Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

The subversive thrill of Tom and Jerry

I can’t wait to watch Tom and Jerry, The Complete Second Volume, on Amazon Prime, to which, as luck would have it, I belong. Obviously I’ve seen the cartoons before – I got them in years ago for my children when they were at an age at which everyone else was looking the hellish ‘In the Night Garden’ – but this time it’ll be for the subversive thrill of the warning:

‘Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.’

It reminds me of the sense of subversiveness I got when I bought Tintin in the Congo for my son, after he’d read all the other books. It was wrapped up in such a way that you couldn’t possibly browse the contents and there was a big red warning sticker inside. It was along the same lines: attitudes very much of their day, unsuitable for ours, etc. Actually, some of the content was pretty hair-raising – the last big picture, I recall, showed the black natives venerating totems – and I did feel the need to point out to the reader that Africans weren’t really like that now.

But T&J are another matter. The gist of the objections is that the cartoons show a black housekeeper/maid in a subordinate role in the kitchen – think Big Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Except I don’t remember seeing her entire person. Since the shots were from the perspective of a cat and a mouse what you actually saw were the black legs and an overall impression of stoutness. Her best line was, I recall: ‘Now get out and STAY OUT’, as she booted Tom into the cold – a line my daughter adopted with visitors.

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