Have you ever seen Bugs Bunny in black lingerie? He sidles up to some Arab sheik and bats his false eye-lashes and giggles….
I’ll bet you’ve never seen it.
I’ll bet you’ve never seen the horse’s ass that turns into the face of Adolf Hitler in an old Popeye cartoon either. Actually, I’m not sure if it was Popeye. I seem to remember that it was Donald Duck’s three nephews who were trying to hoist the horse into their bedroom. It spun around as Donald Duck or Popeye or whoever it was turned to look and with a swish of it’s tail, there it was, Adolf Hitler’s face.
Now, you probably don’t think it is very important that you or your children ever see Bugs Bunny wearing sexy black lingerie. You probably even think that it is a rather perverse idea, after all. What on earth is Warner Brothers doing showing that stuff to our vulnerable impressionable children? You may have seen the great documentary, Crumb”, in which the celebrated underground artist admitted to an unhealthy sexual infatuation with Bugs Bunny.
But that is not the point at all. You can take Bugs Bunny in his black lingerie or leave him, but the problem is that you did not have a choice. Some flunky at some big corporation simply decided that, from now on, you were not going to see Hitler as a horse’s ass or Bugs Bunny as Mae West or Al Jolson. They decided that it would not be appropriate or suitable or honorable or profitable for Warner Brothers to continue to issue the cartoons as they were created by those renegade Disney animators who couldn’t stand Uncle Walt’s control-freak mentality.
These cartoons, incidentally, were not necessarily originally intended for mass audiences in the uncontrolled environment of the family living room. They were shown in theatres, before the main features. They were shown in glorious Technicolor projection, forty feet high and sixty feet wide (or 16:9 or whatever…).
Did those early audiences storm out of the theatre when Bugs showed up in black garters and panties, trying to seduce an Arab sheik? Did people of Arabian descent start picketing the Warner Brothers’ studios in protest against the crude stereotypes?
Yes, it must be admitted, that it is not only the humor and sexual content that have been edited out of these cartoons. The original animators were not, as it were, sensitive, by modern standards, to racial stereo-types. Native peoples, blacks, Italians, women– we might squirm today at the broadness of their humor.
A few years ago, Disney produced an updated version of “Huckleberry Finn”. In the modern version, the word “nigger” was completely expunged from the text. Disney didn’t want to offend anybody– except for the broadly caricatured racists.
This is ridiculous. Does it really need to be explained to anyone? Mark Twain recreated the language of his day. He brilliantly imagined the dialogue between Huck and the runaway, slave, Jim, as it would quite likely have sounded, including the word “nigger”. What is the point of removing it from modern versions of the story? To deny that we ever used that word? To pretend that white Americans in the 19th century referred to African-Americans as “blacks”, “coloured”, or “negroes”?
The point is to re-imagine history in a way that is flattering to ourselves, that panders to our sense of personal worth, that sells.
It is important that we know that, in the 19th century, most white mid-westerners referred to blacks as “niggers”. It is important to know that people used to smoke in offices. It is important to know that women used to breast feed babies. It is important to know that children of all ages and genders often slept in the same bed. It is important to know that there was no indoor plumbing. It is important to know that people trapped together in a life-boat occasionally had to urinate.
It is important to know that Bugs Bunny’s creators thought it would be funny if he wore black garters and panties. If you don’t want to watch– fine. Don’t.
But please allow some of us the freedom to have our history without blinders.
AOL/Time Warner is holding a Bugs retrospective on The Cartoon Network next month, but don’t look for those rare original Bugs cartoons I was talking about. Warner Brothers, concerned, apparently, about the commercial value of the Bugs “property” won’t let those cartoons be shown. In other words, this retrospective will be anti-historical. It will deny history. It will pretend it never happened. Without a doubt, these are the same minds that would decide to do “Huckleberry Finn” without once using the word “nigger”, as if white mid-westerners in the 1880’s didn’t use the word.
What next? Will they digitally remove the smoking from offices in 1950’s movies? How about the the rape in “Water Hole #3”, the James Coburn flick that suggests the woman enjoyed it? And should we really allow Nazis to appear in “The Sound of Music”?
If you can find an original copy of The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (1942). Wait a minute– where?
That Wascally Wabbit
More information about cross-dressing Bugs.