotype any group of people. You have to be prepared, however, for harsh criticism coming from pro minority groups in the US. But hey, the way I see it, it's only funnier if someone else ends up pissed. Americans want equality? Well they should all be offended equally!

Great blog, John. I'm sure you're tired of hearing (and reading) this, but it's very instructive. By the way, I would like to see some clips of Sven.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

Those last ones are great! I like this post, there is so much richness everywhere!

That Transilvanian dance with the guys hopping in a circle is so awesome! I bet it'd be a real challenge to animated such a crowd!

Kali Fontecchio said...

This post would have been way better had there been a picture of you and Eddie in lederhosen.

Caleb said...

You bring up some really great points here. Sven Hoek is a perfect example because he has a specific trait- he is a drooling moron. His general trait is Nordic, but it could be switched with any region and would still be funny.

I personally don’t think comedy should be limited at all, and everybody has the choice to not support it. I’ve heard hate related attempts at humor before, and it is flat out not funny because the motive is obvious.

The PC vs. Mac thing is funny to me because I’ve gotten work just because I know how to use both. It feels like manufactured product loyalty to me. I bet a good percentage of people couldn’t tell you which one they own.

Bitter Animator said...

A great post, Mr.K, and a very good point. Sven Hoek was, without a shadow of a doubt, bloody hilarious. Absolute comedy gold. And, yet, I never really considered the stereotype as offensive.

And, yet, I look at Coal Black, which I know you love, and it reeks of racism to me.

I'm neither Swedish nor black by the way.

You are right that it is effectively a double standard and you could make the case that for one to be okay and one not is racism in itself. But, for me, the history is important. Having a good laugh at a culture's expense is often funny. Having a good laugh at a culture that your own culture enslaved, or oppressed, or drive from their homes, or murdered in vast numbers and so on, is quite another. Especially if that laugh is based on stereotypes created while those atrocities were actually in full swing.

A Jewish guy doing an impression of a stuck-up German might be funny. A German guy doing impression of Jews, especially one that is based on impressions during WW2 times, could possibly have more serious ramifications.

I think, on a surface level, you're making a very good and valid point. But I think it would be wrong and, in my mind, disrespectful to ignore the historical context.

drgrafik said...

HI John. this comment doesnt relate to what youve just published, but I thought it would be something you would be interested in knowing. I just found this on the internet. Surely parents should take the blame for feeding crap to their fat children and cartoons!

Cartoon 'Villains' Should Be Banned
SkyNews
By Sky News SkyNews - 2 hours 4 mins ago

The Honey Monster, Tony The Tiger, and Snap, Crackle and Pop have been branded 'cartoon villains' by consumer watchdog Which? for failing to promote healthy eating in children.
(Advertisement)

Other well-loved characters under fire include Moo the Dairylea cow, Coco the Coco Pops monkey and Quicky the Nesquik Bunny.

The characters were named in a Which? report for not helping in the fight against childhood obesity and poor diet.

Out of 19 children's food company cartoon favourites, not one was found to promote healthier products, researchers for the consumer campaign group found.

The Cartoon League Table was compiled by Which? after a survey found that two-thirds of people believe food companies should not be allowed to use popular characters to advertise unhealthy food.

Among the "cartoon baddies" highlighted by researchers was Moo the Dairylea cow. Which? said manufacturer Kraft's cartoon creation was present across much of Dairylea packaging. But they pointed out that the cheese products are often high in saturated fat and salt.

Dairylea Lunchables chicken 'n' cheese wraps contain more than a third of the maximum amount of salt a seven to 10-year old should consume, Which? said.

Tony the Tiger, famed for his 'gr-r-reat!' catchphrase, was also ticked off by the watchdog. The long-serving tiger's product Frosties contain over a third sugar, Which? noted.

Campaigners called for the advertising industry to amend the existing self-regulatory CAP and BCAP codes to encourage firms to use popular characters to help in the fight against childhood obesity and diet-related disease.

Clare Corbett, food campaigner at Which?, said: "Cartoons are great fun for kids. We definitely don't want to see the end of popular characters like Tony the Tiger and the Honey Monster, but we do want to see them promoting healthier products.

"If the industry fails to act, the Government must step in."

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, said: "We are baffled as to why Which? wants to take all the fun out of food by banning popular brand characters, many of whom have been adding colour to our supermarket shelves for more than 80 years."

A spokesman for Dairylea said: "Parents need products that children like to eat and Dairylea is designed for - but not marketed to - children. We comply fully with UK marketing regulations, which are among the toughest anywhere in the world."

A spokesman for Kelloggs said: "Tony the Tiger first appeared on our cereals in the 1950s; Snap, Crackle & Pop appeared in the '30s and Coco the Monkey has been on our packaging for more than 20 years. These characters pre-date the childhood obesity problem we face. Banning characters such as Tony from advertising is not the magic bullet we all seek.

She added: "Over the past couple of years, we have fundamentally changed the way we market our products to engage families with promotions around healthy activities and family fun."

The link:
http://uk.news.yahoo.com/skynews/20081002/tuk-cartoon-villains-should-be-banned-45dbed5.html

HemlockMan said...

The point that you, and most other whites miss about ethnic stereotypes in modern culture is the fact that THAT'S ALL THERE WAS! For hundreds of years, the only description of a Jew was as a cheating, greedy, bearded bastard. For hundreds of years, the only description of a dark-skinned African was as a thieving monkey. For hundreds of years the only description of a Native American was as a murdering savage.

This is why stereotypes of some people just is not funny. I don't find something like COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS to be funny or comical or brilliant in any way. I have always found it to be pernicious and quite, quite evil. Perhaps, on a purely technical level it's a work of art. But as a social statement it's about as nasty as it gets.

Yeah, making fun of Swedes or southern Country & Western singers is okay. There are plenty of positive expressions of these folk to blunt and render harmless or amusing such a comedic poke in the eye.

Atta Havlykke said...

Being from denmark (that small thing wedged between sweden and germany where wikings come form) seeing Svend Hoek for the first time as a kid I was some what bewildered by the swedish accent an the swiss attire, but found it incredibly funny. The caricature was pretty accurate to how we like viewing our closest neighbors, and the combination of the two was hysterical. Living in these parts of northern europe you would never confuse the one with the other, and the fact that someone did is really funny.

Stephen Worth said...

As someone who is 1/4 Swedish, I can tell you without doubt that my Grandmother would have corrected you... the ignorant accent in Sven Hoek is NORWEGIAN, not Swedish!

See ya
Steve

Pete Emslie said...

Gee, and all this time I had assumed that Cousin Sven was from Minnesota....

Great post, John. It's about time that somebody explain how we cartoonists see the world through our crossed, bloodshot eyes. I must admit, I personally quite like those Mac ads, but seeing the still you've posted showing the drab clothes on the Mac guy, I can't help but pine for the days of Jack Webb in his grey suit taking on those colourful, beads and sandal attired hippies on "Dragnet" to give them what for about "free love"!

Ted said...

Of course, Andre 3000's personal style is every bit as outlandish as Cab Calloway's, but Class of 3000 didn't do much with it.

Have you considered that you are blind to the humor of the culture you live in because it is the culture you live in? If you really can't see comic possibilities in duo of the wedgie king and the homeless druid. maybe you're just too close to it.

mike f. said...

You can explain it until you're blue in the face, but the truth is the PC crowd isn't listening. They're too busy having their precious knee-jerk reactions. There's never any original thought involved in their tirades - just a general parroting of other humorless, bluenosed twits who find insidious intent in every corner. What they really hate is free expression - underneath their phony facades, they're secretly all book-burners at heart.

