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TCM drops “Popeye meets Ali Baba”

A funny thing happened on TCM last night. A scheduled broadcast of Popeye The Sailor Meets Ali Baba and his Forty Theieves (1937) didn’t air. An introduction discussing the racist aspects of the Arab caricatures in the cartoon preceded the scheduled showing with TCM host Robert Osborne and “Media Critic and Author” Dr. Jack Shaheen. “This cartoon probably did more to denigrate Arabs than any cartoon ever”, claimed Shaheen who, to be fair, went on to praise the Fleischer animation. “This one was particularly offensive in the manner in which Arabs are portrayed.”

Following this introduction (embed above) the channel ran 15 minutes of promotional filler, then a two-reel MGM Dogville comedy, Love Tails Of Morocco – which, despite its Middle Eastern title, had nothing to do with the Arab-based theme of the evening.

So what happend? Did TCM get cold feet and have second thoughts about the Popeye short? Did the Hearst Corporation request TCM pull the film? We don’t know – but here is the film, courtesy of You Tube, that didn’t run last night:

UPDATE: This just in from TCM Content Manager (and regular Brew reader) John Miller:

“No, it wasn’t Cold Feet that caused a lack of POPEYE (and Looney Tunes, and 3 Stooges) on TCM last night, but a plain ol’ SNAFU. In the words of “tcmprogrammer” on the TCM Message Board today:

“You are correct, once again we made a mistake. There was a miscommunication about how the cartoons were to be scheduled (who, specifically, was supposed to enter them into the scheduling database) and so they were left off the schedule completely. Once again, this is emabarrassing for us, especially because we were excited to play these cartoons in this specific context. Mistakes like this happen, although I acknowledge it seems like they’ve happened too much lately. It is not unreasonable to want an explanation. I’m sorry.”

  • DonaldC

    Could have been a simple mistake.

    • DonaldC

      And it looks like it was.

  • It wasn’t just Popeye, judging by the comments on the TCM Facebook page the scheduled showings of “Sahara Hare” and “Little Beau Porky” last night were set-up with similar intros, but not shown either.

  • eeteed

    olive oyl – ugly anorexic selfish bitch

    popeye – ugly violent bad grammar

    wimpy – ugly fat lazy conniver

    i guess this cartoon also does more to denigrate white americans than any other cartoon.

    • not as much as your dumb “DURRR REVERSE RACISM LOL” posts do

    • Someone always pulls out the “But they caricatured EVERYONE!” trope in these situations but it’s a hollow defense.

      Caricatured or not, the white characters in these productions are portrayed as varied, resourceful, clever, witty and most of all… distinct individuals with distinct personalities.

      The Arabs, in this instance, or more commonly the black characters in other cartoons usually get one-note treatment that casts them as all similar and depends on some worn-out visual gag. They are rarely the heroes of the story.

      These same clichés seem to carry through all Hollywood productions of this era, both live-action and animated.

      That said I don’t think these things are intentional racism, it’s the racism of just plain laziness on the part of the writers and artists to not bother to come up with anything new. The regard these subjects not as full fellow-humans, but as “others”, more like props to serve as foils for their main characters.

      • The Gee

        I’d mainly agree with what you are getting at up until the last paragaph.

        It wasn’t laziness because they didn’t “bother to come up with anything new.”

        The whole medium was new back then.

        There was nothing wrong, there is nothing wrong, with adapting old fairy tales and fables. So I can’t begrudge that.

        But, I’m sure if you looked through what was then contemporary culture in novels and other stories, you would have found the treatment you mention in your comment about how certain characters were seen and portrayed.

        For the most part,your are right but what was normal then was the fact that it was so different from anything most of us can relate to. It wasn’t a good time, a good era. But, the visual storytelling that was going on back then was new and they all were figuring out what could be done. So, in hindsight, adaptations made sense. The kind of adaptations make sense for other reasons, mainly trends. Like Kipling writing the stories he was writing.

      • B.Bonny

        Sounds like a job for the National Coalition Against Censorship.

        I’m sure they’ll get right on this.

      • J Lee

        In the end, it’s still a Popeye vs. Bluto cartoon — you might as well say an earlier short “Axe Me Another” was insulting to French Canadians because of Pierre Bluto’s accent Francais. In the initial two-reelers, the Fleischers and director Willard Bowsky were looking for something they could hang a longer story on, which required setting up more of a sense of drama/menace than your average B&W Popeye cartoon. That’s why they chose ready-made stories, and also why Bowsky, who did drama/menace better than any of the other Fleischer directors, was chosen to handle the material.

        Sticking Bluto into the role was no different than sticking Bluto in as Barnacle Bill, and of course if the 40 Thieves are helping, they’re going to get beaten up by Popeye at the end, just like he beat up all of Bluto’s (monochrome white) ranchhands in “Me Feelings Is Hurt”. If you go looking for cartoons that portray minorities and foreign cultures offensively in the 1930s and 40s it’s not hard to find, but doing it here is going out of the way to gin up a problem that’s not there.

