Thursday, November 15, 2007

Complaints Duly Noted.

A few weeks ago Miscellainey got its first real complaint. A milestone in Miscellainey's blogging history. (And no, I wasn't so shattered that I decided to abandon this blog permanently contrary to popular belief.) I'm always a bit taken aback by negative criticism, in every aspect of my life. It's not generally because I'm so sensitive that any offending response gets taken personally, but more so because I genuinely try to be as objective and careful in my writing as possible and nothing I say (especially in this blog) is meant to arouse controversy.

That said, I feel obliged to finally make a response to the comments "Mr. (shall we call him... Smith?)" made a couple of weeks ago. In response to my earlier blog entry "A Half-Baked Idea", which discusses the Symposium on Popular Song's clip "The Boogie Woogie Bakery Man", "Mr. Smith" had the following to say,

Are you really so offended by the depiction of an Asian baker making fortune cookies? Do you really think the talented people who created this cartoon were 'ignorant' and less enlightened than people today? ...You are obviously a sophisticated and intelligent writer--there's no need to hop on the anti-intellectual political correctness bandwagon by cowtowing to hypersensitive folks who seek to needlessly demonize good works and the people who created them.

Now in truth, having re-read what I wrote, I can see how my comments may have been a bit overly cautious and maybe even a bit harsh. But goodness knows I would be the first person to stand up and say that these cartoons should be considered "good works" and that the people who created them were not only smart but incredibly talented. I definitely did not mean to imply as a blanket statement that the animators of days past were less-enlightened than people of today. In fact, and I believe I've said before, today's animators would do well to take extensive notes and pay close attention to their elders of animation-days-past. Frankly a lot of what goes on TV and in the movies animation wise these days is just plain crap. And I'd rather see "Boogie Woogie Bakery Man" 100 times in a row than watch a single episode of "A Pup Named Scooby Doo". (Surely that comment alone will offend someone else...)

That said, even Leonard Maltin and Richard Sherman issued a disclaimer in their commentary about the film for its depictions and how it would be viewed in today's context. Now, maybe I'm an optimist, but I like to think we've come a long way in our treatment of all races and ethnicities over the last 50 years. And hopefully in the next 50 years the next generation can say they've come a long way from where we are now. Personally, I'm not offended by that thought. And I think it's unfair to characterize my sentiment that blanket stereotypes of days past might need to be prefaced with disclaimers as "cowtowing".

At any rate, I appreciate "Mr. Smith's" willingness to bring forth criticism, as a good dash of objectivity is healthy for all of us, and I also appreciate his recognition that I am, or at least aspire to be, an "intelligent writer". That said, my last intention with this blog is to ever offend anyone. And if I have, I do want to be notified. I may not always agree, but so is life. You can't please all of the people, all of the time.


walterworld said...

Glad you're back Lainey...

Criticism is never fun, but it's part of a public life I guess.

Thank you for your excellent posts. I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds on Miscellainey...

Take care!

Jeffrey Pepper said...

What "Mr Smith" fails to understand or acknowledge is that it is possible to be offended by content but at the same time not in anyway advocate its censorship.

While I personally feel that there was no malicious intent or mean-spiritedness in the depiction of the Boogie Woogie Bakery man, the depiction was certainly executed with a degree of insensitivity. And unfortunately there are plenty of examples throughout the history of animation where there were very offensive depictions that could only be characterized as coming from "ignorant and less enlightened individuals."

So many cartoons, Disney or otherwise, can be windows to the popular cultures of decades past. Some of those windows can be uncomfortable to look through, but they should never be shuttered.

The sad reality is that insensitive racists did work in the animation business and as they say, the proof is in the pudding. We as writers/journalists/historians are not "demonizing" these individuals simply by making note of the potential offensive nature of their efforts.

Lainey Schallock said...

Thank you Jeff. I think you articulated very poignantly what I tried (in my own bumbling way) to say in my response. I think what we'll find is that there is error that lies in the extreme each way: censoring material that could now be considered offensive is never a good idea - as you said, it shuts out the "windows to popular culture of decades past", but refusing to accept that our predecessors might have erred in their thinking and by denying any need for change or warning about possibly offensive content is also a grave error. Obviously I felt that the cartoon should be viewed (heck I posted the video) and appreciated for its artistic accomplishments and clever stylings, but I felt that some mention needed to be made that the material is and could be taken in an offensive way. At any rate, Jeff, I appreciate your comments and am certainly inclined to agree with your well-worded response to "Mr. Smith's" comment. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Laney: Even though you are not looking for controversy, the one "Mr. Smith" brought about only enriched your posts, and your words. By the way, referring to your gift with words, I really appreciated your extending my speculating about Walt's personality from a mixture of "pragmatism and poetry" to "innocence and ownership". There is powerful and poetic contrast, in your words. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

First I wanted to assure you that my initial complaint regarding your characterization of the Symposium short was in no way intended as a broad criticism of you or your blog in general (which has distinguished itself in a crowded field of Disney-related blogs).

Second, and contrary to jeff pepper's comments, my complaint never had anything to do with censorship, nor with the general practice of warning against offensive material.

Yes, Leonard Maltin is routinely paraded out to provide the cultural and historic context for politically incorrect or offensive material on Disney's Treasures series. I find this appropriate in most cases.

However, the key distinction is Maltin does this without impugning the artists or the audience.

Reread the original article (Half Baked Idea). You do not merely warn of potential offensive material, you outright declare both the lyrics and the Asian caricature as being offensive, then proceed to smear an entire generation as being "just plain ignorant."

The sheer hubris required to make such a statement might very well qualify as its own category of ignorance, more deserving of a preemptive apology than any innocuous, if dated, cartoon caricature ever could.

If modern sensitivities require us to be "shocked and offended" by the Oriental fortune-cookie man, and then to feign moral superiority over the intelligent, talented folks that created him, I hardly consider that a positive step forward.

Just wanted to make that clarification. Your thoughtful response to my initial email is appreciated.


Stephen Worth said...

The disclaimers on DVDs aren't there to educate anyone, and they aren't there because of Leonard Maltin or Whoopie Goldberg. Both of them love these cartoons- even the ones the disclaimers say are "wrong then and wrong now". The reason they are forced to read those disclaimers is because of the nervous lawyers and executives who have been blocking the release of classic cartoons for years and years for fear of "the negative impression it might give their licensed property". (read: Egad! What will the neighbors say!?)

"Birth of a Nation", "Triumph of the Will" and many other live action films have MUCH more offensive imagery than the innocent stereotypes in animated cartoons, yet they are presented as masterpieces. No one would dare try to edit or disclaim them. Unfortunately, animated cartoons are rarely given that kind of respect, and audiences for cartoons are rarely given credit for having a brain in their head to figure these things out for themselves.

I look forward to a day when everyone knows the obvious context of what we're looking so well, we don't need Whoopie Goldberg to tell us to be ashamed of laughing at the cartoon we're about to watch.

See ya

walterworld said...

Well put Stephen---

Lainey: we all look forward to your excellent posts (and we hope to see another real soon!)