Who would have thought that episodes of a hugely popular cartoon show like Tom and Jerry would one day be censored as racist. Fans of the cat and mouse series are angry that the two episodes of Warner Brothers’ Golden Collection Volume Two, which was intended to be an uncut version of the popular animation series, was deemed inappropriate because the protagonists were ‘blacked-up’.
The collectors’ edition which was meant to go on sale two months ago has not yet made it to shops. Tom and Jerry is not the first cartoon series to be accused of racism. A couple of years ago, Tintin in Congo from The Adventures of Tintin series and Archie were also accused of being racist.
Racism was practised across cultures until very recently.
There is no point denying that or the fact that the culture of the time reflected in these cartoons. It continues to exist today though in a clandestine way. Recently, Oprah Winfrey, the celebrity talk show host, claimed she was racially profiled at a boutique in Zurich where the sales woman refused to show her an expensive handbag. Blackface was a shameful common practice in the American entertainment industry in the early 20th century. However, proscribing the practice could throw up a few tricky questions in contemporary times too.
Take Robert Downey Jr’s character in Tropic Thunder where he plays an Australian method actor who undergoes pigmentation alteration surgery to play an African-American soldier in a war film. Could that be deemed racist too? On the other hand, in South Korea, musicians and comedians have started ‘blackfacing’ as a fashion statement and as a tribute to their favourite African-American artistes.
There was a time when racism was not an offence and permeated art, literature and popular culture. However, there is no point in now going on a banning spree. It is important to remember and learn from the past and not be shackled by it. So the next time you see slapstick frying pan violence in Tom and Jerry don’t jump to enrol yourself in PETA, just chill and enjoy the cat-and-mouse game.