      • The Gee

        I whole-heartedly agree with that. You articulated it well.

        While I don’t pretend to be a historian, from what it seems, the fables and fairy tales were good roadmaps for features. Obviously, prior to long form features, risks were taken by smaller studios on longer works. But, I would think even Prince Achmed was based on something known. Or, am I wrong there?

        Anyhow, studios seemed to be working out production when it came to features so it doesn’t surprise me that existing stories were go-to stories.

        Plus, obviously, going back to the earliest shorts, much stuff was adapted from comic strips. And, you got to think that was a lateral move which not only built on an existing, known property but was also something which had its own rhythms and was easier to adapt. Less risk, greater reward.

        But, others know more or could opine more appropriately than I can. So…take it with a pinch of salt and a shot of tequila.

      • Pow!

        I hate to say it, but why is it that animation fans and confederates get so defensive when people call obviously racist things racist?

      • Funkybat

        It’s probably because animation fans want to enjoy and admire the artistry of the animated films, and believe that the racist elements should be put into context with the times the cartoons were made in.

        I don’t think anyone is going out of their way to say that films from the 1920s-40s with non-white characters were not often racist. Still, the amount of stereotyping and outright offensive imagery varies quite a bit from film to film. What animation fans are concerned about is that racial “issues” have been and sometimes continue to be used as a reason to prevent any possibility of viewing these films.

        No one is going to say “Coal Black” or “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” should be put out on DVD sets meant for kids, but those of us who like animation history or just animation in general deserve the choice to see them if so desired. These “racist” cartoons are a part of animation history, and shouldn’t be “buried.”

      • Pow!

        Animation isn’t alone in this, but its fans, for example, seemed very adamant that the mammy from Tom and Jerry appear back in the cartoons, despite how that would make young girls watching the cartoon feel (my guess is, not too great). I would leave them in for context, but there’s arguing for context, and arguing that Popeye’s goofy arms equal the same thing as blackface. I feel like the most mature response would just be to go “Yeah, that was wrong.” and keep on watching. There’s generally a lack of acknowledgment that goes on in these conversations, and much more defense. As if it was the fans being called racist.

      • Funkybat

        I hear what you’re saying. I guess when it comes to any kind of work of art, be it literature, film, music, I am very anti-censorship and anti-revisionist history. We cannot change the past, and I find it offensive when creative works are edited to meet the “standards of our time” (which of course varies from time to time.) I don’t think whitewashing history is the way to go if you want humanity to progress, but so often media that is ultimately owned by corporations ends up altered at some point due to the view that “it’s no longer appropriate.”

        If you want to just jump to an extreme case, I guess you could say I’m the kind of person who supports leaving the name “N-word Jim” intact in all copies of Huckleberry Finn because that’s the way Mark Twain wrote it. I consider the editing of creative works by someone other than the original creator(s), solely due to contemporary sociopolitical concerns, a crime against art and history. And even if an original creator does something like that, I reserve the right to harangue them for doing it.

      • Pow!

        “N-word Jim” is a pretty good Family Guy reference. But also there, the N-word was used to illustrate the disgustingness of bigotry, while in Tom and Jerry the mammy is well, a mammy. Never seen not cleaning the house. I’m all for leaving it intact. In fact, that’s what TCM did. You shouldn’t edit these things. Yet maybe you shouldn’t flaunt them willy nilly either. This is kind of a non issue. Given the choice between Cartoon Network and TCM at 10pm, kids will probably watch Cartoon Network, where I guess they can catch a Family Guy rerun? They’re probably asleep.

    • James Ciambor

      Have to agree with eeteed, Fleischer spares no one sometimes they go after there own heritage. If you want to put things in their proper context political correctness was non-existent in 1937. Someone as clean and wholesome in today’s standard’s as Disney was doing this with the rest of Hollywood and New York animation studios. When the Fleischer’s were marketing this none of them felt that the cartoons legacy would be threatened by a bunch of pre-madonna protesters that have no sense of humor.

  • Arthur F.

