Monday, November 19, 2007

Mammy Two Shoes

As a kid, I was pretty serious and I didn’t like most cartoons. Other than The Flintstones, and maybe The Jetsons, I could care less. Since having my children, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for animation and cartoons and sometimes I even find myself thoroughly absorbed in the cat and mouse antics of Tom & Jerry (one of my son’s favorites).

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m totally consumed with raising media literate kids and the subliminal messages of many new and old cartoons can be deep. The recurring housekeeper character, Mammy Two Shoes, in the earlier Tom & Jerry cartoons is particularly disturbing.

Mammy Two Shoes appeared in the very first Tom & Jerry cartoon, Puss Gets the Boot, and is portrayed as a loud, overweight middle-aged Black woman, yet as stated in a Wikipedia entry, she was famous for never showing her face; like girlfriend had a choice, she is an animated character created by the dynamic duo Hanna and Barbera. The portrayal of this stereotypical character was inspired by the Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel, from Gone with the Wind and the underlying tone is your Black and faceless, like the countless women who commonly worked as domestics in White households throughout this country.

Over the years, Mammy Two Shoes has seen quite a few changes to reflect the current political climate. In the mid-1950s, with a burgeoning civil rights movement, a white, middle-class couple replaced Mammy and audiences were treated to seeing their faces. In the 1960s, old versions of Tom & Jerry cartoons were re-edited, by a process known as rotoscoping, to replace Mammy with a thin white woman, and the voice on the soundtracks was replaced by an Irish-accented voice and again, you can see her face.

When watching these cartoons with my kids, I often ask them to tell me, in detail, what they like and dislike about what we’ve just watched and my brilliant brown babies always question why we never see the African American woman’s face. I try to use this opportunity to introduce ideas about representation and we discuss how other African American characters are portrayed in some of their other favorite cartoons, i.e. the sassy and neck-rolling Black female on The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, or the smart, talented and sensitive Gerald on Nickelodeon’s Hey-Arnold.

Before the advent of 24-hour programming and cable television, parents had greater control over cartoon/media consumption, but now children are inundated with images from the moment they exit the womb. In addition to mediating their viewing choices, it’s imperative to contextualize these images and messages, because if not, we run the risk of mindlessly perpetuating these stilted and harmful stereotypes.


esther said...

hi mangomama!

i am the crappy moderator of 'bloggers of color' on nablopomo and just wanted to say i love your blog. this post specifically. you're awesome!

esther ^_^

Mango Mama said...

Ester, Thanks for stopping by and the warm words. I'm new to blogging and I'm just learning how to navigate all of the ways to meet up with other bloggers. One question I do have is what happens with nablopomo after Nov.? Also, can you send me a link to your blog? I'd love to check it out. Be well!

Mango Mama