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Trigger Warning- Tom and Jerry and Amazon

10 October 2014

You can read about this on any number of sites, but here’s USA Today:

Viewers may now be thinking twice before they click “play” on the classic Warner Bros. cartoon, Tom and Jerry.

Amazon Prime Instant and iTunes have posted a disclaimer that warns users that the cat-and-mouse shorts, which ran from 1940 to 1957, “may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society.”

The warning continues: “Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

I have a confession to make. This is so before my time that when I first read the headline (in a different publication) I thought it was because it was a cat and a mouse… living together in sin…

Read the rest here.


Amazon, Graphic Novels/Comics, Kindle, Movies/TV

53 Comments to “Trigger Warning- Tom and Jerry and Amazon”

  1. I want to say in the late 60s and early 70s they sanitized my beloved Bugs Bunny of the violence and it really irritates me. Some of them hardly made sense after that.

    Not sure if there was anything racially insensitive but considering the times it wouldn’t surprise me.

    • 1968.
      They also removed from circulation the “Censored 11”:
      The “Censored Eleven” is a group of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons that were withheld from syndication by United Artists (UA) in 1968. UA owned the distribution rights to the Associated Artists Productions library at that time, and decided to pull these eleven cartoons from broadcast because the use of ethnic stereotypes in the cartoons were deemed too offensive for contemporary audiences. The ban has been upheld by UA and the successive owners of the pre-August 1948 Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies[1] catalog to this day, which reverted to Warner Bros. in 1996 with Time Warner’s purchase of Turner Broadcasting. These shorts have not been officially broadcast on television since 1968 and have only been exhibited once theatrically by Warner Bros in Spring 2010 (see below for more details). They have turned up, however, on low-cost VHS and DVD collections over the last thirty years.

      Many cartoons from previous decades are routinely edited on international television (and on some video and DVD collections) today. Usually, the only censorship deemed necessary is the cutting of the occasional perceived racist joke, instance of graphic violence, or scene of a character doing something that parents and watchdog groups fear children will try to imitate, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or self-harming activities such as depictions of suicide.”

      An example of the stuff found objectionable:
      “One classic cartoon gag, most prominent in MGM’s Tom and Jerry cartoons, is the transformation of characters into a blackface caricature after an explosion or an automobile back-fire. A sequence in the Tom and Jerry cartoon Mouse Cleaning (1948) turned Tom into a black-face caricature. Upon questioning by Mammy Two Shoes, Tom answers “No, ma’am. I ain’t seen no cat aroun’ here… uh unh, ain’t no cat, no place, no how-no ma’am,” in stereotypical African-American dialect.[2]”

      If all they’re doing is putting disclaimers…

      • Several of these old, racist cartoons are on YouTube. Yes, they are both insensitive and offensive.

        There’s also Disney’s Song of the South from 1946. Due to its racist content, Disney has never released it on DVD.

        • I don’t think this is strictly true. Disney has released on DVD, just not in the States. A friend owns a copy with Japanese subtitles.

        • At least some of the “censored eleven” were still in circulation, when I watched those cartoons on TV as a kid in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. At any rate, I immediately recognised some of them, when I checked them out on YouTube out of curiosity. “Song of the South” also showed up on TV occasionally well into the 1990s.

          Several WWII propaganda cartoons like “The Führer’s Face” were still in circulation as well, which I found a lot more problematic, because even as a kid I clearly recognised the offensive intent of the propaganda cartoons, whereas the offensive racial stereotypes of many old US cartoons went right over my head due to cultural disconnect.

          For example, I never realised until right now that the common scenes of a cartoon character getting their face blackened by soot were supposed to be blackface caricatures, cause for me those scenes were never anything but cartoon characters falling into ovens or getting caught in explosions and having their faces blackened by soot. I also assumed that the black woman whose legs and feet occasionally show up in old Tom and Jerry cartoons was the owner of the cat and not a maid, because no one in Germany had live-in servants. I didn’t get that Uncle Remus from “Song of the South” was supposed to be a slave either. I always assumed that he was a neighbour where the little white boy used to hang out. After all, I had a lot of elderly neighbours I addressed as “aunt” and “uncle”, so I assumed it was the same for the kid from “Song of the South”, only that one of his neighbour uncles was a black man, since the story was set in the US.

          As for the censored eleven, they clearly feature offensive stereotypes. However, human beings never got off well in Warner Bros cartoons in general. For example, Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam are caricatures of rural whites.