    Yes, such a beauty of a cartoon, but still it is pretty bad when it comes to certain things. I always preferred Popeye on the everyday street, dealing with Olive’s sung desire, for example, “I need a clean shavin’ man” and the like. The exotica of Fleischer, while beautiful, seemed like a vaudeville stage featurette. Those other cartoons had something more in common with a hybrid of comic-strip language, Laurel and Hardy or Keystone ‘realism’ in that it took place literally in the next door streets – which makes a difference with depicting difference and types within that. As soon as Hollywood goes to exotica of Ali Baba or Sinbad and so on, well, some of us have to pay for it.
    But having said that, I saw the promotion for this segment with Shaheen but didn’t stick around to watch. I get the points of his necessary crusade, certainly in the last decades, but I don’t think he is using a fine enough instrument to dissect these features and cartoons into differences that open the discussion further, especially when it comes to American culture since the time of cinema. Which is his choice, he’s basically since decades working in a kind of necessary conciousness-raising mode, which needs to be direct to get a foot in the door of, say, a students first years, but there isn’t much to help with getting further into a richer understanding of American culture, and the way industry of 20s, 30s, War years, 80s, depictions get fostered or foisted upon society, and certainly around vaudeville’s role or consciousness in Hollywood at the time — the interconnections that make culture and movies, cartoons etc… what they are. Writing on film has so many theorists and historians since the boom in the 80s especially, so it would have been nice to have some other voices refining and expanding on nuances not able to be found in Shaheen’s very dedicated focus. A kind of dialog to work off of his charge, lest he sounds more and more simply advocate for cleaning up the past, which is never good position. Better to educate not to repeat the mistakes etc..

    So I fully support his basic viewpoint about the way Hollywood worked with stereotypes and to a great degree and for much longer the “Arab” one, but I think it’s also strange that he’s still the sole spokesperson who got his foot in the door, and it would be great to see more of a dialog around the historical connections.

    As for the channel not screening it, well, sure, odd because it would be nice to know what is their overall policy on these things? Maybe they should introduce a kind of “adult swim” equivalent section for looking at historical works that aren’t anymore considered easy and frame them a bit first. Clips could have worked as well in these cases, to explain the difference between the art and the stereotype, but in the end, there’s always youtube and its lack of any relevant discourse.

  • Notice that all three color Fleischer Popeye cartoons were based on Arabian folklore; Sindbad (correctly spelled! As opposed to the Americanized “Sinbad”), Ali Baba, and Aladdin! I hear that the Fleischers were fascinated with Arabian folklore (much the same way Arabian culture was romanticized with, say, Rudolph Valentino’s THE SHEIK and Peter O’Toole’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), so I hardly think it was meant to be that offensive, despite Popeye’s patriotic stance.

    Besides, Ali Baba wasn’t in the cartoon, just the titular thieves from the story. And while he was the protagonist, he wasn’t the leader of the thieves, he was their target, and the thieves were the villains of the story; Ali Baba’s greedy older brother Cassim was brutally murdered by the thieves when he managed to enter their cave and forgot how to get out; When Ali Baba suspected what happened, the thieves kept trying to assassinate him to protect their secret, until a clever slave girl named Morgiana (the heroine) protected him by foiling the thieves’ attempts and ultimately killing them all.

    So Popeye did right, even though the depiction of the normal “Arabs” were none too flattering. :)

    The Aladdin cartoon was not that offensive, either (given that Popeye played the hero Aladdin), but Sindbad, a hero, was definitely a Bluto-ized villain in the Popeye cartoon! Maybe *that* one was more offensive? :P

    • Many of the early studios played with the story of Aladdin and Ali Baba, so the idea of any romanticism or capitalization therof, is not so far fetched.

      Especially with Fleischer, the same could be said of their portrayal of African-Americans and their culture. Sure, the characters all ran about in blackface but the Fleischers loved promoting black musicians and centering shorts around popular songs, which was something few, if no one, else did at the time.

      Great short, though. Aside from any overt racism, did anyone notice Popeye’s teasing proposition around 8:42?

      • I noticed the proposition too, but I can’t tell what he says exactly. he trails off after “for half the price i’ll…”

  • check out that cave, it’s beautiful.

  • Great cartoon


    I’ve seen this great cartoon dozens of times – what’s racist about it ???

  • I’d simply call it a product of the times. Anything that didn’t fit within the norm of the American White Anglo-Saxon “hero/heroine” mold was subject to ridicule.

    Turner should have shown the film, calling it a period piece. Much in the same way that Disney has re-released Song of the South with an appropriate intro that puts it into a cultural context.

    • Ken McAlinden

      To be fair, most things that *did* fit within the norm of the American White Anglo-Sacon “hero/heroine” mold were also ridiculed.

      Also, when did Disney release SotS with an “appropriate intro that puts it into a cultural context”? Warner did this with Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry.

      Going back to the original posting, “…more to denigrate Arabs than any cartoon ever” suggests that the commenter has managed to avoid a lot of really offensive stuff.

    • wait…when did Disney rerelease Song of the South???

      • The Gee

        Wasn’t there a laserdisc release years ago? And, I seem to recall there is a release, maybe the same one, that was in Japan.

        I still don’t see why people think that movie is such good forbidden fruit though. The animation is nice and impressive to boot but as a whole it is nothing fantastic, in my opinion.

  • Billy Bob

    I saw this cartoon DOZENS of times on public domain vidya tape. When I was a Kid, it Didn’t register that the enemy was “dirty smelly AyRabs” just wierd sounding bad guys.

