Are the Popeye cartoons racist?

It turns out that Foghorn Leghorn isn’t the only racist cartoon character. Thank you, Yahoo! Answers, for resolving these difficult questions. Now, if we could only figure out how to reduce the tension.

Popeye
(Thanks, Michael Rosenberg)


  • http://bakertoons.blogspot.com/ Charles Brubaker

    Ah, those tension-filled times…

  • http://kateburck.blogspot.com Kate Burck

    Is that the same person who answered last time? Good to know they’re so concerned about tension.

  • jose manuel

    who needs cartoonbrew when you have 14 years olds answering things for you!

  • John A

    Look hard enough at anything and you see just what you want to see.

  • http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/mjf7583 Michael F.

    Yahoo Answers is a type of website that could be used as a source of jokes for Something Awful. In fact it has been before! (“How is babby formed? How girl get pragnant”)

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Popeye was always beating up white guys, so yeah, maybe.

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    Somewhat surprised they didn’t mention Native Americans, in Popeye, too.

  • Steve Siegert

    Hmmm, let’s see, there were black people throughout:

    “Pop-Pie a La Mode”
    “The Island Fling”
    “Popeye’s Pappy”

    And, certain scenes in “Popeye the Sailor”, “The Fistic Mystic”, “Wotta Knight”, “Spinach vs. Hamburgers”, “Punch and Judo” and “Penny Antics” had black people as well.

    Notice how all but one of the cartoons I mentioned are Famous Studios cartoons.

  • RODAN

    Max Fleischer was not racist but the “typical” humor of the era of his success was of a racist type. Though it was accepted, any educated or simply moral person recognized this and would take from the “humor” that it was wrong to be racist.

    People who want to erect an argument that Max Fleischer cartoons are racist are doing so from the wrong dimwitted assumption that they know what they’re talking about. What was accepted as humor then and what is accepted as humor now is separated by nearly a decade of social advances. Yet we have people like Sacha Baron Cohen showing us that basic human nature has not changed as much as we’d like to pretend.

    There are lessons to be learned from this effort by artists of that era. Don’t be to thin skinned about a comical teaching tool. The idea that there were no ethnic characters in Uncle Max’s films is simply not true. You just have to know where to look for them. Usually via a stereotypical voice over with an overtly accented speech dialect.

    The background of many artist doing voices for Max were usually Vaudevillian entertainers a good many came from Jewish Theatre

    Uncle Max was a Jewish American and most certainly understood the impact of a “racist” joke or gag…

    So much to be said on this subject….

  • Doofus

    foggy

  • J.Shamblin

    Hmmm…

    I wonder what my magic 8-ball says…

  • http://checkeredgeekcartoons.blogspot.com Zach Cole

    I’d love it if this “Awesome!” guy was self-aware, and these were just tongue-in-cheek answers to stupid questions. It seems to be a formula, so maybe it’s a new meme.

  • vzk

    I remember seeing a huge-lipped, dot-nosed black kid in “Strong to the Finich”, as well as a certain painted sun that says “Mammy” in “My Artistical Temperature”.

  • http://www.cementimental.com Tim Drage

    Wait we can post IMAGES in comments now?! Superb.

  • amid

    Tim: Image posting has been a feature from day one. Isn’t used much though. A fair warning though: if the image is too big, it’ll mess up the formatting of the entire post, and we’ll have to delete it.

  • Randy Koger

    RODAN:

    FYI, the Fleishcher Popeye cartoons we’re discussing here were produced in the 1930′s and 1940′s (for the most part) and it’s 2009 now, so how do you figure that “What was accepted at humor then and what is accepted as humor now is separated by nearly a decade of social advances”.

    Also FYI, a decade is 10 years, NOT the nearly 80 years that have passed since some of these Popeye cartoons were produced (the 1930′s stuff), so I don’t know where you’re getting your math facts from.

    And some of our so called “social advances” are arguably tenuous at best.

    That being said, I can’t believe that stupid, almost incomprehensible answer (which sounds like some 8th grade kid’s psyche-class answer to a pop quiz) was chosen as the “Best” answer in Yahoo.

    In best Paul Frees basso voice: Ahhhhh, the immense power of the internet!

  • http://garrisonsjunk.blogspot.com Chris G

    As a Goon-American, I find Popeye cartoons very offensive.

  • Chipper

    Political correctness didn’t really start until later. I’m not a fan of racist portrayals, but at the same time, the cartoons were much more entertaining than anything I see now.

    What’s interesting about this particular studio is that they would often have black entertainers in the cartoons. The ones with Cab Calloway were great, but the one with Louis Armstrong just wasn’t as interesting. Armstrong was fantastic as ever, but the cartoon mostly consisted of his giant head chasing Bimbo and Koko. And yeah, the whole cannibal thing.

    I wonder if this questioner “noticed” the Big Chief Ug-Amug-Ug cartoon? I’ll admit, I did love the song in that one. Gus Wickie could really sing.

  • J Lee

    Well, there was political correctness back in the 30s and 40s, it just came from a different direction, and had the advantage of being contemporary, instead of this looking-back-75-years-with-condescending-moral-superiority attitude many of the animation PC police of today take.

    Friz Freleng’s “Clean Pastures” ran afoul of the censors in 1936 for religious reasons — they had no problem with the racial images. Try to run the cartoon today and the racial images will get you in trouble, while the religious ones wouldn’t draw a peep of protest. Overall the Fleischers were probably better than the industry as a whole at keeping racial images out of their cartoons — there are far more problems with the 1940s and early 50s Famous Studios output, and it’s hard not to see the anti-racism undertones of the plot line for 1940′s “Snubbed by a Snob” after the studio staff had some experiences with the racial segregation of pre-World War II Miami.