ALL cartoons are stereotypes BY DEFINITION: a cartoon is a deliberate oversimplification combined with visual exaggeration. Caricature and stereotype go hand-in-hand; they always did and always will. To deny a cartoonist the tools of his trade will only result in everything looking banal, derivative and gutless, like Dilbert and Family Guy.

Thank God for venues like TCM, which refused to censor old movies despite pressure from the hysterical, self-appointed Thought Police; and the Cleveland Indians organization, who stood up and said "No, we're not bowdlerizing our innocuous cartoon mascot just because someone chooses to misinterpret it, and exploit it for political ends. It's a cartoon drawing; grow up."

Great post. Now let's enjoy the outrage of the pompous, "offended" idiots...

Richard said...

Isn't it odd? In this age in which we supposedly celebrate diversity, we instead impose a bland nothingness on everything. Some mistakenly believe that in order for everyone to be equal, they must be the same. So instead of saying, "I'm a Czech American" or "I'm an African American", we'll all be saying, "I'm a Generic American". No one will be allowed to add anything distinctive to the Great American Melting Pot.

I wonder if TV and movies have played a role in creating a generic culture in the U.S. A few decades ago, we has very distinct cultures and accents in the various regions. Now, one can travel almost anywhere and we see the same chain stores, same clothing styles and same attitudes. Even the regional accents are greatly diminishing in favor of a generic "American" accent.

Its really quite sad.

Michael said...

well at least our culture is being destroyed by garbage like this..

Live Action/CGI Yogi Bear Movie

Who would've thunk - a live action/ CGi Yogi Bear movie... I'm speechless

Rotgut said...

"Sven Hoek," omg! One of the funniest episodes you guys produced!

I recently revealed the world of Ren & Stimpy to my three sons (ages 4, 10, 13) via the DVD box set.

They ab-so-lute-ly LOVED it!

I explained to them, like the funny, old Looney Toons, R&S is all about being silly and being entertaining - - without lecturing kids with some important lesson. I told them that was MY job. And I said that the job of a cartoon is to provide fun and laughter.

Sven, walking in backwards to greet Ren & Stimpy... how funny is that?

But the best part in "Sven Hoek," the part where my kids went wild, was when Ren went crazy with rage and pissed on the board game!

Despite some ocassional weak plotlines and slow-paced sequences, the R&S series is truly awesome. I wish more cartoons were as fun and silly and as well put together. Thanks

Rotgut said...

Oh, and Sven's accent is extremely funny too - people need to lighten up.

Dlove4u2 said...

There are so many odd things in this world but for the most part the wierdist thing is humanity. engoy the mushtach:{)

Craig said...

When we did the marionettes on Nickelodeon's Pinwheel, one of our charaters was Molly O'Mole. Puppeteer Olga Felgemacher voiced her with a warm Irish accent. Midway through the first season the producers became aware that Molly had an accent(!) and asked us to tone it down for fear of offending the Irish. Olga asked if everyone was supposed to sound like they're from Connecticut (like Thurston Howell III.) We kept the voice, and Molly went on to become a beloved character for early Nick viewers.

D.Cous. said...

Hi John, I'm a long-time reader but I don't usually comment. What do you think of the french Asterix comics? I imagine that they never had much of an impact on your work, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on them. They also, by the way, contain several hilarious stereotypes, usually of different European peoples.

Zoran Taylor said...

The problem in those commercials lies with the Mac, because the PC is SUPPOSED to be boring. The Mac needs a studded leather jacket and platform boots and a green mohawk. But the marketing department would never let that happen, because then they would be making their product look "threatening". So instead the Mac Looks like he just put on whatever was in his top drawer. But the PC still talks like a pompous idiot who wants his customers to suffer, which is what the Macs want you to believe.

Peter said...

Hear hear, Mr. Bitter.

Joelle Sept said...

You keep asking, basically, why a stereotype of one particular culture is okay, while if you give the same treatment to another culture, it's called offensive and unfunny.

I'm pretty sure the difference-making factor happens when the culture being portrayed is one that has been the victim of slavery, discrimination, or genocide, in a way that's still present in people's minds, and when the funny cartoon made with harmless intent bears a ressemblence to other cartoons made with malicious intent, by people who sincerely thought that the culture in question was made up of intrinsically inferior human beings.

This ressemblance is what makes people uncomfortable, and offended. Being amused and being offended are similar in that you can't decide whether something is going to amuse you, or offend you, or neither; they are all gut reactions. I suppose that comedian's job is to try to predict what will spark this gut reaction of funniness in the audience. I also believe that ALL humour is intinsically offensive on some level, and some comedians push this by making very "inappropriate" jokes, and making people both amused AND offended at the same time.

However, there will always be some people for whom the associations of the cultural humour will still override the funniness, to the point where they're not even amused at all, not even laughing "despite themselves".

There's another distinction between finding something offensive and thinking it should be banned or censored, or finding something offensive and just thinking it's lame and unfunny.

Of course ALL cultures have been treated poorly in some way, at some point, even the ones who are now 'acceptable targets'. What matters is not the historical truth of who's been treated worse than others, but the audience's PERCEPTION of this. Hopefully, with time, the tensions and lingering memories of hatred that cause people to find negative caricatures of Native and Black people unfunny will disappear, and we can all have a lot more fun. Until then, as a comedian, you might just have to accept that some people will make a subconscious association of your well-intentioned drawing with an actually-racist one, and be unable to have the gut reaction of laughter.

This doesn't mean you should stop trying, and analysing; I find it very interesting when you point out that a lot of cartoons are of Stupid White Men, but nobody notices.

Frank Macchia said...

As usual, yu speak the truth John.

i feel that as time passes, humanity is really losing it's sence of humour...the world has become arrogant and fearful and is totally incapable of poking fun at itself anymore. which is sad.

its sad that stereotypes have become "offensive" when theyre clearly formed out of ignorance...which just breeds humour...ive always found them fun, and actually IMPORTANT...they give such a strong and distinct comical character to every culture.

I've got a deep pride for my italian roots and my intensley traditional italian family based SOLELY on the fact that the italian stereotype is hilarious...and often times true...

after all arent stereotypes derived from some form of the truth?, cultural observations blown out of proportion?...no matter how ignorant our out landish a stereotype is, if there WASNT some form truth to them then they wouldnt be funny.

having said that i always loved sven...and that first drawing of him in your post has always been my absolute favourite cartoon expression ive ever seen. its def the most specific and unique emotion ive ever seen on a cartoon character

did you come up with that one John?

JohnK said...

I have lots more comments and I'll post them later. I just put a few so far that I thought were demanded response.

To Bitter who said:

"Sven Hoek was, without a shadow of a doubt, bloody hilarious. Absolute comedy gold. And, yet, I never really considered the stereotype as offensive.

And, yet, I look at Coal Black, which I know you love, and it reeks of racism to me."

Do you have any reason it reeks of racism? Or is it just a feeling.

I don't se anything remotely racist about it. It celebrates Jazz -America's greatest cultural achievement (besides cartoons) and Black culture - which Clampett was a big fan of. The cartoon makes fun of Snow White, which was made by square white republicans.

Bob made Coal Black to show how you could take the same old story and make it cool - "hep" as they said it in the early 40s. Bob was anything but a racist. He loved people - especially creative people. Cartoonists love extremes. We admire them as we caricature them.

jtstrocel said...