    Yea sure no one would make something like this today, but I can appreciate it for what it is, a fun cartoon. I already know that it’s not a true depiction of arab people even in a historical context.

  • oh how inanely stupid. Thank God WE got it, pristinely so, in the Popeye Volume II. Jeeez!!

  • Burn.

  • FleischerFan

    Once again, someone with a particular agenda is allowed to take something as innocuous as a Popeye cartoon and use it to gain some face time on television.

    “Popeye Meets Ali Baba” is based on a FAIRY TALE (which all use stereotypes and archetypes) and is itself a CARTOON (which also deal with stereotypes and archetypes). To say that it “did more to denigrate Arabs than any cartoon ever” betrays a woefully thin knowledge of cartoon history in addition to a thin skin on oneself.

    I can think of nothing in the cartoon that is any worse or any more “racist” than many, many of the characters and scenes in Disney’s “Aladdin.”

    • RupanIII

      I saw Dr. Jack Shaheen talking about Road to Morocco earlier this week. He spoke about how it set a precedent for later films and specifically mentioned Aladdin, saying how he was so thankful to Disney for censoring the DVD release to cut out (no pun intended) a line in a song about Arabia – ‘where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.’

      Right there he lost credibility for me. Whether you believe it’s innocuous or you believe that it promotes/reflects fear of the Other, white-washing is not the answer.

      That said, I’m glad to hear this Popeye mix-up was just that – a mix-up – rather than censorship.

  • I imagine it mostly ended up having to do with last minute rights-clearances. Even though they own the short, sometimes there are rights issues that restrict its broadcast. The Three Stooges short that was supposed to air here in Canada, and was introduced, also failed to appear as scheduled – replaced with more talking dogs.

    • Brandon Pierce

      Then why didn’t they just SAY they couldn’t air it do to rights issues. Not because, “We’re afraid of pissing off Arab people and giving them more reasons to bomb us.”

  • Justin Delbert

    Wow! I didn’t know Ali Baba was supposed to be on last night, but I’m glad they changed their mind for my sake, I would have been pissed. I don’t agree as to why they didn’t show it; we had on Family Guy last night, and oh my God the stuff they got away with! Ali Baba is tame compared to Family Guy! Censored 11, same thing! Song of the South, same thing!

  • I am an Arab and that didn’t offend me one bit. People are too sensitive and they need to get over it. I’ve seen real offensive cartoons and this one doesn’t even get close…Chill out Arabs

    • Dr. Ivo Robotnik

      I’m hispanic right now.

      On the internet.

  • The POPEYE 2-reeler didn’t show on TCM in Canada, either. I thought we didn’t get it because there was no licensing clearance for Canada (or some other licensing issue), as some scheduled movies on TCM’s United States schedule do not run on their Canadian schedule. Also, the other two scheduled cartoons to run on TCM that evening did not play.

  • I too missed the ‘Sahara Hare’ Bugs cartoon. It would have have been a great addition to the show before Abbott and Costello! And the Fleischer’s Popeye is a classic. Too bad they did not include both. Sometimes, a cartoon, is just a cartoon, and should be enjoyed just for that reason.

  • animationpat2010

    I’m afraid that it seems that little by little people are chipping away at anything that might be offensive to a group.On the other hand I’m irish and I still see a ton of drunken fools still being made (family guy comes to mind as recent) and I’ll tell you I laugh along with it every time. If you can’t laugh at your own culture you don’t deserve to have one

  • John Miller, the content manager at TCM, wrote to me via Facebook:

    No, it wasn’t Cold Feet that caused a lack of POPEYE (and Looney Tunes, and 3 Stooges) on TCM last night, but a plain ol’ SNAFU. In the words of “tcmprogrammer” on the TCM Message Board today:

    “You are correct, once again we made a mistake. There was a miscommunication about how the cartoons were to be scheduled (who, specifically, was supposed to enter them into the scheduling database) and so they were left off the schedule completely. Once again, this is emabarrassing for us, especially because we were excited to play these cartoons in this specific context. Mistakes like this happen, although I acknowledge it seems like they’ve happened too much lately. It is not unreasonable to want an explanation. I’m sorry.”

    It’s rare that TCM makes any mistake (it’s the best network on television, if you ask me), so when something goes wrong on air it really stands out. Thanks John and keep up the great work!

    • Bob Porrazzo

      “…it’s the best network on television, if you ask me.”

      You’re not alone in that sentiment Jerry.

  • Thank you John Miller of TCM for the explanation as to why POPEYE and the other cartoons were not aired. That was very professional and considerate to acknowledge TCM’s error. And I agree with Jerry about the stature of TCM (“it’s the best network on television, if you ask me”). I always tell my film students that TCM is the greatest television channel in the history of recorded entertainment.