          That said, I don’t think the more offensive cartoons, whether it’s the censored eleven, “Son of the South” or WWII propaganda cartoons, belong in general circulation where children and sensitive adults might see them unprepared. But I don’t think they should be completely buried either. For example, I find it problematic that the censored eleven or “Song of the South” are even excluded from collectors DVD editions, because pricey collectors editions are not aimed at children but at adults who know that they are watching 70+ year-old cartoons and that standards were different at the time.

          Adding a disclaimer is a good compromise, because it warns off people who stumble upon those old cartoons unprepared and and still leaves them intact for those who want to watch them, as they were intended to be seen.

  2. “Dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!” – Dr. Peter Venkman

    • Argh. You beat me to it.

      I wanted to ask if anyone else felt that Tom and Jerry was a lesson to kids about empathy. I remember telling my dad that I knew I was supposed to root for the mouse, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the cat.

      Does it make me a bad person if I wanted Tom to win sometimes? I guess I’d he did there would be no more cartoon, though.

      • I never liked Tom and Jerry, even as a kid. I was ambivalent about Disney cartoons.

        What I wanted was Bugs or Daffy or a Tex Avery. That was where the cool factor was….it’s never been surpassed.

      • If you have ever had a mouse (or worse, mice) get into your house in the late autumn, you most likely very quickly lost your childish inclinations to root for the mouse.

      • I always felt sorry for Tom, the cat, too. As a kid, I had a toy figurine of Tom, but not of Jerry, cause Jerry was a smug jerk.

    • Dang, man! You beat us all to that reference, Jim. Two points off your (rather high) score…

      I didn’t like T&J either, but maybe I was a kid that didn’t have a high tolerance for pointless. Mickey Mouse was never on my list, either.

      I didn’t allow my kids to watch SpongeBob for similar reasons. I didn’t believe they’d get anything of value out of watching something so mean-spirited, and in any case, while they were growing up, there were much better options on TV.

      • i didn’t let my kids watch SpongeBob, either, or anything else that celebrated stupidity. They liked Roly Poly Oly (sp?), Veggie Tales, and (God help me) Dora the Explorer, if they watched TV at all when they were little.

        For contrast, their current favorite movie is The Purge, lol.

  3. It’s actually a cat and a mouse. A dog would show up occasionally to help protect Jerry (the mouse) from Tom (the cat). Is there really an entire generation unfamiliar with them?

    • Wouldn’t surprise me.
      The newer, defanged versions are pretty boring.

      • I never spent more than a few minutes watching them when I was young. If James Bailey hadn’t helpfully explained which is the cat and which one is the mouse, I would not have known.

      • Eh. Either way they’re worse than boring. They both run around and find different ways to harm each other (cartoonishly.) There’s no plot, just bang/pow/boom. That’s funny? Really? People used to laugh at that?

        When it’s your five-year-old parked in front of one of these masterpieces and you know very well from experience that what’s streaming into their eyes is going to come back out as behavior, it doesn’t take long at all for T&J to wind up on the “you’re not watching that” list. Good riddance.

        • And yet kids from the original generations watching new better than to acct out.

          • Clearly, you didn’t grow up with my brothers 😉

          • Yeah, I disagree with that. There is a national movement in America’s schools to discourage hostile behavior between children. If you don’t spend time on the playground, or with people who do, you wouldn’t see it, but it’s there. Things are different now.

            • There is a national movement in America’s schools to discourage hostile behavior between children

              It’s called Ritalin, isn’t it?

              • @Edward Grant RE: Ritalin –> LOL 😆

                You think because you discourage violence on school playgrounds that it does not happen elsewhere?

                What is this? The Kindergarten Pre-Crime Division?

                Break it up when it happens and punish the offenders. But keep in mind that these are children. They learn the limits of acceptable behavior by pushing those limits.

    • Oh I’m familiar with them, just not with the earlier versions. But as someone mentioned, even though it now seems evident, I never knew which was the cat and which the mouse. Silly me.

    • “Is there really an entire generation unfamiliar with them?”

      Yes. I’m pretty sure my sons have never seen any of these cartoons, which both my father’s generation and mine watched (he in movie theaters in the 30s and 40s, and us on TV in the 60s and 70s).

      My children were born in ’78, ’80, and ’94 (yes, a big gap!). The two older boys watched He Man, Transformers, and so on, and the younger one watched Rem and Stimpy, and the like (he was especially fond of the one about a dog and the two old people, the name of which eludes me).