If Borat is any indication, Kazakhstan is still fair game for ridicule.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Nicely put! Thanks Mr. K!

Sven Hoek said...

Ya, dat's a good post for yure. You nailed it on the yead der by golly. Doze american dey yure are boring. With de baggie pants and de bland cartoons.

What happened to our culture?!? Look at those old pictures of americans, wow. What happened?

Since we can't elect John K. as president, I guess we will just have to make him KING!!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

This goes right to the heart of the problem! A hundred and fifty-year old tradition of cartooning is about to go down the tubes because we can't find proper subject matter to draw. The modern world is just too politically correct to support really funny caricature.

If cartooning ever goes we'll have lost one of the most expressive mediums ever created. It's the common man's art form, accessable to anyone with a pencil. People need to express themselves without the need to buy $3,ooo worth of computer equipment and take hundreds of hours to learn programs. Cartooning gave us the modern notion of Santa Clause, it's the indispensable instrument of class clowns and mischievous kids, it's an artform capable of infinite subtlety and broad caricature, it records events that oil painters,photographers and computer geeks routinely miss. We cannot afford to be without it.

smackmonkey said...

"ARE ALL NORDIC PEOPLES THE SAME?"

Yes! They're all tall, blonde, stacked, and wear white bikinis and mukluks... male or female.

"ALL cartoons are stereotypes BY DEFINITION: a cartoon is a deliberate oversimplification combined with visual exaggeration."

I'm gonna tape Fontanelli's words to my desk. Someone give the man an award.

"Is this worth making fun of?"

The suit on the left is completely unmemorable but, even though I'm typing this on a Mac, I seem to want to give the guy on right a kick in the nuts. I guess that makes it a successful stereotype.

PCUnfunny said...

Thank God for venues like TCM"

I secound that. That is the only channel that doesn't suck on TV. Uncensored movies and good insight from people who KNOW what they are talking about. AMC, what a joke ! "AMERICA'S MOVIE CLASSICS" they call it, I didn't know Terminator 3 was a classic.

"And, yet, I look at Coal Black, which I know you love, and it reeks of racism to me."

Okay, I am REALLY getting sick and tired of white, liberal guilt. Laugh for Christ sake, because it's funny.

Bitter Animator said...

>>Do you have any reason it reeks of racism? Or is it just a feeling.

Initially, simply on viewing it, yes it would have been on feeling more than actually analysing the content. But to look at where that was coming from, I would say that for me some (not all) of the designs seemed to portray goofy black men in a way that was built more on generic 'these features are what makes a black guy' rather than actual people, like Mr.Emslie's caricatures for example. They're like old fashioned (or I guess they weren't that old at the time) blackface. Huge light lips was pretty much the visual trait that defined many of the characters visually. That doesn't apply to all the characters of course - Cab Calloway was obviously an inspiration. Even then, the habit of making the lips really light was more akin to blackface than actual black people in my opinion.

So much of it didn't seem so much a caricature of black people to me, but a caricature of an ingrained white perception of black people. That was just my feeling on it.

And taking the history into account (and how could I not?), even with the fantastic achievements of many famous black entertainers, it was a racist time, having been built on even more racist times. As much as Clampett may have respected black people (and I have no reason to doubt it), it would have had a hard time not being racist in some shape or form.

But the question you ask in your post, and I think it's a great question, is why is it different? Why is it okay to laugh at an incorrect hilarious cultural stereotype like Sven Hoek and not at a caricature of a black man from the 40s?

My answer to is the history of the stereotype. The perception of black people that led to many of those stereotypes was not just about cartoonists all sitting around having a good laugh. It was about domination, slavery and the superiority of the white man. It comes from a very ugly history.

And I'm not saying my answer is the right answer and I think you bring up a great point but, for me, the difference is that ugly history. For me, that matters.

You're absolutely right that there is much to love about Coal Black, especially the jazz. And I don't doubt Clampett's intentions at all.

But, for better or worse, I get a different reaction from Sven Hoek than I do watching Coal Black.

Humphrey Erm said...

Interesting post. Being a Swede myself I found it interesting to read about the character of Sven Hoek and I decided to look for a clip of him. Unfortunately I didn't find any in particular, just one where Ren was threatening Sven and Stimpy, where the character spoke a one liner.

My personal opinions regarding the depiction of a specific nationality is that I hope the creators do some research. Naturally, you somewhat prided yourself in not doing that with this character and attained your desired result.

I think the one thing that I dislike with that is that it feels that no one bothers to learn about our cultures. I enjoy stereotypes a lot, but when its such a stereotype that I don't even know where he's from unless the characters tell me, then isn't that a bit of a failure? Sven Hoek doesn't feel like a generic Swede or German, he just feels like a generic attempt at creating a generic European like character. Naturally I'm a minority in saying that on this blog, and feel free to bash me, but I had to give my opinion on that.

But besides that I do agree with the concept of who we are allowed to make fun of and who we aren't, and I have my own little idea:

The white man is basically owes all other races. The Caucasian race has persecuted all the other races in the world and it wasn't until more than halfway through the 20th century that they got their rights back somewhat. So we are basically allowed to make fun of white races that haven't been severely oppressed recently. Western Europe and North America works within that idea.

Interesting post John K. Made a good read.

JohnK said...

"The white man is basically owes all other races. The Caucasian race has persecuted all the other races in the world"

Is no one else gonna take that on?

I guess I'm stuck with it.

All races through all history have persecuted other races. It was the English and the Americans who brought the world modern democracy which led directly to the end of horrible inequalities.

Where genocides, torture and oppression of other cultures and women still happen is in the Middle east, Africa and probably quite a few other places that aren't so tolerant as westerners. The idea of equality of all people didn't even exist before a couple hundred years ago. And it wouldn't exist anywhere today if not for enlightened people like Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln and many others.


Everyone who lives in a democratic western nation should thank their lucky stars that we have mostly outlived the wretched past of all men and sit back and have some fun. If you wanna be outraged, go do something about what's happening in parts of the world that routinely engage in actual evil.

Be outraged for the poor people who would love life if the only thing they had to worry about are funny caricatures.

MLP said...

I would never, *ever* make fun of the cute girl wearing all the necklaces that don't conceal her breasts.

oppo said...

Oh geez! Just realized my picture isn't worth caricaturing. It's mch to nondescript.

Humphrey Erm said...

This is a reply to John K's reply to my initial post.

You make a valid point about that. There are several other cultures that oppress others around the world that aren't white. You also make a good point about what the Westerners have given to the world as well, not just seeing them as oppressors but enlightening as well.

But I still believe that there is some truth in what I'm saying in terms of that its ok to make fun of white people (men specifically, but that's a whole other argument). Take classic comedy "Blazing Saddles" for example. I don't find anything in that movie particularly racist against black people. Black people are portrayed as clever, cultured and kind in comparison to how the white people are portrayed. Now, why aren't there angry letters from white people who are offended by the portrayal of the white characters? Mostly the reason being that they didn't understand that it was them they were making fun of and complained that it was insensitive to blacks.

This is regarding the topic 'who is it ok to make fun of?' after all, and I would hate to bring in a SouthPark quote on this blog (doesn't seem to be a particularly popular show here) but in the 2nd part of "Cartoon Wars", the character of Kyle states "Either everything is ok to make fun of, or nothing is". I think if we use that quote as a main form of thought regarding this then we pretty much set down the one and only rule needed for comedic entertainment.

On a private note, I'm psyched that you talked to me John K! Not every day a cartoonist replies to something I say (though it was to retort, but I'm not picky).

