The Animation Pimp: Just Like Us?

Whether ants, ogres or woolly mammoths, they all act like us North Americans. The Pimp questions just how tolerant we've grown; how far have we really come?

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Monthly provocative, drunken, idiotic ramblings from the North

In general, I don't like cops, army folk, bible swallowers, or anyone whose primary function in life is to make, sleep, eat, dream, or shit, money. I don't like fools, even when I'm being foolish. I don't like elitist/pretentious/holier than thou fugs especially when I'm being a self-righteous prick. I even lose it with those close to me. The dog, kid, wife, and EXSPECIALLY, the woman I emerged from. In general people who aren't doing something for me at the moment I want something done for me. In short, I can be a pretty self-centered intolerant jerk. And that's why I'm the ideal person to spot those same traits in others.

I dunno when it was, a few months ago maybe, but I noticed a lot of talk about Cartoon Network not showing some old 'racist' Warner cartoons. Frankly, I didn't see what all the fuss was about. Sure, the early cartoons are embarrassing in their reduction of blacks to the level of minstrel monkeys and Asians to slanting eyed rice eating kamikaze diving nips and coolies. And some have argued that the same can be said of Scots and Irish, etc...and sure, that's true, but how many Scots and Irish were killed because of the colour of their skin? (Oh and just recently Porky Pig and Mr. Magoo were the target of the crusaders of tolerance.) Anyway...where was I? Oh...yeah...so...I thought...why all the fuss? There's just as much intolerance in films today. Yes, that's what I said. Sure you (not me) like to think we're the most tolerant people around. We've even got lots o' fancy words: African American, Native American, Mentally Challenged, Visually Challenged and Aurally Challenged. They all sound so...umm...harmless, charming even. But have things really changed? Does the fact that a man says a person is mentally challenged really change the fact that inside he stills sees a retard? These words, with admittedly good intentions, are often little more than another sheet cloaking deeply ingrained hatreds (which we've seen front and centre over the last 8-9 months). Like it or not, everything we experience/perceive is shaped by our culture, and at times it's so deep and so 'normal' or common, that we're hardly aware of it.

Let's take a few seemingly mundane examples. I was watching this piece of shit called Trumpet of The Swan about an annoying family of white Swans who are supposedly "just like us." They have the same goals, fears and concerns as any 'normal' person (despite their beaks and feathers). Now...what's wrong with that, you ask? Well...the problem, friend, is that these apparent gestures of tolerance ("Sometimes being different helps you find your voice," is the film's catch phrase) are little more than superficial sheets of sameness that Hollywood, in particular, throws over almost every race and breed in film. And it's not just Swan, take a gander (heh...heh...) at Shrek, Bug's Life, Antz, Ice Age. "But, they're just animals?" you say. Sure, but whether they're ants, ogres or woolly mammoths, they are living beings; they have verbal and non-verbal languages, habits, perceptions of time/space that are unique to their ilk. They represent 'other' or 'difference' and yet outside of say, Microcosmos, animals are just mouthpieces for Americans. Take Antz and A Bug's Life, for example (which are little more than outdated anti-socialist films), all the characters are reduced to common 'human' types: the neurotic hero, the love interest and the PURE villain. Their social lives involve drinking, dancing, loving and schooling, JUST LIKE US. The whole environment is really just a microcosm of someone's condensed idea of North American society. And sure...ok...this is nothing new...anthropomorphism has been rampant in animation since the beginning (to the point where Starewich was using live bugs to act out human trials). The USE of animals is not the issue here, but rather, HOW they're used.

"Yes, but they're just for children." Ok...well...all the more reason that these films should avoid these very false labels. Children, in many cases, are only aware that every bug, monster, toy, ant, dog, cat and duck, are really just like them. They're friendly, speak English and do everything we do. If that's the perspective of animals (fictional at that), can a similar view of humans (real) be far away? And of course...we (kids and adults) embrace sameness because it's recognizable and comforting; it makes us feel a part of the world. Now granted, my 4 year-old doesn't expect our dog or fish to speak, but I don't think he'd be surprised if Buster (the dog) got up on his hind feet (á là Tex Avery's Crazy Mixed Up Pup) and said, "How ya doin' kid?" But seriously, if one grows up surrounded by the same values and codes, thinking that everyone else shares their codes of perception, then they are very likely going to have difficulty understanding and accepting other ways of viewing and seeing the world.

