Offensive Cartoons of the 1940's: Racist & Patriotic Fun! Featuring Popeye the Sailor, Bugs Bunny, Superman, Daffy & Donald Duck, and the most screwed up thing Dr. Seuss ever made.
Disclaimer: The subject of the following review is a bunch of offensive stuff...some of it's racist, some of it's just terrible. All of it's freaking hilarious and bizarre. Just so we're clear, I am not a racist, it's just hard to talk about something "serious" in the context of children's characters. What the hell am I talking about? Let's have a look:
You are not prepared for what you're about to see. My faith in all things holy (and Bugs Bunny) has been forever shattered and may never return. You have been warned.
Cartoons and politics have always been a weird mix with me. Then again, depending on what culture you're looking at, cartoons are always handled a little differently. Japan takes the animated medium a bit more seriously...they've been making adult animation for decades now....and I'm not just talking about little Japanese girls being violated by demon squid or ninjas flipping out and stabbing other ninjas in the face (who are flipping out). America, excluding this weird movement in the 1970's (think Fritz the Cat), has almost always looked at cartoons as something for children. America's been fluctuating lately on how it looks at animation, but for the most part, it's for making products for children/teens that some adults might enjoy. There's nothing wrong with that...it's just the way it usually is. However, it's hella fun to take a look back and see what animation USED to be. Film's just a little over a hundred years old, and today it's pretty easy to look back and see what was going on culturally speaking by just sitting back and watching a few cartoons. What kind of cartoons?
Horrible, frighteningly politically incorrect cartoons. Watching some of the crap that Warner Brothers, Disney, and Fox put out during World War II, you can see why it's never a good idea to go digging into the past. No one of my generation was ever meant to see any of this. In the 1940s, America's population was about 120 million. 90 million of those people went to the movies every week. Hollywood WISHES so many people still went to the movies. So, of course the government and the patriots of America wanted to get their message out (Many of the people who ran the film studios were at least Colonels in the U.S. Army, so this isn't that big a surprise). What was their message? I'm not completely sure beyond the whole "America is the best country ever, and Hitler is bad, and the Japanese are nothing but buck-toothed morons" thing, but what it ended up being was pure propaganda in cartoon form. Which is horribly awesome. You haven't lived until you've seen Donald Duck saluting Hitler or Bugs Bunny dropping bombs on the Japanese. It's so very messed up and WRONG, you can't help but laugh. What the hell were they thinking? This article has a handful of examples as well as a bit more information than usual, because this article was actually researched, at least a little bit. The weird thing about researching crap like this is it takes all the fun out of it. It's hard to be a completely irreverent bastard while at the same time spewing out random tidbits of information. It's kind of like why all educational video games suck absolute sack. It's hard to entertain AND inform. :shrug:
Chuck Jones calls World War 2 the "last great drama," because there was a good side and a side that was unquestionably evil (unlike, as Chuck puts it, the Korean & Vietnam wars). Now, I'm not going to go into explaining why Germany and Japan were NOT completely unholy countries led by demons...because that's all been established in any college-level history book. (Far too short version: Germany was so crippled by World War 1 reparations that it was in a bad place and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was only retaliation to the forced occupation of Japan by the Americans forty or so years earlier. That's not completely correct or correctly complete but that'll have to do for the sake of this article.) With so many people going to the movies, the United States Army started pouring lots of money into animation studios to get their message across. The point of these cartoons were to show people how bad the Nazis or the Japanese were and to get folks to give money/join the Army. It's a fact. It's just really creepy watching Donald Duck wander through a jungle with knife waiting to stab the first Japanese person he sees. I guess in context that's not so bad...but if I was Japanese I might have nightmares about Donald Duckaru hunting me down.
Trivia Time: Walt Disney and his company were actually hired to paint the designs on the sides of American bombers during the war. I guess any product placement is good, but I really wonder if putting it on the sides of machines built to kill lots of people was really a good idea. Hell, I can just imagine survivors of the American bombings being forever terrified of the face of Mickey Mouse, since that's what appeared in the sky when the death came. Gah. Let's walk through some cartoons and issues. We'll start with the least fouled up and work our way onward.