  • The explanation is a relief.
    I’d rather hear about a mistake than PC censorship.
    However, I had no idea POPEYE was going to be shown anyway.
    So, next time, it would be great if we were notified on CARTOON BREW.
    It would be best if the cartoon was not aired opposite FUTURAMA and LOUIE.

  • Mike

    Well, I understand how this could be seen as offensive to some, but I think what’s been happening in the world for the past twenty years should be more of a concern for Arab scholars than a cartoon from 1937. Seems the actions of a certain group of radicals have hurt their image far more than ole Popeye ever could.

  • David Breneman

    Any idea if they’re going to show it in the future? I’d love to see any of the Popeye Technicolor two-reelers in high definition!

  • Jack Shaheen has obviously never seen Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves or is legally blind.

    For some reason, Fleischer opted to use “Ali Baba” for the title, even though Bluto is called “Abu Hassan” repeatedly throughout the film, possibly because the former had more name recognition. (Sort of the opposite reason for why Bob Clampett had to call his short Coal Black rather than the more appropriate So White.) So in spite of the title, it’s clearly only using the story as a basis for an adventure story, not bastardizing it.

    There are many cartoons that exemplify poor Arab images in film, but this isn’t the one. One beautiful thing about the Fleischer cartoons is how they succeeded where the other Hollywood and New York studios always failed: not adhering to formulaic portrayals of specific races or genders. Everyone and everything should look as exaggerated and different as possible. And how could it do “more to denigrate Arabs than any cartoon ever” if Popeye is going out of his way to save a community of Arabs?

    Popeye Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves is one of the most atmospheric, thrilling, and funniest animated films ever made. Shaheen seems to be another dime a dozen ‘film scholar’ who obviously hasn’t done the least of his obligations by seeking out as many films as possible to draw such a conclusion.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Or of you’re like me, it’s Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves”, since that is the title that is shown at the opening of said cartoon (despite what is usually titled elsewhere). Still, an excellent cartoon I watched over and over and over!

  • Professor Widebottom

    This seemed less of an honest intellectual exercise than just boilerplate political altar worship. This genuflecting verbal bilge is a tired dance and fills a space in our anxious culture which subsequently renders us bereft of an original thought, lest delivered by a comedian standing in front of a brick wall, the last sanctuary of the irreverent truth-teller (and as a release valve, it’s obvious just how dysfunctional, angry and pent-up America actually is). Interesting how we’re supposed to be color blind, yet its imposed dogma that our forefathers’ genetic code dictates which race is guilty of crimes that we must atone for, having no connection or approval of those deeds whatsoever. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, if anything it’s restorative to think that a cartoon is enough to shake the world, for better or worse. It’s always a mirror a the end of the day.

    • Rick R.

      You absolutely got that right.

      I grew up in the Memphis area, and was forever told how my ancestors “owned slaves” and so on and how I should feel guilty for Jim Crow laws that were repealed a decade before I was even born. Recently found out my patrilineal grandfather actually was from New Jersey! So it’s the supposed/assumed genetic code of your forebears that defines what you can say and be.

      And no, I don’t hate any race, thanks.

      I’d be happy if we could find a way to do waht Dr. King wanted, which was to judge each other by the content of our character instead of whether we can find solace in being one of the 17 groups of people my employer says I may never say a harsh word about.

      • Pow!

        So you… want to be able to say bad things about other races?

      • J Lee

        It’s Bluto. B-L-U-T-O. They call him Abu Hassan, but it’s Bluto, get it? The people around him are just generic henchmen, just like the ones at the Bruiser Boys Club Popeye beat up before taking care of Bluto in 1934’s “Can You Take It”.

        The setting is secondary to the standard Fleisher Popeye plot of him being put in peril by Bluto, and then rallying at the end after eating his Spinach. They used the Arabian Nights tale because in a two-reel cartoon, they needed to play up more of the drama along the way to carry the narrative, and the basic story was something Dave Fleischer and Willard Bowsky thought they could pin a 17-minute cartoon onto.

        If you want to go see a Fleischer cartoon where the racist stereotypes are part of the key plotting of the cartoon, go watch 1938’s “Out of the Inkwell”. Trying to grab it here is simply not comprehending the story is just being used to set up the standard Popeye-Olive-Bluto dynamic (and even in Bowsky’s Popeyes Bluto could be violent against Olive in a misogynistic fashion, which in turn made Popeye beating the crap out of him at the finish all that more enjoyable).

  • Yeah, I call bullshit on this. You can’t tell me they setup an entire theme and somehow made a mistake when it came time for the big show that the ENTIRE PREVIOUS SEGMENT was based off of. And if that is the case, who’s effing up so bad this is happening and who’s getting fired?

  • Sleezy Exec

    Our Arab oil masters had a hand in it,no doubt.

  • Tony C

    I think it was only the “Dirka dirka dirka” speak that got me uncomfortable. Though I do think it illustrates only ignorance and not malice.

