Fuming over Tom & Jerry’s Fumes

At least a half dozen people have emailed me about Turner Broadcasting’s decision in Britain to start censoring over 1500 Hanna-Barbera cartoons and removing all instances of smoking when it appears to be “condoned, acceptable or glamorised.” So far, the affected cartoons include Tom & Jerry shorts like TENNIS CHUMPS and TEXAS TOM, but H-B’s TV cartoons like THE FLINTSTONES are also being put on the chopping block. The news about these edits is being reported all over the mainstream media including BBC, MSNBC and the INDEPENDENT among others. Mark Evanier also has some nice thoughts on his blog. Censoring classic cartoons is, of course, nothing new so this can hardly be considered “news” to animation fans. A few random thoughts did cross my mind about cartoons and censorship:

* Personally, I’d rather not see these cartoons on the air at all than to see these corrupted versions receive broadcast.

* This type of censhorship underlines the important role that animation fans play in the preservation of classic animation. It’s important that anybody who has uncensored versions of these cartoons to post hi-res copies on the Internet, and for fans to develop a network of making these cartoons available online. If studios insist on systematically ruining the work of animation legends like Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, then it’s up to the fans to make sure that everybody has access to the original vision of these filmmakers.

* If somebody tried to censor parts of a Picasso painting or a James Joyce story, there would be an uproar beyond belief. Animation, however, still doesn’t merit similar consideration as Art, which is why the works of animation masters can be freely tinkered with and destroyed. When, if ever, will that change?

UPDATE: Mark Evanier has penned an excellent must-read answer to my question above of why Hollywood animation isn’t treated as seriously as other arts. I think I even knew that Bill and Joe had at some point endorsed the editing of their own cartoons, but it certainly didn’t come to mind when I wrote this. Hopefully the missteps of directors like Avery, Hanna and Barbera can serve as a lesson to contemporary artists in how they regard their own work and the effect that has on other people’s perception of their work.