Caleb said...

Fact: When you laugh at someone else, you make sweet baby Jesus cry.

You can't argue the facts.

Abraham said...

John, was El Brendel part of the inspiration for Sven Hoek? He was a hugely popular comedian who inexplicably appeared in every major Fox production of the late twenties. He starred in an a bizarre sci-fi musical (!?!?!?!) called "Just Imagine" which is one of the most baffling movies I've ever seen.

Aimee Inc. said...

Wow. I had a multiculture class and the teacher basically said that those of Germanic/Scandinavian decent were what this country was modeled on therefore it's pointless to study their culture because it's now ours.

I begged to disagree. Where they have costume, and tradition that dates back centuries, I picture how a typical American probably looks to everyone else...Tammy Faye Bakker-eque make up and hair, camera slung around the neck. Maybe something like National Lampoon's Vacation. LOL! We have a look alright!

Isaac said...

Did someone mention John and Eddie in lederhosen?

Adam T said...

'My personal opinions regarding the depiction of a specific nationality is that I hope the creators do some research.'

Here's the thing. You have to take your audience into consideration. If you do too much research you may become too far removed from the audiences point of view with your humor. So it's better in that case just to make fun of your ignorance of another culture rather than the culture itself, which was one of John's points.

There was a local cable access TV show that some kids I went to high school with created. They did skits that almost always made fun of the Portuguese immigrant culture that we all grew up with. It was hilarious. I wish I had taped them but the thing is If you don't live in Fall River or New Bedford, Massachusetts the jokes go completely over your head.

Not many people in the U.S. outside of that region know anything specific about Portuguese immigrant culture. You probably have never eaten chourico or malasada. You have never seen the local beauty queen standing on a platform being pulled by an Ox through streets covered in colored sawdust. Why would I make jokes about these sorts of things for you if you most likely don't have the experiences that make those jokes funny?

HemlockMan said...

"The white man is basically owes all other races. The Caucasian race has persecuted all the other races in the world"

There was an sf writer--I've forgotten which one--who wrote an essay called "PIGS: People of Indigenous Germanic Stock". It poked fun at the so-called moral superiority of the downtrodden, and took special care to "prove" that the most downtrodden of all of the world's peoples were Germanic people. It made a point and made it well.

I don't mean, by my criticism of racist cartoons to say that all caricatures are bad. I think I said what I meant very clearly--that such caricatures in a pool where virtually every other public face of a powerless people is, by its nature, pernicious. Taken as a product of its time, something like a racist Tex Avery joke, or something like Will Eisner's deeply racist character of Ebony White are intrinsically evil.

The actions of a sadistic bully never change with the passage of time.

Mr. Semaj said...

All races through all history have persecuted other races.

Including Whites that have persecuted other Whites (English vs. Irish and French), which is true.

It was the English and the Americans who brought the world modern democracy which led directly to the end of horrible inequalities.

But you have to remember that it took until after World War II when the United States really began to question the validity of their own democracy. How could a nation who just kicked ass in WWII legitimately call for world freedom when they themselves were still practicing prejudice in their own society? It took almost 90 years after the Declaration of Independence was established before the Union abolished slavery, and another 100 years before Blacks' civil rights were reinforced.

Therein lies the key fallacy of American democracy which persists to this day, where the people in power are often looking for loopholes, and loopholes within loopholes to contradict their own doctrines.

So, Bitter Animator is right in the fact that, even if it wasn't Clampett's fault, a cartoon such as Coal Black still would not be an acceptable example of "ignorant stereotyping". It's like at the very same time, they were also making cartoons that caricatured the Germans and Japanese. We Americans are free to laugh at them given the wartime context, but it's doubtful any modern citizen from Germany or Japan would laugh at a part of their history that they're probably not particularly proud of.

Raff said...

>> When I created Sven Hoek, I didn't go and study all Nordic cultures. I had a conglomerate stereotype in my head of what I thought was funny about nordic white folks. <<

Yeah, that's one approach. Sure worked for this guy:

BORK! BORK! BORK!

(sorry if someone else posted first)

But I'm more partial to something more researched so the joke victims can laugh at themselves:

MON HOSTIE!

J.R. Spumkin said...

First a post with a bag of milk, and now we have a post about stereotypes and the politically uptight assholes who don't want them to be used?

John, you're on a roll with these! I can only wonder if the next thing you pull out of that magic blogging hat you have will be the entire animatic for "Life Sucks"!

...I can dream, can't I?

-The Spumk.

J.R. Spumkin said...

And now for act two of the performance:

First off, I loved Sven Hoek, but I never considered what race he was because this is clearly the stereotypical European. Apparently, most Europeans use the word "yimminie", and "fjord", but this is all hilarious. It's all for hte sake of comedy.

As for Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves- I saw this cartoon discussion coming from a MILE away-

I'm Hispanic (if that's your politically correct term for an overweight sunburned white guy who actually pronounces Spanish words the way they're supposed to sound), and of course, not colored. I didn't see a single stereotype in it whatsoever other than the minstrel "blackface" crap.

But that was the olden days. Uptight gran'mas are still shaking in their skirts about how "racist" and "ignorant" it was...yeah. But isn't that the point? Lady, it's a f**king cartoon, for Pesci's sake.

It's a couple of drawings on paper that give you a few laughs if properly executed. None of it's real, it can exaggerate, and if you find it racist, that's your thing.

I can't help that these politically correct white assholes overthink things too often. Let cartoons be cartoons, for god sakes. Don't let them be life values. Don't let them be lessons in "recognizing the diversity in the races of your fellow, co-existing, friendly human neighbors". If the "racially insensitive, inappropriate, and ignorant" caricature of an Indian...sorry, "Native American"... offends you, then you're a bland, bleak robotic machine twisted out from law school who needs to grow the f**k up and realize that some of this crap is funny.

This is all my opinion, sorry to cram it on here.

Feel free to engage in heated argument!

-J.

Shawn said...

I'm German, and I think cartoons that make fun of Germans (especially ignorant ones) are hilarious.

Nikita said...

very true except about the americans, I mean those damn high school kids want everybody to be the same but we aren't. we have the rap and rock kid but we also have those groups that seperate themselves from everybody like the Amish or the Native americans. the only reason nobody makes fun of us is because then those asinine morons would yell at them and have their stuff banned. So yeah, we should make fun of everybody, or at least try till the Dems. and Reps. and teachers and lawyers dive-bomb us. Also remember, those germanic, African, and Asian guys like to come and live here,but they still enjoy their cultures as much as possible! I'm real happy right now!

Frank Macchia said...

"Be outraged for the poor people who would love life if the only thing they had to worry about are funny caricatures."

John...I wanna shake your hand for that one. youre like the buddah of animation.

thats the best point anyone has made in this discussion.

Kris said...

I really don't think anyone should be off limits for comedy.

However, I can see why some groups would get upset. Groups that have been historically oppressed by whites don't take so kindly to their culture being made fun of by whites (whereas often enough if the same stereotype is invoked by someone of their own culture, they find it funny). There's still a lot of bad blood between races in America. That's why people get upset.

MLP said...

"And taking the history into account (and how could I not?), even with the fantastic achievements of many famous black entertainers, it was a racist time, having been built on even more racist times. As much as Clampett may have respected black people (and I have no reason to doubt it), it would have had a hard time not being racist in some shape or form."

