News recently broke that Amazon’s begun to place a warning in front of its Prime Instant video streaming service’s “Tom and Jerry” shorts. The warnings, which are pretty much the exact same ones that the collector-oriented Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD sets have had for years (as well as a few “Tom and Jerry” DVD sets), note in part: “Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”
Similar to other animated shorts of their era, “Tom and Jerry” sometimes featured racial stereotypes of African-Americans, via blackface gags, etc. The most prominent stereotype was the unfortunately-named “Mammy Two-Shoes,” the stereotypically-voiced woman who maintains/owns (it’s not made clear which) the house where Tom and Jerry’s antics take place. Mammy was phased out by the 50s theatrical shorts, and with the television era, she’s been handled in various ways. While the “Tom and Jerry” reruns I grew up with on Chicago TV in the 80s aired her appearances as-is, other treatments have included re-animating her scenes to replace her with a white Irish-accented maid, or dubbing her voice over with a more natural speaking voice. Modern “Tom and Jerry” shorts made for TV usually feature Caucasian owners of the cat and mouse’s house; Mrs. Two-Shoes appeared as a Caucasian woman (and with the actual name “Mrs. Two-Shoes”) in the 2000s series “Tom and Jerry Tales.”
Of course, despite that Amazon’s giving unaware parents fair warning before letting their kids watch the shorts, and that the shorts are otherwise airing uncut, this hasn’t stopped people online from complaining about “censorship” and “free speech.” The ever-popular “they’re being PC” and “whiny liberals” are also being bandied about. Ignoring, as usual, that censorship/freedom of speech aren’t at stake here, or that the same warnings were included with the aforementioned Looney Tunes/Tom and Jerry DVD sets and the world of animation survived. Or, of course, that said imagery was and still is offensive, even if it was commonplace; civil rights groups campaigned against stereotypical treatments of Blacks in media during the 1940s, too. That, and “Tom and Jerry” are still deemed entertaining in spite of said imagery, which is what’s made them classic cartoon characters.
I’ll note also that most of the stereotypical images get cut in TV airings anyway, which hasn’t hurt the duo’s appeal—“Tom and Jerry” are pretty much the only theatrical-era animated shorts to consistently still air on American TV today. This is mostly because of the Turner side of Time Warner—the creators of Cartoon Network—having bought the MGM film library in the 80s, and making the cat and mouse staples of its networks since. The bizarre lack of synergy between the divisions of Time Warner result in Turner’s side having to pay the Warner Bros. side to air Looney Tunes shorts…one supposed reason Bugs and company’s TV appearances have slacked off in the 2000s/2010s.
Granted, I was always lukewarm about “Tom and Jerry,” though not for the stereotypes. I greatly prefer “Looney Tunes,” which were funnier and not as repetitive plotwise/gagwise. Having a large variety of characters to play off each other helps, of course.