Are the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp catering to racist stereotypes?
Yesterday I read a very interesting article about remakes of Disney’s great cartoon classics. I was intrigued. I grew up watching Walt Disney’s poetic, funny and beautiful films and I still remember nearly all of them very clearly.
The numerous remakes have as their primary goal keeping Disney’s copyright on the characters “alive”. But, at the same time, the new versions have been carefully purged of politically-incorrect elements in the original versions.
For example, the Siamese cats which are the bad guys in Lady and the Tramp are being erased, together with their funny song – I can still remember it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that I developed a racist bias against Siamese people after watching Lady and the Tramp, possibly because I can tell the difference between a cat and a person, and because I have a faint idea of what a work of fiction is.
Anyway, now that I think of it, I found a number of sequences of the Great Classics which wounded my deepest feelings.
First of all, of course, there are Cinderella’s bad sisters. They have very big feet; and being a lady with a substantial acreage inside my shoes, I feel outraged at this negative portrayal of big-footed-ladies.
As an Italian, I advocate the immediate suppression of the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp, because it depicts a stereotype of Italian culture (and of Italian cuisine: no Italian would eat what the rest of the world calls spaghetti Bolognese).
As a pianist, I am shocked by how pianos are used in Oliver & Company and The Aristocats: pianos should be treated with respect and not thrown from windows or danced upon by cats. Being short-sighted, I protest vehemently because no Disney princess wears glasses: only the wizard Merlin who sports them, but he makes an unlikely princess.
And as a music teacher I’m enraged when I see the caricature of my profession as portrayed in Sebastian (The Little Mermaid) or the funny but absent-minded pianist in 101 Dalmatians. As a member of the human species, I find it horrible that the only bad guys in Bambi are the human hunters who kill Bambi’s mother. And so on.
The point is that when you want to be coddled and to feel you’re being mistreated, you’ll always find an opportunity to do so. But this is entirely unhelpful both for individuals and for society.
One of the many things for which I’m deeply grateful to life is the gift of my younger brother, Giovanni, who has a great sense of humour and who constantly ridiculed my little ways, beginning as soon as he could speak. He never aimed at wounding me, of course, but he taught me a lot. Without him, I’d have become a much more serious, self-centred, self-referential and egotistic person than I actually am. He taught me lightness; he taught me to laugh at myself.
And this is a wonderful resource: when I start to worry too much about something, or to feel I’m a victim of The System and of Everybody Else, I think of what my brother would say and I realize that, in most cases, it’s just a laughing matter.
I’m not denying that there are people who are much less kind than my brother and who actually aim at belittling others. But, as I have often read in the articles by Izzy Kalman on MercatorNet, the recipe for reducing bullying is firmly grounded on the process of strengthening the victim’s character; on enabling him or her to disarm the bully by laughing on his or her provocations.
We are creating “snowflake-ness”; we are destroying the people’s ability to overcome the negative feelings which satire and irony may cause, and to transform them into positive energies – either by amending one’s actual defects, or by gently and firmly requesting to be respected.
The ability to turn negativity on its head is (or should be) one of the gains of maturity; and the capability for self-irony is frequently found in the best people in our lives. (I remember one of my best friends, who was blind, and who constantly joked about her blindness. Or another friend who always found something funny even when speaking of the breast cancer she was fighting).
So, please, let the Big Bad Wolf remain a Big Bad Wolf. I promise I won’t shoot him when I next meet him.
Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.