      I’ve seen those cartoons before they were locked away, and some others before and after they were “sanitized”. When we were little, there was a big stink about Coyote and Roadrunner, because people feared the kids would try to do those crazy stunts. My daddy (who as I said had grown up with these cartoons) thought that was funny.

    • Yeah, I fixed it. I keep thinking about my own dog and cat living together. Best friends.

    • The dog was named Spike BTW.

  4. I don’t know. Isn’t that messing with cultural history or something? Mark Twain got away with it.

    • I think that’s the point of the disclaimer. The cartoons have not been modified. There has been talk of censoring Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer by politically correct activists and Whoopi Goldberg has voiced her opposition to that in the past which is perhaps why she was willing to add this disclaimer here.

    • @I.J.Parker

      I panned Mark Twain, The Adventures of Pudd’nhead Wilson on Amazon (2 stars). When I tried to post my review, Amazon disallowed it. Finally I figured out that Amazon’s review engine was choking on the word ‘nigger’ in a quote from the book. I don’t use that word, but Twain did. I changed it to ‘nygger’, and — Voila! — the review engine swallowed it.

      And the moral of this story is ‘Even Amazon plays PC games.’

  5. Note that the disclaimer shows up on the physical DVDs, too, so it’s clearly at the studio’s behest, not Amazon’s or Apple’s. And it makes sense for them to include it.

    If Warner had tried releasing without the disclaimer, they’d have called down fire and brimstone upon themselves from social justice warriors incensed that they’d try releasing such racist material in this enlightened age.

    If they’d bowdlerized the cartoons, they’d have called down fire and brimstone upon themselves from the animation and film buffs and historians incensed that Warner should censor and “sanitize” such an important part of our history and cultural heritage.

    So they put a “hey, people used to be more racist, yo,” disclaimer on it, effectively lampshading it and making it all right for them to release it. Best possible outcome. But some people still get twitchy about it, because that’s what people do.

    I don’t really see the problem. We put up for decades with a great big FBI badge on all our movies telling us that the studios think we’re all criminal scum but are happy to take our money anyway. Compared to that, a little “trigger warning” on some classic cartoons is just fine with me.

    • I always worried about that tag on my pillow. The one that said – do not remove under penalty of law. I figured the pillow cops would come haul me away real quick…

    • Agreed. IJ mentioned above about not messing with cultural history. I like reading/watching stuff from the old days because of the cultural history factor. I like to get a sense of how people saw the world and approached things; it’s a useful dose of perspective.

      I’m reminded of the Murdoch Mysteries episode where a comment came up about “imbecile” vs “moron” (I think) for retarded people, who are probably called something else now. It is because I read books written before my grandparents were born that I realized it doesn’t matter what retarded people are called, the word will always become an insult. As a kid I would get outraged at those novels where the retarded person was called “halfwit, idiot, or imbecile” until I found out that those were the scientific terms of the day. I remember when the term “retarded” shifted to “special needs,” but now I see “special” used as an insult more and more. There’s probably another polite term now.

      So, when “retarded” became an evil word to say, I didn’t join in the demonizing. I figured the outrage machine would better spend its time working on treatments and policies that help such people and their families rather than policing vocabulary terms. Having perspective from the past helps; I’d rather see more disclaimers and less bowdlerizing.

  6. “Tom & Jerry” as a pair originate with Pierce Egan’s Life in London, a best-selling Regency schoolboy favorite (much confiscated by schoolmasters). Illustrates just how much trouble young bucks & girlfriends can get up to in boxing and other circles. A great source for Regency slang and incident. There’s also a Life in Paris and a few other related titles.

    The Cruikshank illustrations are superlative. http://tinyurl.com/mledhle

  7. Speaking as a childhood fan of the TV re-runs of old Tom & Jerry, Bugs, Daffy, et al… I like the warning label. I was never traumatized by anything I saw in these cartoons as a child, but I did notice a lot of things that made me think, “wow, different world in the 40’s and 50’s I guess. So, for me, i found them kind of educational in that sense. But I wouldn’t want parents to not know what they may be in for if they tried to get the older, much funnier and higher quality, but unpredictable cartoons.

    Tons of casual but-certainly-demeaning race jokes (mostly sight-gags like the ones mentioned above) and other strange things to include in kids programming.