    It was a long way away from multiculturalism and wikipedia back then… I dunno what hassle it would have been to grab a few authentic words from somewhere. Though it’s no worse than having a bunch of french people running about merely saying “aww heehaw heehaw”.

    What is and isn’t an acceptable stereotype is governed by the context of the times it seems.

  • It’s racist in that it plays with stereotypes, but not malicious in the same way Birth of a Nation is.

    This form of racism is so “quaint” I find it hard to believe anyone watching it then or now would take it as a serious depiction of the Middle East.

    Also, excellent quality on all three Popeye features by this YouTube user.

    • Dr. Ivo Robotnik

      Because the only time racism can do damage is when it’s the absolute worst kind, right?

      Racial caricatures and minstrel shows were used in animation and cartoons during this part of the century to portray people of color as subhuman. Crude, amusing depictions of people with exaggerated features and ape-like reactions to the world that couldn’t POSSIBLY exist in the same society as the proper white man, or at least, that was the mindset of the people pushing it. It may have been somewhat subconsciously pushed, but that’s because it was coming from the minds of bigots, whose bigotry was acceptable by societal standards.

      This “quaint racism” had a clear, intended effect on the opinion of the majority. It was supposed to. No racism is “innocent,” and I’m sick of sitting by the sidelines while your South Parks and your Family Guys try to convince people that racism is harmless, and watch as the racial caricature is brought back so we can all go back to being fearful and paranoia-driven privileged fuckasses again.

      If one were repugnant enough, one could “explain away” the racism in Birth of a Nation in the same way people are explaining away the racism in this cartoon.

      This is sickening. Stop making excuses for racism just because it’s a medium you work in.

      • Pow!

        Whoa whoa whoa. South Park? A show that promotes gay marriage, smarter hate crime laws and raked Mel Gibson over the coals for his anti-semmetic everythings? Good sir, watch the show first before commenting on it!

      • Dr. Ivo Robotnik, your kneejerkery makes it difficult to believe you can claim as your Alma Mater a properly-accredited institution. Thus, your doctorate is in question, and the weight such a credential might impart to your screed is not automatically granted.

        If it’s funny, it’s okay to put it in a cartoon.
        If the result is mean-spirited and it annoys certain people, bonus.
        The end.

      • G.C.

        Dr. Robotnik, what exactly is “racist” about this cartoon? Can you, please, give concrete examples instead of going on a self-righteous, quasi-intellectual tirade that says nothing about the animated film in question? To call something or someone’s work racist is a very serious accusation. You need to substantiate your arguments instead of just yelling racism! See my post below on why I think it’s absolutely preposterous to call this film “racist”.

        Is your only reason for labelling this cartoon as “racist” the fact that the thieves/villains portrayed therein happen to be Arabs (since the story happens to take place in an Arab land, they couldn’t be Chinese or Greeks)? If using some perfidiously twisted logic, you interpret that thievery is an inherently Arabic trait that is being ridiculed (or a stereotype being reinforced), ignoring other characters that are not thieves, then, I’m sorry, but both you (and “Dr.” Jack Shaheen himself for that matter)are way bigger racists than this cartoon could ever be.

        There’s so much garbage out there these days, I get sick and tired of these self-congratulatory quasi-academics publicly denigrating great classics such as this Fleischer masterpiece. Next thing you know, soccer moms are going to start boycotting this cartoon, and Seth MacFarlane will make a cut-away Family Guy gag about Popeye being racist (which, of course, today’s teenagers will accept as nothing but the truth just as readily as they accept that Walt Disney is an anti-Semite). If you think that a movie depiction from the past may be racially insensitive by today’s standards, don’t automatically label it racist. Racism is incredibly more serious than a cartoony portrayal of Bluto (generally a white American bully) as an Arabic thief.

      • Dr. Ivo Robotnik

        Well, tarnation. Looks like I done rustled me up a whole herd of indignation.

        G.C., I never personally accused this cartoon of being racist, I only replied to POW! HA-HA to explain why I felt racial caricatures were not quaint or harmless forms of bigotry.

        And POW! HA-HA, I’ve seen all I need to. In the same breath, they caricature gay people and reassure audiences tuning in that it’s all right to do the same.

        To me, the “pro gay marriage, anti Mel Gibson Anti-semitism” thing is tacked on so they can appear to be working both crowds. First and foremost, the show is unapologetically “anti-PC,” an over-hyped quality they smear in your face every chance they get, to remind you how wrong it is to show a little respect and dignity to people in those marginalized groups. “They deserve rights, sure, but that shouldn’t stop you from reminding them how much of an unwelcome “other” they are!” Between that and the fanbase’s idolization of Eric Cartman, I’ve had no interest in the show since I left my teens and threw away the “FUCK THINE UNDEFINED AND OBSCURE SYSTEM, MATE” mentality for a more thorough, sociological outlook.