Superman: Sweet mother of Christ. I know it's no surprise that they made Superman cartoons filled with propaganda...since the character was designed pretty much with "the Mightiest American" in mind, but I was NOT expecting to see the Nazis dressing as members of the KKK to lead a tribe of African people with huge lips, bones through their noses, and spears against the Allied forces. In "Jungle Drums" we have Superman rescuing Lois Lane from being burned at the stake by Nazi dressing as ANOTHER hate group leading a racist stereotype. Wow. The only thing they're not doing is eating watermelon. So check out this cartoon if you want to see Superman beating up Nazis while black monkeys dance around with spears. God damn, is that messed up. Luckily, Superman doesn't say anything, since anything he COULD say would end up being freaking horrible by today's standards:
Lois Lane: "Thank you for saving me, Superman. I don't know what I would have done without you."
Superman: "Never fear Lois, I'll never let spear-chucking Negroes get you."
What's interesting about the "Cartoons go to War" documentary (where I got a lot of this info) is the fact that everyone they interview doesn't even address how screwed up these things are by today's standards. The closest they get to covering their own asses is stating that the cartoons weren't for kids...they were meant for adults...as such, they could get away with being "bold," as one animator put it. So if that's the case, why the hell does this exist?:
I'm really touched that Superman himself wants me to "Slap a Jap." Apparently, cartoons and comic books were NOT intended for children, since that would be wrong. Only HITLER uses propaganda on children (see Disney entry below). :sigh: It makes me wonder if kids wore "Slap a Jap" t-shirts to school or something.
While it's not the main focus of this article, you really don't want me to go into how horribly black people are depicted in old cartoons....so I will anyway. (Should I say African American? I'm not even sure how to write it any more, since technically, I'm talking about African Africans...and the only person I know who's African is as white as they come. Is he a British African?) I don't know why, but African Americans and African Africans just weren't represented in cartoons that well (and still aren't, sometimes), besides being painted as lazy big-lipped savages. Most of the "anti-black" cartoons were done in the 1930's before the war. The infamous Amos & Andy cartoons were there, but also strange things like Warner Brother's "Jungle Jitters" surfaced from time to time. The cartoon's not that interesting except for how the Warners draw Africans and how the only African who speaks is given a terrible Japanese accent. One minority talking like another minority. Let's reverse it....just imagine a Chinese guy talking in broken "I just jumped the Mexican border" Spanglish and you'll get what's going on here.
Don't forget to check out the only African American-centric cartoon I got to see...called "Coal Black & the Seven Dwarves." Yes. It's Snow White only.....black. From the picture to the left, you might notice that the spelling has been "Racified" to refer to the African American demographic. Wasn't that "nice" of Warner Brothers? Prince Charmin' (spelled "Chawmin" in this cartoon, because, apparently, minorities not spell no good) is a pimp and Coal Black gets rescued by 7 black midgets who are also serving in the military. The only person they end up fighting is an overweight black woman. Lord knows, if I ever joined the army, my unit would be nothing but tiny black midgets and we'd fight...um, obesity together. Sure.
Speaking of men in uniform, Warner Brothers was paid by the US Army to make a bunch of educational/inspirational cartoons for the soldiers to watch during the war. They were called SNAFU (which is a military term for Situation Normal: All Fucked Up...There must be another, cleaner meaning, but I've never heard it.) and featured a goofy soldier of that name. Chuck Jones made a few of them, and they were all written by Ted Geisel....also known as DR. SEUSS. The influence is really obvious because a) the cartoons are filled with all sort of Dr-Seuss like inventions and b) almost all of the dialogue is spoken in super-cute rhyme. The subject matter would vary from "make sure to wear pants while in the malaria swamp" to "take care of your gun" to "don't tell your prostitute any military secrets." Since they weren't for public consumption there's more than a little female nudity (all women wear thigh-high stockings and miniskirts and often no shirt). Btw, that prostitute joke you just read? I wasn't kidding. Pointing out how the Japanese are still being drawn as little slant-eyed monkeys is me just being repetitive, but well, I've already pointed it out, haven't I?