Here's another subtle example of xenophobia: In Canada, on TV Ontario (Ontario is a province in Canada), we get Bob The Builder and Teletubbies in their original 'British' English, but I noticed that PBS re-dubs the voices into 'American' English. I saw the same situation with a video (released by Disney) of Eric Carle's stories (A Very Hungry Caterpillar). What the hell is that all about? Are producers worried that kids won't understand 'British'? Are they worried that American children might develop a British accent? Do producers believe that there is a British plot underway to re-conquer North America? Is British too Pansy-ish? Oh, I'm sure some producer has a great explanation, but it's insane especially given that North Americans are already among the worst educated in terms of foreign history-geography-culture. It isn't much, but at least the British voices provide some infinitesimal dose of culture; "Yes, Timmy, there are people who speak differently."

Another example (which again I'm sure many American readers never even considered and why would you?) is the replacement of Canadian locales in American movies, most notably, Wayne's World. The film was based in part on Mike Myer's teenage experiences in Toronto (actually...a Toronto suburb, Scarborough), but the producers, perhaps fearing that American viewers wouldn't GET IT, switched every aspect of the film to Chicago. The Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys (Leafs! It should be LEAVES dammit!) become Chicago Black Hawks jerseys (hmm....jerseys with Injuns on 'em) and worst of all the very real Canadian 'icon,' Tim Horton Donuts (and also a fine defensive defenseman with Toronto and Buffalo who died driving drunk) becomes the fictitious Stan Mikita Donuts (a decent forward with a wild curve on his stick that he sometimes used for scoring goals). Why? Would American kids not be able to relate to the life of a Canadian teen (ironic given that Canada has an enormous influence on all aspects of American pop culture)? Ok...fear of Russia, Iraq, China, Cuba and the Middle East is one thing (as stupid as that is) but fear of a people (Canadians and British) whose blood you likely share is just beyond comprehension. It suggests at once a paranoia, arrogance and ignorance that WE used to use to describe the evil Soviet commies.

And need I start breaking down Mulan, Aladdin and Pocahontas? Despite Disney's very loud proclamations that it supports difference in all its various facets (race, sex, gender), their films are nothing but hollow gestures of synthetic sameness. Having a woman in Mulan say, "Who spit in her bean curd soup?" is as tolerant as Disney gets. Sure you can argue that they at least disarm intolerance by showing American viewers that the Chinese are not THAT different, but it's still a very controlled and safe experience because these films are removing the foreigners from they're own culture. Gone are the languages, and the spoken and unspoken codes and gestures with their own intricate tone and tempo. It's like a filtering process, where everything that is unique about 'the other' is removed so that all we have left are these similarities and THAT has nothing to do with tolerance.

Now...the issue of mammals and gender is not my main concern here (although I'm sure I'll get around to it one day). The examples cited are being used to reflect what I think is a superficial tolerance in general in our society...that whether it's animals, fancy new words, overdubs or other cultures...our representation of them is superficial because we apply our SUPPOSED standards and codes to them.

Ironically, even the representation/projection of 'us' is total nonsense and part of that problem rests with our definitions of good, heroism, celebrity and all them fancy words. Heroism filters out 'difference'...heroism is homogenous...it paves over the rubble to make everything flat and smooth. Virtually all Hollywood tinged products reduce people of ALL cultures (including us wanky whiteys) to types, removing the complexities, contradictions; the "essence of their bodily fluids." We create false myths; elevate people to a status that filters out all those essences. We simple slugs often strive to live up to statures that are inherently false (not to mention the many 'heroes' who've had problems embracing their own fabled images). As such, mon chums, we continually chase something that isn't there and never was. That's where drinking, diet pills, television, botox and paxil come in. And yet, we're not fools. The dirt of the hero constantly fascinates us because we know it's there. We've been in the slime ourselves. Yet, when we seek it out in these 'heroes,' it's frowned upon (because it's reduced to gossip magazines); we're called vultures, gossip mongers. But it's wrong because we are just seeking a bit of ourselves in our 'heroes.' We don't want to know how perfect they are, we want to know how faulty, fucked up and human they are. We want to know, paradoxically, that they are just like us. But Hollywood and Heroism, in their current incarnations, really have little to do with them or us.

Squirrel Facts

Squirrels are horniest in the late winter. During their pursuit of the ladies, they perform breathtaking acrobatics.

An overdue thanks to D.E., K.N. and K.C. who've provided a lot of good (and some bad) feedback on both the "In Search of Stuff" trilogy and this here Pimp.

Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at http://asifa.net/robinson

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