        Or you could just say I lack a sense of humor, which isn’t true at all, as I just don’t find South Park, in all of its “WE’RE NOT PC LOOK AT US WOOOO” glory, to be funny. However, if this show is the apex of comedy to you, then in your view, I probably do lack a sense of humor.

        I’m sorry, I just don’t see caricaturing people to be so harmless. It’s where xenophobic suspicion is fostered, and it can only go downhill from there. Maybe because I’ve been on the receiving end, and no, it’s not much of a consolation to pat me on the head condescendingly and say, “there there, freak, you can have rights too.”

        Maybe I just haven’t been watching the show often enough, but I distinctly recall there being a few characters who weren’t written as stereotypes of their particular social group, but none of them were gay or Jewish. I think Kyle’s the only exception, but he’s one of the main cast, so for him to say “shalom” all the time would probably get old quickly for Jewish viewers.

        Maybe that’s changed.

      • pow!

        Thinking South Park is serious about their caricatures is like thinking John Swift is serious about killing Irish babies. It takes a willful suspension of ones own understanding of subtelty. People of all denominations write South Park, often they themselves script the episode about their own issue. The fake laugh shows a lack of commitment to a reasonable argument though.

      • @ Dr. Robotnic – Yes…that is what stereotypes do – they dehumanize the subject being stereotyped. Some do it well. Some do it rather poorly. This falls into the latter camp. Hence, quaint. Does this do damage? Maybe in the 1930s when it was made. Today? No. Scientific studies have actually shown that ethnic presence in the media, even if stereotypes, do more to open the doors to communication and understanding than complete absence from the media. Just as Will and Grace helped bring Gay Rights to the mainstream conversation, so do stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims, without which there would be no backlash such as The Axis of Evil Comedy tour. And history has shown that the only way minorities get mainstream media exposure is when the mainstream media cracks racist jokes about them, creating the opportunity for a dialog and eventual acceptance into the fold. Arab comedians owe a lot to this cartoon and crappy 90s action movies.

  • It’s a Popeye cartoon. Why do people whine about stuff like this and then others feel the need to explain its context on TV, as if we’re all idiots? It reminds me of those useless Maltin disclaimers on the Disney Treasures DVDs. Just in case you were too stupid to realize it was a cartoon made many, many years ago. Hey, touchy viewer, don’t take this POPEYE CARTOON too seriously, OK?

  • 5w30

    As Popeye mumbled himself in the picture – “abu Hassan’s got ’em any more!” Good catch by the TCM folks owning up to human error – rare for any network of their size to do.

  • top cat james

    Bring back “Cartoon Alley”!

  • G.C.

    “Dr.” Shaheen says that “this cartoon probably did more to denigrate Arabs than any cartoon ever”, but does almost nothing to substantiate his ridiculous argument.

    My thoughts:

    1) The story is based on a fairy tale that takes place in an Arab land. Logically, the land’s inhabitants are Arabs, both good (i.e. the waiter in the restaurant, the man whose teeth get stolen) and bad (i.e. the thieves).
    2) The cartoon’s main villain, Abu Hassan, is BLUTO himself: How is this Bluto different than the white Bluto portrayed in numerous other Popeye shorts? In other words, what’s specifically (not superficially) Arabic about Bluto in this cartoon?
    3) The 40 thieves are as generic as can be. They could be white, Asian or Lebanese. There is nothing inherently Arabic about them, they just happen to be Arabs due to the setting of the story.
    4) This is an animated film that, like most Hollywood cartoons at the time, uses caricature and parody to entertain. If it dealt with serious problems facing three-dimensional Arab characters in a verisimilitudinous socio-political context, it wouldn’t be a Popeye cartoon.
    5) Can anyone please explain how any of the following definitions of racism apply to this film:
    a) The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
    b) The belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others.
    c) Abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief.
    d) a belief that human races have distinctive characteristics that determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s race is superior and has the right to control others.
    e) a belief in a policy of enforcing the asserted right of control.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Spoken like a true observer!

  • The Gee

    I haven’t watched the video clip. So, allow me to speak out of turn.

    The visual depiction of a race, ethnicity or whatever can go just as far as sticking as can oral storytelling, which is much older and was better developed much earlier than visual representation.

    The weird thing with depicting those who are different, including Little Tommy Booger Eater, is often it isn’t out of respect it is out of ridicule.Though more often than not, prior to cartoons being cartoons, art generally showed most subjects in flattering lights. Or, tragic repose or something.

    But, cartoons, Jest, those things opened up a can of worms Little Tommy would eventually be forced to eat. So, stereotypes in early animation often did play off of less than glamorous qualities. And, some folks were always the bad guys. More often than not it was all made in name of Good Fun ™.