Okay; but in that case I think you should also *judge* it by the standards of its time, rather than according to current standards. Did "Coal Black" give in to the racism of America in the 1940s, or did it attempt to rise above it? If it attempted to rise above the racism of the day, then I think it's wrong to condemn it simply because it doesn't conform to the standards of our (hopefully) more enlightened times. "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step." When "Coal Black" was made in 1942, America wasn't very many steps along the road to a non-racist society; the future may judge that the America of 2008 hasn't reached the first milestone itself.

I think I can agree that "Coal Black" shows some of the racism of the time. The heroine's name, "So White", implies that blacks are most attractive when they look like white people (I think we still suffer from this attitude today). Her escape from Murder, Inc., suggests she's a slut (it was a sexist time, too), which a lot of racists probably thought was usually true of black women. I can see where the mammy narrating the tale at its beginning might offend some -- though personally I think the overall image of a woman telling a child a fairy tale at the fireside is wholesome and positive. Though the dwarfs' appearances mainly spoof Disney's 7 dwarfs, they include at least one offensive stereotype (Sleepy uncomfortably resembles Stepin Fetchit).

However, most of the objections I've read center on the Prince. With his dice teeth, absurd style, and obvious narcissicism, the Prince doesn't present the most flattering possible portrait of successful black males, that's for sure. The film treats him as a buffoon, not much better than the kind of degrading roles that fine black actors like Willie Best were forced to play in films of the time. If "Coal Black" expects audiences to laugh at its Prince just because he's a black male, it doesn't have much of a case that it rises above its time in any way. But Clampett had better goals in mind than that.

I'd note that Queenie has many unattractive traits without generating as much complaint. Well, you might say, she's the villain; people don't identify with her and aren't as offended by the way she was portrayed. As it happens, Clampett wouldn't have expected much of his audience -- even his black audience -- to identify with his Prince, either. "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs" was made, of course, to mock Disney's lily-white animated feature "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"; it reserves its strongest mockery for Disney's Prince Charming, possibly the blandest character (except he isn't even a character) ever animated. Clampett apparently considered Disney's Prince something of a clown; so his version *is* a clown, despite his ostensible role as the eventual hero. To foreshadow to the audience that this Prince isn't all he's cracked up to be, Clampett made him almost as unacceptable a person by contemporary standards as Queenie herself; all he's fit to be is a clown. To see how, let's place him squarely in his context: late 1942, when the United States had become eager to fight a war that earlier many Americans had hoped to avoid.

If 1942 was a racist time, it was also a patriotic time. The message of "Coal Black" is that appearances don't matter as much as what a person has inside -- in this case, whether they have patriotism inside. When the 7 dwarfs first show up, they are soldiers; they cheerfully sing

"We're in the army now, we're not behind a plow.
It takes us cats to beat those rats;
We're in the army now."

They're glad to serve their country -- and the middle couplet implies that the U. S. won't win without the contributions of its black soldiers. To me, that alone sounds like an enlightened notion for the time.

Likewise, we get a hint that Murder, Inc. might not be all bad because their car, which shows their rates for killing people, advertises that they kill "Japs" for free. That doesn't sound too savory to us today, but it appeared far different to Americans back then, just a year after Pearl Harbor. Back then, it probably helped add a touch of credence to the idea that paid killers would release So White unharmed.

The Prince, on the other hand, clearly lives a pleasure-seeking lifestyle like Queenie's at a time when many Americans were giving up luxuries to assist the war effort. He's a young man, and seemingly fit physically; but unlike the dwarfs, he's not serving in the military. And he doesn't seem to have a job at all, never mind a job in a war industry, either. By the standards of the time, he's a complete slacker. Given that, it's no real surprise that he does nothing when So White is kidnapped by Murder, Inc.: rather than make the smallest effort to save her, he shivers with fear for his own skin. He's as unheroic as it gets.

Clampett paints him this way to take particular aim at the vapid moral implicit in Disney's "Snow White": "if you're pretty and sweet, other people will solve your troubles for you and you'll live happily ever after." Think about it: what does Snow White do to earn her happy ending? Aside from being pretty and sweet, she does a little housekeeping -- with extensive assistance from the animals of the forest, so it isn't as taxing as it might be. But at least she does something: Prince Charming does absolutely nothing at all to get the girl. He's pretty and sweet and nothing else at all besides; he hardly appears in the movie; yet at the end he rides off with Snow White (well, he's probably rich and certainly has social status, so it's rather realistic, if not especially moral, that he should score). The 7 Dwarfs, who actually defeat the evil Queen and end her threat to Snow White, get kissed off at the end (and if memory serves, she kisses only *6* of the dwarfs; I seem to recall Sleepy doesn't get a kiss) as Snow White rides away to her happy-ever-after dwarf-free life. They do all the work, take all the risks, and their reward is to lose their housekeeper (maybe by that time the forest animals had the habit of cleaning up for them, but I kinda doubt it).

In contrast, So White earns her happy ending by joining the Army to work as a cook; from the start, she's shown as very much happier there than doing laundry for Queenie. As in Disney, the 7 dwarfs avenge her; but not only do they get to keep their cook, the Dopiest of their number (the one who actually gave Queenie her quietus) gets to romance So White. Those who shoulder their load earn their reward in the end -- whereas the cowardly slacker Prince, who thinks he can show up at the end and win the girl just by kissing her, gets nothing at all. Moreover, for trying to slide by with no effort the way Disney's prince does, he undergoes a transformation a la Disney's Queen that reveals the tired old man beneath the handsome young hipster surface (the implication being that he isn't good in bed). So White is clearly much better off with the virile fighting man.

In sum, the Prince isn't mocked because he's a hip black male; he's mocked because he's a Prince who expects to get through life on his good looks and status while shirking his responsibilities to the common good. Though they aren't individualized, the dwarfs outnumber him 7-to-1 in the black male department and are presented as worthy characters. I can't see how black males as a group are treated unfairly here.

Stepping back a bit, Clampett's cartoon depicts blacks as an important, effective (at least against evil Queens) part of the military effort. What other films of the time did? I daresay there were some, but I don't know them. Whether or no, "Coal Black" paints a far more favorable picture of blacks than, say, "Scrub Me Mamma With a Boogie Beat". So I do think "Coal Black" made an effort to be less racist than was generally the case at the time; and I don't think it should be knocked as racist for failing to live up to our current standards.

Disposable Ninja said...

As much as I love reading and learning from this blog, I also spend a good amount of time reading ultra-PC feminist blogs like "Girls Read Comics, Too (And they're Pissed)". If there's one truth I can ascertain from both your blog and theirs, it's that authorial intent is worthless. The simple fact of the matter is, "I'm not a terrible artist; I'm just highly stylized," and "I'm not bigoted; I'm just not politically correct" are both the same exact thing: poor excuses by people not willing to admit to and examine their own weaknesses.

I don't have it in me to debate the cultural or racial implications of caricatures. But I can say this: every time you create an offensive caricature, you run the risk of alienating someone who might have otherwise enjoyed your work. You might rebut their complaints, declare that someone too-sensitive, claim that you're not a racist. Just as easily, you could declare that that someone doesn't understand art and claim that you're a just highly stylish artist.

Simple fact of the matter is, if somebody finds your that work bears uncomfortable implications where you intended none, it's not that somebody's fault. You just failed as an artist, is all. You failed to make your intentions clear.

Dan Jackson said...

"The idea of equality of all people didn't even exist before a couple hundred years ago. And it wouldn't exist anywhere today if not for enlightened people like Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln and many others."

Well, Jefferson was a slave owner, and Abe Lincoln, while he did sign the emancipation proclamation, had stated on a couple of occasions that he did not feel the races were "equal".

