Tom And Jerry provided its young viewers with many valuable lessons that are still useful today, such as the fact that cats are bipedal and have easy access to guns and explosives, while mice are surprisingly resourceful sadists. But certain aspects are not so timeless—such as its occasional use of ethnic and racial stereotypes. And now efforts are being made to ensure a new generation takes these uglier facets of Tom And Jerry in the proper context, without allowing them to sully the fun of animal torture.
Amazon Prime has recently added a disclaimer warning viewers, “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.” While these depictions have involved gags such as characters suffering burns or mud splatters that turn them into black caricatures, as was the style at the time, the most controversial of these has long been Mammy Two Shoes—a stereotypical black maid whose house is typically the scene of Tom and Jerry’s mayhem, often causing her to question why she ever entrusted her most important chores to a cat.
Over the decades, Mammy has been the subject of numerous attempts to scrub her from Tom And Jerry history, beginning with MGM actually rotoscoping in an Irish-accented white woman replacement in the 1960s. Later, the voice of original Mammy actress Lillian Randolph was overdubbed with a dialect-free reading from Thea Vidale—and even now, most of the shorts featuring Mammy in any form are rarely seen in broadcast. But most were restored on the Tom And Jerry DVD sets, accompanied by a similar disclaimer and video introduction from Whoopi Goldberg, in which America’s friendly racism liaison explains how Mammy and other reflections of the prejudices of their time have been included, as they represent “a part of our history that cannot and should not be ignored.”
Keeping the cartoons intact and just adding a disclaimer is, all in all, a sensible approach to an uncomfortable subject—one that is far less invasive to the integrity of the cartoons than, say, editing out all scenes of Tom and Jerry smoking, as British censors did in 2006. And it’s also a tactic that has been common practice for years now, not just for Tom And Jerry cartoons, but also in Looney Tunes collections (which even had nearly the exact same Whoopi Goldberg warning). So naturally, Amazon’s recent addition of a warning that has long been in place—meant to address subject matter that even MGM felt embarrassed by, while also doing far less than MGM ever did to censor it—has garnered significant backlash about how it’s insane.
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“Empty-headed,” sneered social commentator Frank Furedi, deriding it as “false piousness.” Cathal Gaffney, CEO of animation studio Brown Bag Films, declared it “political correctness gone mad.” And of course, many similar statements have been expressed less articulately and with angrier references to “liberals” and “Obama” across various Amazon reviews, blog comments, and tweets, if you would like to seek them out and feel sad. Warning: These comments may depict some prejudices that are commonplace in society. But—as with Tom And Jerry—no one’s trying to erase them here.