Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 November, 2006

"Banned" Looney Toons 9: "Africa Squeaks"

This week we're going to look at the first Porky Pig cartoon in my series – "Africa Squeaks". It was released on 27 January 1940. While it technically stars Porky, he doesn't feature in it all that much. Instead, the short is mostly a series of vignettes of life in Africa.

It begins with a map showing Africa described by a narrator as a "land of mystery and adventure". He concludes that it is "truly the dark continent of the world". As we close in on the map, we go from "Dark Africa" to "Darker Africa" and finally to "Darkest Africa" with a beating heart in the middle, a nod to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. We then cut to Porky who is walking through the jungle followed by a line of native carrying crates on their heads.

The band comes to a screeching halt when they encounter Henry Stanley of Stanley & Livingstone fame.

He is looking for Livingstone and as Porky if he is him. This version of Stanley is a parody of Spencer Tracy who had portrayed the explorer in Stanley and Livingstone which was released the previous year. After this, we are shown a series of vignettes portraying life in Darkest Africa.

An ostrich has its head in a hole as it sleeps.

A couple lions chew over the remains of their prey and pull on a wishbone.

A mother monkey with her baby swing from tree to tree.

A gorilla comes out from behind a tree only to have a face familiar to viewers in 1940 – that of boxer Tony Galento - who says, "I'll moider da bum!"

A native uses a blowgun to get meat for food. Only it turns out to be a carnival game with a ham as the prize.

An elephant is kicked out of a boarding house and the owner tells him that she is keeping his trunk until he can pay the back rent.

Lastly, a buzzard flies overhead and spies a group of young deer wandering alone. So he does his best dive bomber imitation and goes after them. The deer jump into a clump of brush which folds down to reveal an anti-aircraft battery.

We cut back to Porky who is again wandering through the jungle. A native runs up to him babbling incoherently and tells him that there's "a strange white man living in the jungle amongst the natives".

Porky grabs Stanley from out of nowhere and drags him to the strange white man, thinking that he's Livingstone.

Instead he turns out to be Cake Icer.

Cake Icer informs everyone that he is going to get them dancing. And he does. The animals start playing music and everyone gets down.

The cartoon ends with Porky leaving Africa followed by one of the natives saying goodbye to the viewers.

Once again we see blacks drawn in black face while Africans are portrayed as being "uncivilized", simple, and primitive. So it's easy to see why this cartoon was "banned". In researching this episode, I can across a couple that mentioned how the guy at the carnival game with hams as prizes is a "Rochester character". This referred to Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, a black actor who became famous playing Jack Benny's valet on the radio show, The Jack Benny Program, which aired from 1932-1948. According to the Wikipedia article cited above, the Rochester character was initially very stereotypical – he carried a switchblade and shot craps – but changed as time went on. The revelation of the Holocaust moved Benny to radically change the tone of the racial humor. While Anderson and the Rochester character bucked some trends at the time (Anderson was very highly paid and Rochester poked fun at his white employer), the important thing here is that we once again see popular culture parodied.

The history of "Africa Squeaks", as near as I can suss out, is not so much one of being banned as it is of editing and revision. The short was originally drawn in black & white, as my screenscrapes above attest. The first attempt at colorizing was done in 1968 and then again in 1992. After the second round, the cartoon was shown on the Nickelodeon cable channel but in an edited form. I mentioned some edits when I looked at "Frigid Hare" but, in this instance, the edits were drastic: all scenes with the African natives were eliminated. With more than half of the cartoon missing, I have to ask: what's the point?

Reading about this, I also discovered that hundreds of other Warner Brothers cartoons have been edited for broadcast on television over the past 40 years or so. While the infamous "Censored 11" were perhaps the most egregious offenders, brief scenes with characters in black face were quite frequent and taken out of many shorts with otherwise inoffensive material. Scenes with Native Americans, Asians, and other minority races were similarly removed. In addition to racial elements being excised, various acts of violence, drinking, anything related to tobacco, and the use of the word "damn" (as in "Damn Yankees!") also found there way to the cutting room floor. And, to show just how things had changed, the Cartoon Network removed a scene from 1941's "Rookie Revue" which showed a trio of soldiers in a mess hall eating. There's a large bowl in front of them labeled "HASH". Apparently modern audiences don't know that hash, in a culinary context, is a mix of cooked meat and potatoes that's reheated. There's a good overview over at rotten.com of this kind of thing as well as the outright removal of toons from circulation. It notes:

Animated features with even the slightest reference to alcohol (including rum cake), adultery, breasts, chewing tobacco, cross-dressing, gambling, marijuana, pornography, profanity, "rim jobs" (i.e. dogs licking each other), vaguely sexual or flirtatious situations, recreational sex toys (i.e. Tom from Tom and Jerry sticks a vacuum cleaner up Mammy Two-Shoes' skirt, producing giggles), smoking of any kind, suicides (i.e. [sic] a flusterated Daffy Duck blows his beak around in circles with a shotgun) - and even baby ducklings emerging from their shells in demure strip tease were deemed unacceptable.

One issue this raises is that Looney Toons (and virtually all cartoons made up until the 1960s) are considered to be aimed at children. Hardly anyone raises a fuss about Patty and Selma smoking on The Simpsons because there is an understanding that the show is intended for adults despite the intrinsic notion today that cartoons are for kids. This is not to excuse racial stereotypes but rather to say that it's hypocritical to edit old cartoons that, like The Simpsons, were originally aimed at adults, yet let many of the same acts get a pass today in newer cartoons. All of the elements in the quote above are found in The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, etc.

While I find these hackjobs irritating, what I find more irritating is the prospect that unedited versions may be unavailable to adults. OK, so you're going to cut stuff out when you air it on Saturday mornings. Just don't hide the unexpurgated versions away in a vault and away from us adults who can handle the phrase "Damn Yankees". My next task will be to find out if the unedited versions are making it out on DVD.

"Herr Meets Hare"
"What's Cookin' Doc?"
"Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears"
"All This and Rabbit Stew"
"Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time"
"Uncle Tom's Bungalow"
"Frigid Hare"
"Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips"
|| Palmer, 11:00 AM


Damn Yankees with their prudish views. Today I watched "Africa Squeaks" on open Mexican TV.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:35 PM  
Was it dubbed? Subtitled?
Blogger Palmer, at 1:34 PM  
Este episodio salió en varias veces en 2007 por el canal 5 en mexico
Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:23 PM  

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