I think that "all people being equal" concept is really more of a 20th century ideal. It might have been paid lip service to before that, but many races of people were excluded from the "equal" list because they weren't white, or European, or male, or they were white but happened to be Irish.

I think some ignorance, in certain contexts, can be funny. Context is a big part of it. I find coal black MUCH less offensive than Walter Lantz's "Scrub me Mamma with a Boogie Beat", because it just seems mean spirited.. ignorant in a bad way. Coal Black at least doesn't make watermelon jokes (unless I missed something).

Imagine a cartoon today using that old Japanese WW2 "Tojo" stereotype. You know... Coke bottle glasses, big buck teeth, squinty little eyes, and talked like the "Jap" in "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips". Or if a commercial used a lil' pickaninny eatin' a watermelon. Even if you're not black, or Japanese, you'd probably cringe. Is there a way to make these funny today without being offensive? It's probably impossible to do because the original stereotypes were laced with so much abject racism.

As George Carlin said, in comedy, context is everything. Bad words aren't necessarily "bad", it's the intent behind it that matters.

Ted said...

"magine a cartoon today using that old Japanese WW2 "Tojo" stereotype. You know... Coke bottle glasses, big buck teeth, squinty little eyes, and talked like the "Jap" in "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips".... Is there a way to make these funny today without being offensive? It's probably impossible to do because the original stereotypes were laced with so much abject racism."

Well, the Japanese use that type (except not speaking in Engrish for obvious reasons) for dorks. Tobemaru in the Marvel Super Heroes vs Streetfighter game being the example that pops to mind.

John_Fountain said...

The late, great George Carlin once said:
"Either everything can be funny, or nothing can be funny."
I prefer to live in in a world where everything can be funny.

Raff said...

>> Simple fact of the matter is, if somebody finds that your work bears uncomfortable implications where you intended none, it's not that somebody's fault. You just failed as an artist <<

Who's more important, the 100 people in the room who get the joke or the 10 people who don't?










(Answer: The 10 people with money. Or government connections. Or guns.
P.S. We're getting rid of our TV at my place.)

Sagelights said...

John you obviously just have nothing but good intentions about this topic. I have to agree though with some people though not all those cartoons that were made in the era of innovation were all innocent.

Racism was a big deal in the country at the time and was socially acceptable not only in cartoons but in movies. We could go all the way to Birth of a Nation, which Griffith didn't see anything wrong with it until his black maid left out of principle. But the president Wildrow WIlson endorsed it's message. Now the movie suffers from technical greatness with such an ugly story. It didn't end there though, other races were not given the main lead either, and if they had to be in the picture they usually played an ignorant maid or slave. When Orsen Wells tried to enlighten the states of the Brazilian culture in the movie It's All True, RKO responded he's just filming a bunch of N****Rs. They immediately stopped funding him.

So it's this collaborative white male dominant mind set. they may have not realized the message they were sending was racist at the time it was just how they they saw other races. It was what it was.

To give another perspective I have two of the most racist grandparents you would ever see. The thing is most of the things they say or how they feel about other races is definitely a reflection of the time they lived and the biased media they watched that only seem reinforce such ideas.

This is the case some old cartoons, I don't think people knew they were racist, I think that word came very late didn't it?

Coal Black is definitely a wonderful cartoon for a lot of reasons, but the offensiveness with it is definitely the emphasis on black face, but also how everyone was poor. The prince had a makeshift tire and the Queen's treasures were really junk like tires. So no matter how rich they appeared they were still low on the economy scale. Of course that could be also a jab at snow white. Then of course the car with hit men that had Japs-free, purely for war time rallying, I have hard time believing that was in jest.

Not to say that I believe Clampett was racist, I think he may have had been a product of someone who didn't know what was in jest and what was mean. I understand that his love for the music is definitely prevalent in that short, and how lively and how much care he gave them is a credit to how important they meant to him. I do not want to deny those aspects of it, for I think that heart is what makes more good then bad.

I think it would be better to have these laughs at cultures if we know the people of them can it enjoy it too, so it's not a seclusive joke at their entire expense.

Unfortunately given what was going on in those times, a lot those jokes were at their expense.

But that was that era, this is now in the present, the fact is what is your agenda, what are you saying about those people. Are you mocking them cause you admire them or is there a sinister agenda behind it all. You can't believe all those cartoonist back then were drawing those other races with the same intentions you are do you?

Disposable Ninja said...

>>Who's more important, the 100 people in the room who get the joke or the 10 people who don't?<<

Well, yes, obviously. If you worry about what even the most dissatisfied dissenter has to say, you're going to end up being pretty miserable.

But let me ask you: who's more important, the 10 who do get the joke or the 100 who don't?

MLP said...

"Coal Black is definitely a wonderful cartoon for a lot of reasons, but the offensiveness with it is definitely the emphasis on black face, but also how everyone was poor. The prince had a makeshift tire and the Queen's treasures were really junk like tires. So no matter how rich they appeared they were still low on the economy scale."

You don't know much about the World War II years. Tires were simply hard to come by, even if you had money; the rubber to make them came mainly from Southeast Asia, which was off-limits to the U. S. after Pearl Harbor due to Japanese naval control of the western Pacific. Tire rationing had been in effect for about a year by the time "Coal Black" reached theaters. That Queenie has stockpiles of all the luxuries that were rationed is a visual clue that she possessed not only enormous wealth but clout (political, criminal, or both) as well. Of course, her castle and the piles of chests filled with gold and jewels shown before the rationed coffee, sugar, and whitewalls ought to have tipped you off about that already...

The Prince is well-dressed in new clothes. He has his own car -- a very long one with his name emblazoned on the door -- at a time when many Americans either did not own a car or could not obtain gasoline to drive it (after the U. S. entered the war on Britain's side, oil tankers could no longer arrive from the Middle East due to German U-boats operating in the Atlantic). Apparently neither the Prince nor Queenie have to work for a living. So run by me again why you think they're shown as poor?

Kelly Toon said...

I think an important distinction needs to be made: We live in a REPUBLIC, not a DEMOCRACY.

A democracy is majority rules. That means, if I can convince enough people that it's alright to steal everything in your home (or censor the press, or war on drugs), and they believe me, there is nothing you can do about it. And majorities tend to stay in power in a democracy. Throughout history, democratic societies have eventually become oligarchies, which is rule by a select group.

A Republic, as given to us by the founding fathers with the Constitution, is RULE BY LAW. That means, every individual has certain rights, which have nothing to do with the government, and they are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If a person violates the rights of another, by stealing, raping, reneging on contracts, arson, whatever, the governments job it to punish him or her, if found guilty by a jury of his or her peers. If what a man chooses to do with his money and time does not directly violate the rights of another, they should be free to do so.

What we have today is a failure to distinguish between RIGHTS and WANTS.

anyway JohnK, sorry if I have gone totally off topic. I love this post, the different costumes are fascinating, and when compared with the drawings of Sven, the point you are making is very clear. Did you ever imagine you'd have a tool like the internet at your disposal, to instantly bring up dozens of photos of Nordic dress?

Sagelights said...

I just want to say mLP that I read your response before and I thought it was absolutely exquisite. So I have a lot respect for your opinion, but there was raggy sort of feel with perhaps those hard to come by items. They were supposed to have the feeling of royalty of course because that is the parody of Snow White, but they made it so they were rich looking bums.
The Queen wearing red and white striped socks is not very luxurious. Also your right it did not dawn on me that resources she had were rare, bu the fact is they were not exactly neat and orderly around her place either. Then of course The prince's makeshift shoe tire.