  • Ed Thompson

    In 1927 Al Jolson, probably the most popular singer of his day, appeared as a minstrel singing in black face in ‘The Jazz Singer’. Hollywood would not dare make a straight up remake of that today. Judging yesterdays art and entertainment by today’s morality is a waste of time because seldom in the discussion is there any context of what the times were like and who the people who made the films were and what they really stood for. Despite what some would like you to believe, morals change over time. Even the slapstick of the 3 Stooges is frowned upon today, not that it was ever considered high art. But now it somehow corrupts youth and shouldn’t be shown. Cartoon violence, where no one really gets hurt, is bad, exaggerated real violence, where many get killed and blood is sprayed everywhere, is ok, i.e. Rambo, Terminator, and most action films.

    Tomorrow’s generations will look at our prejudices and beliefs with the same ‘how could they think that way?’ attitude expressed now about films and entertainment from earlier eras. If nothing else they offer a window into what many people thought, or at least of what many people thought was funny, 30-40-50 years ago, and could be used to open discussions about some of the attitudes from those times. Instead many are trying to suppress them instead of learning from them.

    Print out the words to a Chris Rock, Adam Dice Clay, Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, or even a Jerry Seinfeld standup routine. They’re full of jokes that depend on stereotypes. Many times the jokes are aimed at the race/nationality/religion of the comedian himself. Because it’s ok for Seinfeld to tell Jewish jokes or Chris Rock to tell black ones, but not the other way around. Many of these comedians make fun of regions of the country, the opposite sex, recent immigrants, and poor people. Some do it with extremely crude language. There will be lots for future generations to look down upon, especially if these jokes are not understood in context. Most of the comedians telling the jokes are not racists, they are highlighting the absurdity of the situation. But since there aren’t large neon signs saying ‘Parody! Parody! Person is making fun of short sighted thinking!’ that will probably be lost 50 years from now.

    Popeye, to me, is a working class man who is surrounded by other immigrant Americans in a lower class urban setting. He isn’t the brightest person you’ll meet, but he is honest and faithful. Foghorn was a parody of a fictional southern politician, stolen almost verbatim from the Steve Allen radio show. So watch either or both and laugh, cause that’s a joke son, and if you’re offended by what I believe, well, I yam what I yam.

  • Dock Miles

    There are some important oversimplifications in Ed Thompson’s comment that I think are worth resisting.

    >Even the slapstick of the 3 Stooges is frowned upon today, not that it was ever considered high art. But now it somehow corrupts youth and shouldn’t be shown. Cartoon violence, where no one really gets hurt, is bad, exaggerated real violence, where many get killed and blood is sprayed everywhere, is ok, i.e. Rambo, Terminator, and most action films.
    …
    >If nothing else they offer a window into what many people thought, or at least of what many people thought was funny, 30-40-50 years ago, and could be used to open discussions about some of the attitudes from those times. Instead many are trying to suppress them instead of learning from them.

    This is simply not true. There are loads of Three Stooges DVDs available. If the nyuk-nyuk threesome don’t get the TV exposure they once did – so does a great deal of material. Nobody is censoring old b&w shows. And the misguided souls who condemned cartoon violence were always a fringe (and invariably condemned action-movie violence, as well). When censored television versions of WB shorts used to run – that was idiocy, and wrong. That’s why the Disney case matters – the company IS censoring itself, fiddling with parts of Fantasia and banning Song of the South. “Many” are not trying to suppress anything.

    >Many of these comedians make fun of regions of the country, the opposite sex, recent immigrants, and poor people.

    Switching gears to stand-up humor is invalid, I believe. It implies comedy is comedy is comedy, which is not correct. Even here, however, there’s a simple way to tell ugly jokes from provocative ones: jokes that are self-deprecating (“Here’s something stupid that my group does”) can be sharp and insightful; jokes that invite you to laugh at the imperiled and less-powerful (“Here’s something stupid that recent immigrants and poor people, who sure aren’t us, do”) are vile.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Oh wahhh. People crying racism again. I’m white and I’ve had to grow up listening to every other minority bitching about how I’m “the man” or how every friggin problem in the world is a caucasians fault.

    Wahhh! Shut up.

  • shouldbeworking

    Tempest in a spinach can, I say. Why do we dignify such stupid questions by answering them?

  • shouldbeworking

    White people should be offended by the depiction of those Sweet Haven freaks. All of them; Popeye, Olive, Bluto, Wimpy….White grotesque FREAKS!

  • rextherunt

    But the Popeye cast are freakish characters – not freaks simply because they are default setting blacks or jews or japs. The fact they are white is just a little bit of it.

    No one minds great, memorable, sharply drawn and well delineated characters, whatever race they might belong to. But creating those takes talent. Racism is a whole lot easier to slop around.

  • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ mick

    ‘people of colour’ that one always gets me… I have never seen a person without a colour

  • http://rwentworth.blogspot.com Richard Wentworth

    LOL @ Chris G!

    Seriously, someone could probably create a stupid answer generator from these… maybe customize a magic 8-ball with some new phrases such as:

    “ask me when ther is less tension in the times”

  • Samjoe

    Popeye was a champion of the downtrodden and the underdog.
    Don’t believe me, here’s a excerpt from his theme song.

    I’m one tough Gazookus
    Which hates all Palookas
    Wot ain’t on the up and square.
    I biffs ‘em and buffs ‘em
    And always out roughs ‘em
    But none of ‘em gets nowhere.

    If anyone dares to risk my “Fisk”,
    It’s “Boff” an’ it’s “Wham” un’erstan’?
    So keep “Good Be-hav-or”
    That’s your one life saver
    With Popeye the Sailor Man.

  • http://tsutpen.blogspot.com s.w.a.c.

    Tension make the Yankee cranky.

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