You know when you hear a song you really liked as a child and as an adult, you realized that the lyrics were entirely too inappropriate for your 5-year-old self? Well, we’re sorry to break it to you, but we have more bad news from your childhood. Most of the cartoons you watched, like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, are all actually really political. They propagated war, affirmed racism and even promoted authoritarianism. Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples…
1. The Looney Tunes Were Very Racist
Since the 1930s, the Looney Tunes cartoons – Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc. – became extremely racist symbolizing American feeling during the Great Depression, World War II, and Civil Rights Movement. Possibly the worst reference was the parody of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs called Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs, where it implies that Coal Black makes sexual offers to escape her kidnappers and ‘Prince Chawmin’ appears to have a full set of gold teeth. In the Isle of Pingo Pongo, the Islanders are all racist depictions of stereotypical natives with extremely dark skin, enormous lips, and odd-shaped heads. In another short film, Jungle Jitters, Africans are even portrayed as cannibals. In one episode of Bugs Bunny called Southern Fried Rabbit, Bugs Bunny actually dressed like a slave in blackface to escape Yosemite Sam. This racism wasn’t only aimed at African Americans, but Asians too. In one episode, Bugs is in Japan surrounded by stereotypical Japanese characters with large, buckteeth and thick glasses, speaking gibberish. In the episode, Bugs dresses like a Geisha and even calls a Japanese man monkey face! Yup, it’s not all just, “what’s up, doc?” now, is it?
2. Mickey And Donald Were Nazi Haters
Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were pretty problematic as well. They were just meant for child amusement but had deeper implications reflective of American propaganda around World War 2. In one film, Donald Duck has a nightmare where he is working in Hitler’s Germany with fear and subordination; he wakes up relieved to find that he’s wearing American flag patterned pajamas and says, “Oh! Boy, I’m glad to be a citizen of the United States of America.”
These films released during the World War II and promoted the Military, stating objective duties and obligations of the citizens to their country. It was to instill Pro-American feelings in the hearts of the population through the heroic portrayal of cartoon characters involved in the war. They even encouraged people to invest in war bonds and pay their taxes. The influence of Mickey Mouse and his friends was so big during the War, that many even say Disney fought in the war on its own front, on people’s television screens.
3. Popeye was a child-friendly Uncle Sam
Popeye The Sailor Man was a true badass. And that made him a very controversial character. He was constantly smoking a pipe, even smoking spinach through the pipe (or at least some green leaf, hmm…) and was going out and getting tattoos. Many considered him a bad influence on children and therefore the cartoon was censored or taken off air in many countries. But Popeye also had a lot of good lessons, he made kids want to eat spinach, which was a big achievement in itself and he, a tiny, scrawny, skinny man, and not Brutus, a tough, well-built man, always got the girl, Olive Oyl. This taught kids about the importance of inner beauty and courage.
However, under all of this was one key characteristic – Popeye was an American sailor, part of the American Navy. He would fight the Germans and Japanese. He would say things like, “you’re a sap, Mr. Jap.” He made the American Navy look cool and something to aspire to. So maybe, he not only increased the consumption of spinach by 33% in the U.S. but also the affinity to the U.S. Navy.
4. Disney’s Aladdin was Anti-Middle East
Aladdin was the first Disney movie to feature an Arab hero; however, their “hero” was filled with American and Anglicised features. To project ideology that fairer-skinned Aladdin was better than other villainous characters with stereotypical physical features and darker skin tone. The most controversial part of the movie was perhaps the lyrics of the title song, “Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” It was highly degrading of the Middle Eastern culture to categorize them as “barbaric”.
Since after 1991, America was more active in the Middle East region, and one way the American Government has justified this presence is by saying that they’re bringing modern civilization to the region. Aladdin asking the Genie for freedom from traditions was reflects that exact sentiment. This puts America’s actions in a positive light and substantiates their intervention for development and freedom.
Cartoons like these are watched around the world and are sometimes the only connection children have to far away lands. They understand these regions as such and that breeds their racist attitudes as adults.
5. Paw Patrol is Pro-Authoritarianism
It’s not just old cartoons, but recent ones too. Paw Patrol is a show about Ryder, a boy who is one of the most entitled cartoon characters, and the megalomaniacal world he’s created for himself. Ryder – who lives in a glass tower high above the civilized world – has coerced a team of five puppies into providing the emergency services for his city. These puppies can talk, and they call him Sir. This cartoon series loved by children but despised by parents. It is a show that makes children treads the path of power search and control over things and situations as they see the leader dictating other living beings. Many parents groups are concerned that this pro-authoritarian sentiment erodes the democracy empathy of their children. The show is also regarded as sexist as there is just one female dog “Skye” in the team of six rescue dogs; infusing patriarchal norms associated with power and authority in a child’s innocent mind.
Cartoons are widely accepted as child entertainment. Narrating great stories with different characters and situations make children want to watch them religiously. However, because of their informal and subjective nature, cartoons are the perfect way to sent or spread a strong message. They use humor to shed light on controversial topics and proclaim ideologies to adults while also influencing a child’s fundamentals. However, if you watched these cartoon as a child but realized these undertones only today, have the created actually succeeded in their attempt to influence their audience?