Published in The Sault Star Oct. 22, 2021
I asked my daughter the other day if her nine-year-old son has been getting into ferocious fistfights over girls, insulting people of German heritage or dropping anvils from great heights on to his classmates.
She says he hasn’t.
I’m a little surprised, because that grandkid and I have been watching vintage cartoons on my computer. And we all know how those things inspire evildoing and violence in impressionable youngsters.
Our adventures in antique animation-land started a few months ago when the young lad made the mistake of asking me what cartoons were like when I was a kid.
I guess the school system is too busy with anti-bullying and internet safety to warn children about the perils of opening the conversational door to rambling reminiscences by senior citizens.
Of course, there might have been method in my grandkid’s musing.
His parents and I discourage electronics at my place and my shadily acquired Netflix access seems to have been blocked, so maybe he thought my answer to his query would result in screen time on my computer.
But I’m not being fair to my grandson, who’s a good kid and no more disingenuous than the next nine-year-old.
He has long held a keen interest in prehistoric times, so naturally he would be curious about my childhood.
Anyway, we turned to the computer to see what we could find, at least one of us confident it would be infinitely superior to the formulaic anime-style crap with which kids are bombarded today when they’re not being dumbed down by TikTok.
(My grandkids once showed me a cartoon that featured an array of apparently Western characters and that was entirely in English but, curiously, had Japanese subtitles. But I digress.)
It’s been eons since I watched a cartoon from my childhood, despite what the maturity level of these columns might lead you to assume about how I spend my spare time.
But like many boomers I headed to the TV console on Saturday mornings, waiting for the “Indian-head” test pattern, perhaps a symbol of the racism to come, to disappear and the cartoon capers to commence.
Even then I was living in the past. My favourites in the fifties were from the forties, thirties, even the twenties, their plots constructed around jazz, bebop or swing tunes.
Flora and fauna could really bust some moves in those days.
After my grandson and I bopped along to I few of those we went highbrow, sampling some Silly Symphonies.
Those were my generation’s first exposure to classical music. Many of us who later attended a real symphony performance were immensely disappointed that the most frenetic action might be some over-exuberant bowing by the third cello.
Next I showed the lad Steamboat Willie, Disney’s 1928 classic that elevated Mickey Mouse to stardom and polished some of the technology that combined cartoons and music.
Then we cued up another remembered favourite, A Dream Walking, in which Olive Oyl sleepwalks through the construction site of a skyscraper while Popeye and Bluto beat the living poop out of each other.
For our finale I dialed up Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, that duo who punch a time clock each morning, then Sam punches Ralph’s lights out until the five-o’clock whistle blows, then they punch out, exchanging pleasantries.
Since that first excursion into grandpa’s cultural past we’ve laughed our way through more than a few merry melodies and looney tunes.
What we haven’t seen is a lot of the overtly racist stuff I expected to encounter.
Partly that’s because some no-longer-appropriate episodes have been surgically removed and the worst offenders have been censored entirely. For example, a dozen Bugs Bunny shorts have been dropped like a rotten carrot. That’s what’s up, doc.
The most bluntly racist stereotypes we encountered were in wartime shorts featuring Daffy Duck and an assortment of automatonic and inept soldiers named Fritz, led by a blustering lunatic named Trumpf — sorry, Schicklgruber — often depicted as a horse’s hindquarter.
My grandson and I had a little chat about why wartime can bring out the most intolerant in us. We also agreed that cartoons lose a lot of their laughs when their main purpose is propaganda.
But I needn’t have worried that showing a Grade 4 student cartoons from a less-tolerant and less-sensitive era would require apologies and explanations.
Like most kids that age, he knows full well that the world of cartoons is not the real world.
He knows rabbits and roosters do not crack wise and pigs don’t stutter.
He knows a duck that’s had its bill blasted off with a shotgun can’t pluck it out of the air and stick it back on his face, albeit upside-down.
He knows you don’t inhale a can of spinach and watch your forearms bulge; that’s a job for Viagra.
He knows hunters are not bumbling Elmer Fudds. Well, not all of them.
He knows coyotes don’t get regular shipments from Acme (Jeff Bezos later changed the name to Amazon).
And yes, he knows cartoons were way better in my childhood than they are in his.
That’s all, folks.