Bugs Bunny a bad influence? Donald Duck a negative role model? What’s up, Doc?
Lately, Bugs and Donald and Daffy and Tweety and Sylvester and Tom and Jerry are being reevaluated: In separate but related efforts, Disney and Turner Broadcasting (which owns the pre-TV-era MGM and Warner Bros. cartoons, developed for adult movie audiences) have recently finished meticulously splicing out racial stereotypes, violence, and other unpleasantries from behind-the-times episodes while remastering them for broadcast. Among the Warner Bros. cartoons that have undergone PC surgery so far are ”Fresh Hare,” with a sight gag of Elmer Fudd and Bugs in blackface with several other minstrel-type characters; ”Tortoise Wins by a Hare,” another Bugs short, in which a lighthearted road race ends with a 10-second suicide; and some 50 other ‘toons with scenes of mice smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, pigs blowing up ducks with shotguns, dogs sticking their paws into light sockets, and other animal misdeeds. Doctored Disney cartoons have already aired on the Disney Channel and other cable stations.
”Standards are much different today than they were 30 years ago,” notes John Cooke, president of the Disney Channel. ”Young people aren’t born with racial stereotypes in their heads: Racism is learned. Where we can, we try to ameliorate the situation.”
Indeed, producers of both vintage-animation shows and new cartoons are increasingly confronted with the need to reinforce positive themes. As Gary Krisel, Disney’s president of television animation, explains, ”We don’t want our shows disparaging parents. Same thing with teachers: They have enough problems with lack of discipline. And we don’t want a member of one ethnic group always being ganged up on.”
But Krisel takes issue with those who say that cartoons tend to be overly violent. There’s a difference, he says, between gratuitous violence and the ”pure cartoon vernacular,” which ”so exceeds the level of reality” — the Road Runner blowing up Wile E. Coyote with dynamite, for example. As a result, Krisel says efforts to police cartoon content could go too far. ”People who believe that TV is the equivalent of a textbook are being naive,” he says. ”A program can’t do any good unless kids watch it. That’s not to say we’re not interested in education, but there is a place for entertainment.”