    A Depiction of a stereotype (or anyone “different” from the main characters) sticks more and just as easily via a Picture as it does by a Description (i.e., a Bogeyman seen can be just as scary as one described, regardless of the bounds of the listener’s imagination).

    That mentioned, when I was young and now, i didn’t and I don’t see the Popeye cartoons as being cringe-worthy. They were too formulaic for that. A great formula but….ya know.

    By the way, I think Wimpy trying to make a burger out of the duck was a running gag from the strips that was used at least in one storyline. When they were looking for Pappy on an island, I think. The Seahag introduction.

  • fremgen

    Ok, so there were race based stereotypes played for laughs in 70 year old cartoon.

    What do you want to do about? Mess-up Fleischer’s grave stone? Get all living animators to swear an oath to never create a cartoon with a stereotype again?

  • The Gee


    Ya gotta laugh at this topic in order to brush it off your shoulders.

    To address someone’s recurring question: for some reason people get their britches in a bunch complaining about people who they think get their knickers in a bunch. It it sort of like Swift’s Two Ways to Eat a Hard Boiled Egg.

    Those who complain about people complaining about possibly questionable stereotypes in cartoons are wanting to Take In cartoons. Now, if they are also people who wish to Make cartoons which use potentially offensive stereotypes, that’s a whole other thing. I don’t see people clamoring to make cartoons like that, as if those elements made the cartoons Top Notch.

    As a person who makes cartoons, I am well aware of what was made before me. It is a mixed bag that stretches on for years. But, I still like cartoons enough to be proud of most of the stuff that has been made, now and then. Even some of the most impressive stuff from the early days of print and animation wasn’t perfect. I knew that as a kid. Which is why I still look at it all as an idiot art and don’t feel bad about calling it that.

    But, given the topic, there is no way they are going to look better than those they complain about, until they step back and see a bigger picture. So until they do that, let it slide, let it slide.

  • What the hell has political correctness achieved? I say we pull it’s pants down call it terribly rude names then smash it’s weasly self righteous face in with a brick forged from equal parts humour and common sense.

  • xevo

    This sounds like an error in master control, one that could cost someone in that department a job.
    I once applied for a job as a master control op at Turner HQ in Atlanta a few years ago. I was told that newer MCOs often rotate between channels, for instance working at TCM for a while, then TBS, then TNT, and so on. Or someone working for one channel will fill in for someone at another channel who is ill or vacationing. Perhaps a situation like that led to the snafu. Or it could have been a server error.

  • Dave

    People are always going to give cartoons a hard time. Everyone thinks these vintage cartoons were made for children so they apply harsh judgment on these 30s films that would not be applied to live action shorts or features made in the same period.

  • Todd

    What’s illuminating is that what Dr. Shaheen said about the Popeye cartoon,“This cartoon probably did more to denigrate Arabs than any cartoon ever… This one was particularly offensive in the manner in which Arabs are portrayed.”
    was almost exactly what he said in the preview comment for “Little Beau Porky,” which makes me wonder if Popeye or Porky did more to denigrate Arabs? I guess both might be offensive, but it seems lazy to introduce both with the same epithet.

  • @ Todd: Yes indeed. And, I’m sure, 9-11 did wonders for their rep!!

    • AJ

      or Jeff Dunham :)

  • Matt Sullivan

    I still maintain this is one of the most unique looking, most gorgeous cartoons ever made.

  • Ryoku

    Had it aired I’m sure gas prices would rise pass $5.00.

  • Loco the Clown

    Apple Sauce!

  • samjoe

    So if its a Snafu? When will it be aired again?
    I’m betting on this side of NEVER.


    This is the kind of thing that makes my blood boil! Listen to Dr. Jack Shaneen’s commnentary. In it, he states that Popeye battles “Ali Baba” (the hero of the ARABIAN NIGHTS story: ALI BABA AND HIS FORTY THIEVES). Popeye DOES not do battle with “Ali Baba” at all, but in fact battles the “40 Thieves” from the story!

    That’s only the first mistake that the good Dr. Shaneen makes about this classic cartoon. One of the most racist of all cartoons? Please!!! It’s half-assed comments like this that probably got movies like SONG OF THE SOUTH pulled form circulation. I am something of a cartoon fan, and for years friends and co-workers (many of them black – or African-American if you prefer) asked me why Disney had pulled SONG OF THE SOUTH here but made it available in Europe. I explained that the Disney people have been so “Politically Correct” for over half a century with their product – deleting or censoring their films as the years go by so as “not to offend anyone.”

    What is happening to this country? A guy who writes a book on Hollywood’s depiction of Arabs in films is the final judge on a classic POPEYE cartoon that has entertained millions of people for almost 75 years? I sure as hell hope NOT!


    Ooops, I misspelled “Dr. Shaheen”‘s last name, but the rest of what I said still stands!

  • Stephen Rhodes Treadwell

    I don’t think this cartoon’s very pretty at all!