Did I mention how it's obvious that no WOMAN was meant to see these films?
Here, Snafu is about to learn that the Nazis have deployed explosive sex dolls to confound the American troops.
While it's only sort of implied that there's a hooker involved, here Snafu lies behind a bush with some woman in the middle of the night (telling military secrets). Personally, I think the "censor bush" is a dead giveaway to something being wrong here.
I'm starting to get the idea that the American troops might have been horny or something. The above pictures are of Snafu's girlfriend reading a letter. That's the only point of the scene. Before you mock it, this is about as justified as that topless scene in "Open Water." Men like boobs, I guess. Speaking of breasts:
Agent Microphone Tits has go to be the coolest secret agent ever. "Excuse me, but could you speak a little more clearly into my nipples?"
What really freaks me out is all this stuff was written by Dr. Seuss. (Must I remind you that most of these cartoons are spoken only in rhyme?)
What's actually most interesting here is why the government decided to use cartoons to explain thing to its troops. The government felt (as confirmed by Chuck Jones and others) that the level of the troop's education meant that cartoons would be the best way of approaching them with important information.
Christ. People = dumb, so let the cartoon character tell them how they can save their lives. I don't know....it's really hard to convey how weird it is for the government to use a kid's medium to educate "grown men" or young soldiers. Then again, a couple of years ago, the Army made a video game with the intent to make kids want to join the Army. :shrug: My favorite SNAFU cartoon is one that explains fear. It tell us that because the body produces adrenalin and our liver gives us energy when we're afraid, the US Army wants us to be filled with fear before battle. It's kind of inspirational, but the way the cartoon works, it makes it look like if you're afraid you're invincible and should charge right into combat before the adrenalin wears off. It's very manipulative and scary, particularly when you realize they were showing this to grown men who would be dying in battle soon thereafter. That's not funny, but it kept going around in my head as I was watching it. Fear makes you strong...so go ahead, Shit Your Pants in Terror! Yay!
By the way, did I mention Dr. Seuss was behind this whole mess? Oh, yeah. I did.
Daffy Duck also helped the war effort by running a scrap yard where you were supposed to donate all your tin, rubber, or whatever the hell the government needed. There were a lot of cartoons back then about how Americans were supposed to help the Army, even if they weren't a soldier. Invariably, this would show old people building tanks and housewives saving cooking grease and then smelting gold for Jesus or something (I never said these cartoons were realistic). Apparently, Daffy's "garbage dump of Freedom" was the key to the Allies' victory as Hitler retaliates by sending over a NAZI GOAT to eat all the Allied garbage that Daffy's protecting. You see, animals have political views that match whatever country they're from, since both Daffy and "Nazi Goat" have pretty strong views. So does that mean the American Army could start releasing "Wild Dogs of Democracy" into Iraq? Cartoon logic is so funny sometimes. Oh, and Daffy smashes Hitler's skull in with a mallet. Of course. Bugs Bunny also played a part in the war effort...but we'll save the best for last. And by "best" I mean the most painful.
Popeye the Sailor: Now I'm not really surprised that there was some propaganda here because, well, he's a sailor. He's already in the Navy, so it makes sense. The two toons I got to have a look at were entitled: "Seeing Red, White, & Blue" and "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap". One's pretty straightforward, with Popeye beating the ever loving crap out of the Japanese Navy because that's his job. The other features Bluto not wanting to go to war, and Popeye's his draft officer. Man, that's got to be shitty. Your long-time rival decides to get rid of you by sending you to war. It's not quite that bad, since this may be the only cartoon where Popeye and Bluto both eat spinach and help each other (and join the Army in the end). Of course, they fight Japanese spies. Apparently, the Japanese are best depicted as short buck-toothed monkeys with squinty eyes and glasses. If I wasn't laughing so hard I'd be offended. This won't be the last time we see this kind of portrayal of a people...trust me. What's also interesting about the Popeye cartoons is that whenever they show Hitler, he's got the same voice as Popeye. I don't know what that means, but whenever Hitler speaks it's just Popeye talking about body odor (You don't want me to explain this more clearly...because I can't.). Here's also a good place to point out that jokes about how people in the Navy are gay are officially AT LEAST 65 years old. So many of these cartoons feature sailors being, well, more than a little....off. I'm not going to say much more, but it's really really odd how many times sailors (excluding Popeye) end up putting on make-up and groping each other in these things. "In the Navy," indeed.