    I remember one episode (still wonder at it from time to time, in fact) with a dog vs. Bugs (pretty sure it was Bugs). At the end, the very last few seconds, the dog is so mentally overwhelmed by all the clever things the protagonist has done to him, that he pulls out a pistol, places it to his temple, pulls the trigger, and kills himself. The final shot is his crumpled corpse in the corner of a kitchen.

    It was supposed to be funny, but was just bafflingly inappropriate instead. I definitely remember seeing that and just going… “wtf was that?” (only it was the ‘70s and acronyms hadn’t been invented yet). Definitely the kind of thing that started getting edited out of the TV versions later on. I guess the 1950’s was permissive enough to make it, and the 1970’s was permissive enough to run it on TV without giving it much thought. Definitely a different world now,

    • When I first saw those cartoons as a kid in the 1970s and early 1980s, I didn’t know they were already forty years old. Instead, I assumed that they were set in a parallel world, where things simply were completely different.

  8. TV in general is fairly well neutered. I watched an old Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Christmas show that took on all comers, all political parties, with no sign of political correctness in sight. It used humor to rip our society and belief systems apart. I laughed so hard I cried. There was truth in everything that was joked about and some of it hard hitting. The show made you think. I learned moral and ethical lessons from TV when I was growing up in the 60s.

    What I see today is very little thinking and very little encouraging the public to think. We are becomeing what the media giants think we are, stupid and complacient ready to be spoon fed everything and unwilling to think on our own. Our current lessons? Vampires sparkle.

    • I do miss nasty evil vampires.

    • “I learned moral and ethical lessons from TV when I was growing up in the 60s.”

      Me, too. I still remember my biggest WTF moment. I was watching Gregory Peck in “Gentleman’s Agreement” (side note: I’m still madly in love with Mr. Peck), and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the way the character was treated. Because he was a Jew! Wha–?

      To my knowledge, I had not known any Jewish people, and I had no idea they were persecuted because of their religion. It simply made no sense to me at all. I was pretty young, so very naive.

      Later of course, I read more about history and over the years it’s become clear that being “the other” in human society is no fun.

      • I watched Showboat (the movie musical) with my kids in the 90s and had to explain to them the concept of “one drop” of African-American blood. Of course, they didn’t use the term African-American in the film. From the absurdity of one drop “polluting” a person who had white skin, to the concept of racially “mixed” people “passing” as white, to the illegality of miscegenation, there was a lot that they found beyond ridiculous and could not comprehend.

        Another older musical is South Pacific, where the sweet young thing from Kansas being adverse to marrying the French planter because he was once married to and has kids by a Polynesian woman is pivotal to the plot. Absolutely puzzling to my children.

        I like to think we’ve come some way with these issues.

    • The last thing governments want are people who think. Faux outrage is far more profitable for them.

      Oh, and my vampires don’t sparkle. But it probably is symptomatic of the whole ‘no-one’s bad, just misunderstood’ attitude in so much of modern Western culture.

  9. It was supposed to be funny, but was just bafflingly inappropriate instead. I definitely remember seeing that and just going… “wtf was that?” (only it was the ‘70s and acronyms hadn’t been invented yet). Definitely the kind of thing that started getting edited out of the TV versions later on. I guess the 1950’s was permissive enough to make it, and the 1970’s was permissive enough to run it on TV without giving it much thought.

    Your remembered experience sounds similar to mine. Growing up in the 70s, I recall feeling distinctly uncomfortable over certain scenes of those “classic” cartoons.

  10. Tom-cat. Now you know.

  11. Itchy and Scratchy is better anyway.

    • Pinky and the Brain.
      WB still has it…when they let it fly.

      • Oh yeah baby! Both! And let’s not forget the wonderful un-PC South Park. The gluten-ebola episode was an instant classic.

        • The gluten-free South Park was amazing. I can’t believe how funny that show still is after all these seasons.

          Btw -I didn’t realize that it was a whole “thing” sweeping and apparently annoying the country, but I had just gone gluten free, cold-tukey, maybe 3 days before that show aired. I swear to God… I was exactly like Mr. Mackey. “Just want to tell everyone that I feel fantastic, m-kay.”

          Glad I saw the episode before I got too obnoxious about it.

  12. I have to wonder if the disclaimers are even a good idea. Watching the reruns as a kid, I never thought “Oh, they’re doing this because they want to make fun of black people.” I didn’t really know what blackface was or how people felt about it. Sticking a disclaimer on it just makes younger generations aware of it.

    And, as far as I remember from my child-mind, I never saw anything that was meant to make black people or Asians look bad.

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