Dan Jackson said...

Good job MLP,

I was gonna make a similar rebuttal, but you actually hit on more of the points I was going to.

This is an example of how making assumptions about intent is a dodgy business. There are a lot of pop culture references from that era that just go right over the heads of people today, and can lead to big misunderstandings.

The characters in Coal Black aren't in blackface... they're black caricatures, which some reflexively deem offensive. They're no more or less offensive, at least to me, than the Fat Albert gang.

Now, I do think those blackface jokes of that era were kinda questionable (usually when dynamite or a rifle explodes in someones face, and followed by a musical cue of "Swanne River").

Sven Hoek said...

Can't we all just...
get along?

Ted said...

"I think an important distinction needs to be made: We live in a REPUBLIC, not a DEMOCRACY."

(For the purposes of this response, I will also ignore the vast majority of the world that has access to this forum who are not the "we" spoken of)

Some people (who tend to have talk radio blasting through their house 24/7) tend to claim this. It is, however, wrong. The people of the US democratically elect representatives most of the time (excepting various classes of people excluded from the process; felons, non-citizens, minors, etc.); this makes the system a limited democracy, more specifically a representational democracy. We also sometimes have direct democracy in the form of ballot proposals. This does not mean we are not also a republic. A government that is a republic can also be a monarchy (Rome after Octavian became Augustus or from Julius Caesar's rise to dictator for life, depending on your feeling on the issue) or an oligarchy (Rome from the fall of the kings until Caesar or Augustus), or any other number of combinations.

"A Republic, as given to us by the founding fathers with the Constitution, is RULE BY LAW. That means, every individual has certain rights, which have nothing to do with the government, and they are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"

Rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not in the Constitution. They're in the Declaration of Independence. The Constituion didn't really give any rights to the people until amended by the Bill of Rights, and even then was never intended to be a complete list.

Tall 40 said...

Some people make exaggerations of races and cultures because they find them interesting and entertaining. Other people make exaggerations of races and cultures because they consider their members filthy subhumans who must be mocked accordingly. How do you tell the difference between the two? Out of context you can't, and therein lies the problem.

In other words, an extremely exaggerated cartoon depiction of a race or culture doesn't tell you what it's creator actually thinks of the subjects they're using. When you factor in historical context, you have the possibility that the creator is using the cartoon to express racism, which is enough to get the PC police to come and ruin it for everyone.

When your primary concern is not offending anyone (which is ridiculous in itself) every word, symbol, or work of art is viewed only in the sense of "what message does this convey?" And when you're a bland, uptight, soulless douchebag, exaggeration is always an insult (these people cannot have any ambiguity in anything). And when you're a white person insulting another white person, you're just being mean; when you're a white person insulting a minority you're being RACIST!!!

I suppose what it all boils down to is whether or not it's ok for entertainment to be offensive to certain people. Despite what people may believe, you do not have the right to not be offended by anything. If for some reason you believe you do, do everyone a favor and STAY OUT OF THE ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS.

Vincent said...

Mr. Kricfalusi, I think the reason why it is more difficult to make fun of cultures from Africa, East Asia, and some other lands is because prior racist portrayals have a cultural weight that makes portrayal more sensitive. Western Europe does not have this weight, so it is easier to parody Western European stereotypes in good fun (i.e. with Sven) and get away with it.

In Rocko's Modern Life the episode with the theater had a parody of East Asian stereotypes that involved a kung-fu hamster fighting against samurai ninjas from east of Pittsburgh (something like that) - Like Sven it was obviously making fun of pan-continental stereotypes.

Nikita said...

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_AhPlR_1sHdw/SOb4_MwkEAI/AAAAAAAAADs/SWTgxo3ctfQ/s1600-h/sketch.jpg

um,, how does this look to you? it's of the lady in front of the gamestop with that funny looking man

slowtiger said...

The only thing that bothers me is that you mix up 12 mio Bavarians with 82 mio Germans. And only a fraction of those Bavarians wears Lederhosen.

I think cartoon stereotypes are outdated by 100 years, just like the vaudeville acts they still mimic a lot. I'd like to see some updated stereotypes, just for a change. I remember having read in SF novels about scottish engineers and swiss machinists ("all engineers are scots, and all scots are engineers"). I'd like to see a cartoon with some actual german people: an educated black gay Bavarian in Lederhosen, a turkish rapper from Mannheim, a vietnamese fisherman from Hamburg. That's how the real world is today, all mixed up, postmodern, if you like that word.

But maybe reality like that is just too difficult to transform into cartoon.

MLP said...

Hi sagelights,

Thanks for the response.

"They were supposed to have the feeling of royalty of course because that is the parody of Snow White, but they made it so they were rich looking bums."

Well, I have to concede that this *might* have been a subtle piece of racism sneaking in. Racism, like all other forms of bias, is an insidious thing that can assert itself in unexpected ways. I believe Clampett was making as non-racist a cartoon as he could make -- or perhaps merely dared to make in 1942. But he lived in a racist time and place, worked in a pretty racist industry; I'm unclear whether all of his many creative collaborators on "Coal Black" truly shared his admiration for black culture. A few racist things I mentioned in my long post obviously did make their way into his cartoon; I can't deny some more subtle things may have slipped past him.

But I'd note that both of the wealthy characters are supposed to be targets of derision (and making them wealthy in and of itself helped there: economists disagree over whether the Great Depression had ended by early 1943, but the anti-rich feeling that pervaded America in the '30s surely hadn't dissipated by then). The Prince's tire is really a pretty mild thing: tire rationing had been in effect for about a year, so tires with worn treads and multiple patches (and patches on top of patches) were a common enough sight. It was a joke that everybody could appreciate at the time, while simultaneously serving early notice that the Prince wasn't really quite as high class as he made himself out to be.

Queenie's slovenliness (which extended to the disordered throne room where she makes her first appearance: cigarette butts and unwashed liquor glasses are scattered about) and goofy, out of place socks, in addition to making her look ridiculous and easy to despise, certainly suggest a past different from her obvious opulence. But I think that was meant to imply that she'd acquired her wealth criminally rather than inherited it. In the 20's and 30's, a black female crime boss nicknamed Queenie ran a numbers racket for years (I think Clampett probably first got the idea for an all-black parody of "Snow White" from the coincidence of the real Queenie's nickname). She's pretty much forgotten now, but most of Clampett's original audiences likely would have heard of her.

The gaudy socks also serve as a quick visual identifier when Queenie appears in her "disguise" as the Durante-esque apple vendor. Once you catch sight of the socks, you won't wonder (assuming you ever did) whether this is a new character suddenly getting introduced in mid-story.

Oliver_A said...

It's funny you actually made a distinction between Germany and Bavaria, because mainly Bavaria, while being a part of Germany, is most famous for typical German stereotypes (Green hats, Lederhosen, Oktoberfest...).

As being a German myself, I never took any offense in Sven Hoek, because it was more than evident you guys just had lots of fun screwing around, and why not? There are lots of ways to parody American and other people, too, it all comes with the fact that the human race consists of lots of varieties, not only aming individuals but also nations.

Btw, where exactly did you live in Germany?

slowtiger said...

Oliver: You're doing it again. Lederhosen are NOT typically german, they're even not typically bavarian. It is only a small minority of traditionalists and some more people who work in tourist business who still wear them. Saying Lederhosen are typically german would be as ridiculous as saying South Bronx Gangsta Rap is typically american, all 200 million of them listen to nothing else. See what I mean?

