Question: I saw on the news that some Bugs Bunny episodes are going to be shelved due to content that could be considered racist in 2001, but was not a big deal when the cartoons were made back in the '40s. Is this true? Can you expound on this matter? — M. Collins, San Jose, Cal.
Televisionary: Actually, 12 Bugs shorts are being kept out of The Cartoon Network's "June Bugs" event, which, starting the first of the month, will run down the entire body of B.B. cartoons, one after the other. And frankly, I can't say I blame the network folks.
Mind you, I'm a huge Bugs Bunny fan — I think that at their best, those cartoons are absolutely hilarious. But some of the gags in the omitted works include, for example, Bugs appearing in Al Jolson-like blackface, Bugs distracting a black hunter by rattling dice and Bugs calling a stereotypical eskimo "a big baboon." Other Bugs 'toons feature over-the-top Japanese, German and Native American characters as well. It's pretty touchy stuff for a major network that would rather avoid insulting a portion of its audience.
Humor's always subjective and it's certainly possible to be too politically correct in some instances. But keep in mind that when people say these gags were "not a big deal" in the past, what they really mean is that they were not a big deal to white people. If the targeted minorities weren't happy with the characterizations at the time, they probably didn't feel comfortable speaking up and most likely wouldn't have been taken seriously anyway. Now, at least, companies are more cognizant of people's feelings — or, a cynic might argue, their money and their willingness to withhold it when angered — and that's an improvement.