Tex Avery made a pretty classic cartoon called "Blitz Wolf" which is a pretty cute/clever telling of the Nazi situation as per the three little pigs. "This little pig built his house of straw...This little pig built his house of sticks...and this little pig built his house of WAR!!!" (as pictured to the left). The pigs represent countries foolish enough to not be worried about Hitler until it was too late. The whole thing's really about Germany, but that doesn't stop Tex Avery from getting one tiny dig in against the Japanese.
Thanks, Tex. Very clever. Instead of dogs, it's the Japanese. Nice.
Disney: There're a couple of interesting things that Disney made during the war...all of them being a little "off". These include cartoons where Donald Duck is being told to save for his taxes, since they help support the war instead of spending his money on hookers (seriously). Now, obviously, I have to wonder how many "kids" filed their income tax returns during the 1940's...so maybe that whole "the cartoons weren't just for kids" thing was true (how many kids spent their money on whores is also up in the air). That kind of frightens me, considering the logic behind using cartoons for that whole SNAFU thing...you know, cartoons = education for adults. There's also a great "Donald Duck as a Nazi" cartoon called "In the Fuehrer's Face," where Donald Duck is a Nazi making munitions for Hitler. It's not that bad, and it's satirical, but it does have some strange stuff in it. For example:
Donald Duck makes one scary nazi.
Of course it was all a dream, as shown by the "dream Nazis" descending into the ass of a sleeping Donald.
There's also a cartoon called "Commando Duck," where Donald has to go behind enemy lines and destroy an airport. He ends up doing it with a giant water balloon by complete accident, but not before we get to hear a Japanese character say "Japanese tradition say we only shoot them in the back." :sigh: I know the times we live in are so much more politically correct, but really: Isn't being "politically correct" another way of saying "much less tolerant of blatantly horrible things to say?" Anyway, Donald the "Commando" ends the cartoon by writing a letter about how he met the enemy and wiped them all out. I guess if normal people are allowed to kill folks during times of war, I shouldn't be surprised when Disney characters start making tactical strikes.
To be fair, most of what Disney made was of pretty high quality, even if they did make a cartoon that depicted how children were brainwashed in school to be good Nazis that didn't think for themselves. Of course, this message is kind of off in itself, because as you watch this cartoon you're WATCHING PROPAGANDA AIMED AT CHILDREN ABOUT GERMAN PROPAGANDA CARTOONS AIMED AT CHILDREN. Sheesh. Oddly enough, one of the "fascist practices" of Nazi Germany mentioned in this cartoon is still in use today: If you have a child in Germany, you can only name it a German name. It's some sort of tradition more recently explained by the fact that Germany isn't reproducing fast enough and needs to hold onto its heritage. While I think it's kind of crappy that you have to name your kids off a list of German names, at least there's no one named Nokia, Pepsi, or Moonbeam here in Berlin.
Bugs Bunny: I've always been a huge Bugs Bunny fan, which is why some of the stuff he does in the war shocks the hell out of me. I'm going to discuss only one of his war-time cartoons at length, but which one?
I COULD talk about the cartoon where he pretends to be Hitler and Stalin.
I COULD talk about the cartoon where he sings about buying Defense Bonds while pretending to be a big fat-lipped black man (asking for money).
But I'm NOT going to talk about that. What, pray tell, will I discuss at length?
How about the cartoon where Bugs Bunny gleefully feeds explosive ice cream to a whole island of Japanese soldiers?