That said, I'm from northern Germany and live in Berlin. The variety of people and clothing styles you see on the streets here can be compared to New York, I've been told - or it is even wilder. It would be really hard work to concentrate all these impressions into a stereotype of "typically german". But please, no more lederhosen (or "heil mein fuhrer", to just add the other famous stereotype). A good stereotype should be based on reality - at least give me a real chance to be insulted!

Sven Hoek said...

Yumpin' Yimminie, what's wrong with lederhosen? I hide mine in the closet....like an idiot.

How else are we supposed to yump through the fjords?

Oliver_A said...

>>Oliver: You're doing it again. Lederhosen are NOT typically german, they're even not typically bavarian.<<

Says someone from the north...

>> It is only a small minority of traditionalists and some more people who work in tourist business who still wear them.<<

Maybe, but that's exactly, besides the Octoberfest, what Bavarian is MOST FAMOUS for. I only mentioned it because John, interestingly, made a distinction between Bavaria and Germany.

>> Saying Lederhosen are typically german<<

I never said that.

>> would be as ridiculous as saying South Bronx Gangsta Rap is typically american, all 200 million of them listen to nothing else. See what I mean?<<

You obviously don't see what I mean...

>>That said, I'm from northern Germany and live in Berlin.<<

Lots of stereotypes which Americans don't even know... ;)

>> The variety of people and clothing styles you see on the streets here can be compared to New York, I've been told - or it is even wilder.<<

So it's good that everything is standardized around the world, right? Talking about cultural imperialism.

>> It would be really hard work to concentrate all these impressions into a stereotype of "typically german". <<

Yeah, a German like myself actually differentiates between stereotypes in different regions... ;)

>>But please, no more lederhosen (or "heil mein fuhrer", to just add the other famous stereotype).<<

Du bist relativ peinlich und humorlos... ;)

>> A good stereotype should be based on reality - at least give me a real chance to be insulted! <<

Maybe we should post a clip from "Werner - Beinhart!" here. ;)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkkFBsi2KKI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWaiGks31I4

Now John knows about a very specific "Northern Germany" stereotype. ;)

RAAA said...

I could not resist... http://www.raaacartoons.com/blogstuff/nativebabe_low.jpg

Traven said...

I'm surprised that from the facts that

- The best cartoonist ever (in our opinion) focused extensively at the appearance of things in reality, and he must have studied hundreds and thousands of actual objects before he cartooned them in his superb way.

- We live in an age of increasing blandness and uniformity, in more than one way. The world and its people _everywhere_ are increasingly bland and uniform. What's more, the media don't pay attention to subtle differences. And it doesn'thelp that individual people looking at other people naturally tend to see common patterns.

Given the above, I would have thought that the good cartoons and their role should be to feed upon the specific realities - not the stereotypes!

Even if making fun of any people using stereotypes is completely legitimate and approved, I don't see it as a way to go _as an artist_ Isn’t it a blind alley? There is an Italian cartoony comic from the 60s that is a parody of James Bond, and has been a huuge success for many years. It is still being produced, now with much less success. I recall the authors’ remark in an interview from around ten years ago: The time for parodies is gone.

About Sven Hoek not being based on study: You have been exposed to many facts about Europeans, both from media and from your life in Europe. These facts have then sunk into your subconsciousness and have informed your creativity. I think this is a fair guess!

The fact that stereotypical cartoons make fun of the stereotypes themselves opened my eyes to the ironic statement embedded in the bad, bland cartoons we used to criticise. How come we failed to see the humour deeply embedded in their art?

I don't see why should historic injustices be of much consequence. But, when you go out and make a film about some unhappy people who cannot have their end’s meet _in the present_, wouldn't it be better to actually show their situation in all its: grotesqueness, goofiness, and - hey, people have laughed even in death camps - rather than to poke fun at some stereotypical image?? (The latter is what Borat did, IIRC. It is probablywhat Disney did. I don’t know enough about USA society and history to judge Clampett)

I dislike PC too, and I think I recognise my own impulsive, imperfect reactions in this JohnK's argument.

[1] By the best cartoonist ever, I meant Mr Gross, of course.

[2] The Italian comic I mentioned is called Alan Ford.

Torsten Adair said...

Wow... great stuff. As a German-American (mother born in Hannover, I was born in Omaha), I really don't take much offense to German stereotypes. (Mom, on the other hand, couldn't stand "Hogan's Heroes".)

Lederhosen? Not so popular now, but back in the day, yeah. Those leather pants are INDESTRUCTIBLE. Perfect for kids.

Curiously, while reading about Sven (I still get a chuckle when I see the third rail in the subway and think of Stimpy's favorite board game), the generic alpine, nordic image you describe defines much of the American midwest. Whereas New York City had ethnic neighborhoods, the Midwest had ethnic towns. Everybody mixes together, settles into an accepted way of life, and the result is that Iowa and Nebraska has little regional dialect.

Stereotypes work best when the stereotyped object shows the other charaters to be the ignorant ones. And, of course, you've got to be pretty smart to create a great satirical stereotype.

Each nation has it's regional stereotypes. France just had a successful film comedy about a man who gets exiled to the plebian north of Normandy. Germans make fun of the Ostfresians. Iowans tell jokes about Minnesotans, who tell jokes about Iowans. Manhattanites grumble about the Bridge and Tunnel people.

The thing about creating a generic stereotype like Sven... you can offend a large group of people who might see their culture ridiculed in the character; you can also disavow the offense by saying the character doesn't represent one particular culture; people might not see their culture, but recognize something else, and find it funny.

Lederhosen are funny. Schutzenfest hats are funny, especially with feathers. Dachshunds are funny, espeically if wearing lederhosen and a hunting cap. Ergo: Sven.

Gene Phillips said...

Great article!

There may indeed be some point beyond which a stereotype is used not to simply “downgrade” the emulated for purposes of simple comedy, but to “degrade” for purposes of political hegemony– but many academic critics don’t know the difference.

“Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarves,” the crows in DUMBO– these are not on a par with the black congressmen in BIRTH OF A NATION.

Randy Reynaldo said...

You make a lot of points. And comedy should push the envelope and point out hypocrycies. I think the one challenge is that it becomes difficult when you are satirizing or making fun of a culture or group that traditionally has been subject to oppression and hate. It's not fair to say "They don't have a sense of humor," when they have had to live with denigration (and outright violence) for generations, which other groups who have not had to live within such a context may understand.

HernĂ¡n G. Fuentealba said...

the modernism is exterminating the original cultures,I agree with you about the computer publicity, I am not sure about which one was intended to be promoted, it seems that it just worked on both sides ... .

Zachary said...

oh yeah John Your comment on the blandness of people in the apple ad. The younger white guy is supposed to represent Apple company's CEO Steve Jobs, While the Pc Guy is supposed to Represent Bill Gates Of Windows. Look for the movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley" For the Complete story on how Apple and Microsoft Ran their companys in the 80's until they discovered the advent of the Graphic Based operating System. check the wiklepidia if your interested in that crap heres the Link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirates_of_Silicon_Valley -this is probably totally off subject

Secret Squirrel said...

Speaking of stereotypes, i've been trying to hunt down both the yodeling and the accordion music from ren and stimpy, especially the sven hoek episode. Who wrote the songs and what are they called???

fandumb said...

Billy voiced Sven AS WELL AS STIMPY? He was so, so funny as Sven! He was hilarious! Especially when he put the 'Y' syllable on the wrong words!