Tom And Jerry Cartoon Disclaimers Spark Controversies About Race

The recent controversy regarding racist themes and character depictions in Tom and Jerry cartoons produced in the 1940s and 1950s indicate struggles that modern-day content distributors must strongly consider. Both Amazon and Apple have included disclaimers on their video distribution channels, warning viewers of racially charged content. When Amazon Prime subscribers load up Tom and Jerry cartoons for instant viewing, they’ll discover a brief disclaimer regarding the problematic nature of the content. And iTunes users who search for these cartoon classics will find a disclaimer that reads, “Some of them may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

The disclaimers have been received with mixed criticism. Some welcome the politically correct notes, since parents might not realize or remember that these seemingly innocuous cartoons contain harmful stereotypes. However, other Hanna and Barbara cartoon fans hit social media, accusing content distributors of moral handholding and overt political correctness.

Slate points out that this is definitely not the first time race has been addressed when it comes to Tom and Jerry cartoons. In fact, in 2005, Whoopi Goldberg was featured in opening footage for the Spotlight Collection DVD release of the cartoons. In this video disclaimer (which you can watch on YouTube), Goldberg refers to Tom and Jerry as the “quintessential cartoon comedy team.” However, she does note that these cartoons were produced during a period of American culture where “racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in the name of entertainment.” Goldberg calls particular attention to the episode, “Puss Gets the Boot,” which features a recurring character named “Mammy Two Shoes.” Goldberg describes how integral Mammy Two Shoes and other characters are to “accurately reflect a part of our history that cannot and should not be ignored.”

Whoopi Goldberg’s 2005 DVD introduction certainly provides viewers with a far more comprehensive analysis of the racially-charged content than the brief disclaimers included in the iTunes and Amazon stores. When it comes to the text-based disclaimers that appeared on product descriptions during early October, it’s difficult to identify who is speaking to us. Is it Warner Bros. Entertainment or did Apple and Amazon pen these disclaimers. The iTunes description states, “The following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society.”

This controversy is slightly reminiscent of the trigger warning controversy surrounding online and academic content. Trigger warnings are brief disclaimers that some content creators and distributors include at the outset of videos, text, or audio, warning audiences of potentially objectionable content. Some examples include racially charged or sexually explicit content. Those who support trigger warnings use these disclaimers hoping to avoid painful PTSD content triggers. However, opponents to the trigger warning movement argue that offensive materials are highly subjective, and that disclaimers can’t realistically protect audiences from an endless range of controversial content.

These controversies reveal potential long-term struggles for content distributors, who must be mindful of the shifting cultural landscape and politically correct mindsets. While the disclaimers might be valuable in helping parents avoid problematic cartoons while making purchases for their children, one must wonder how far distribution companies should go while guiding consumer purchases.

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