From the moment I saw the cartoon "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," I knew I had to do an article about messed-up war-time cartoons. There's not much to it, but what's there melts ever neuron in my brain. Bugs Bunny (voiced by Mel Blanc as usual) washes up on a tropical island and a Japanese soldier starts shooting at him. If you look at the picture to the right you can see that Warner Brothers was very respectful to the Japanese people, portraying them as squinting midgets with bad teeth just like everyone else did. Gah. Bugs Bunny's traditional "I play practical jokes on you while I escape" shtick plays out until Bugs sabotages the soldier's plane and hands him a bomb. Then Bugs Bunny does something strange. He paints a Japanese flag on a palm tree. It took me a moment to figure out what this meant. "What are you doing, Bugs? No, say it ain't so!" Bugs Bunny paints a Japanese flag to mark his "kill." Apparently, once he's tasted blood, his lust is not to be sated as he proceeds to attack every person of Japanese descent he sees. This isn't like a normal cartoon. Bugs Bunny is playing for keeps. Jesus. Bugs ends up fighting a sumo wrestler (and has to dress as a Geisha to beat him) and yes, marks the kill like any good soldier would. The island suddenly become completely invaded and hundreds of Japanese soldiers show up (they of COURSE all look the same and you can't tell the difference between them). Bugs Bunny has a brilliant idea on how to get all of them for an all-time new high score: Dress as an ice cream man and give them grenades disguised as ice cream. The lesson: Don't ever shoot at Bugs Bunny. He'll hunt down everyone one you ever knew and loved and make them explode. We're about to hit upon the truly bizarre thing now. So why does this part make me slightly sick? Its what Bugs Bunny says as he's handing out ice cream:
"Here you go, Slant Eyes!"
Bugs freaking Bunny SHOULD NOT be using ethnic slurs. Ever. Sweet Jesus. It's like hearing the Pope say "I could eat a hamburger out of Britney Spear's crotch. Amen." You just shouldn't hear it. EVER. When I heard Bugs say that, I think I lost a little part of my childhood. I don't know what else to say except the cartoon ends with Bugs Bunny marking ALL his kills. Don't believe me?
Every one of those painted flags represents a dead Japanese soldier. God damn it Bugs, what the HELL happened to you? Did they do LSD tests or something? Where's the character I know and love? Did war do this to you? It's one thing to blow up Yosemite Sam....we all know he'll be back. But marking the deaths of random Japanese soldiers that you called racist names before feeding them ice cream loaded with TNT is nothing short of F'd up. Gah.
So, in summary: It sucks to be black in old cartoons. It sucks to be Japanese because you'll be short, need glasses, and a lot of orthodontic work. Germany has bad leaders. Wait a second. Why is it that in these cartoons they depict the Japanese as being evil down to the last man, while when it comes to Germany they only depict the country's leaders as being goofy morons? Is it because you couldn't demonize people of Germanic descent because that would include a large chunk of America's population? Did they show any of these cartoons inside the Japanese concentration (internment) camps that America put together? Nevermind. I really shouldn't be asking these questions. Enjoy yourself and please: If you know anyone Japanese....Give them a hug from me. They might need it, especially with Bugs Bunny still at large.
"who apologizes to all Human Beings everywhere for what you've just read"
Resources: Bosko Video Presents: Snafu Volume 1 (DVD), Cartoons go to War (DVD), Videodrom collection (Berlin, Germany). The Superman comic book cover is used with permission from Superdickery.com which has a great series of offensive comic book covers that pretty much mirror a lot of what you've seen here. Click HERE to see comic book propaganda from the 1940's and beyond.
Copyright 2005 Jared Hindman except for the Images which are the property of their respective owners. Please don't hate me Warner Brothers, Tex Avery, Disney, and most specifically, Dr. Seuss. All images are used via Fair Use for review purposes. If you have a problem with something you see on this page, let me know....I'll give you my first born to avoid being sued. Oh and to the rest of you: Just to spell it out: I am NOT a racist.