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In the 1940s, animators at Warner Brothers, Walt Disney,
MGM, and many other studios produced hundreds of cartoons containing racial or
gender stereotypes and references to alcoholism, cross-dressing, overt sexuality,
gambling, and suicides. For most of modern audiences, many of these cartoons
are probably shocking; however, they illustrate the pervasiveness and
institutionalisation of stereotypes and discrimination in American culture, not
so long time ago (Padgett). According to Bivins, the 1940s have marked a
turning point in one’s perception of animation and cartoons ? the mythic
understanding of animation as an entertainment solely for children was
abandoned (Bivins). The decade was stricken with World War II and its
aftermath. What was once considered light, children’s entertainment soon became
wartime ideological apparatus targeting primarily male audiences.

In this thesis I focus on analysis of racial and gender
stereotypes in two animated films made in the 1940s: Disney’s “Song of the
South” (1946) and Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood” (1945). “Song of the South”, a
hybrid film that combines animation and live action, was criticised at the time
of release by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) for the “impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship” (Cohen
60) in the way it depicts happy, kind, and harmless, old Southerner slave Uncle
Remus in the second half of the 19th
century. On the other hand, “Red Hot Riding Hood” is an
animated short which is a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” tale and which
brings sexuality to the formation of female characters. According to Orenstein,
Avery “brought the heroine and her wolf from the European forest to the
Hollywood nightclub and transformed the fairy tale into a caricature of
American courtship” (112). Even though Avery subverted the main ideas of
institutions of marriage and motherhood, he constructed a new gender stereotype
of the time: a pin-up girl heroine.

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In order to understand racial and gender stereotypes and
to provide a theoretical framework for the in-depth analysis of characters in
Disney’s “Song of the South” and Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood”, the
representation theory of sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart
Hall is conferred. In his book “Representation: Cultural Representations and
Signifying Practices”, Hall argues that we use “types” to make sense of the
world around us. Simply put, types
are broad categories of things that have common characteristics. They allow us
to categorise everything in a meaningful way and are not, by definition,
negative. For example, we assign certain traits to roles such as parent, child,
or worker. Typing is, therefore, crucial to the creation of meaning. Stereotypes,
on the other hand, reduce a person to a few simplified and exaggerated
characteristics which are represented as fixed by Nature. The reason for the naturalization
is simple: if differences between people are cultural, then they are possible to
change; however, “natural” differences are innate, and, therefore, fixed and
almost impossible to change (257-258). In other words, naturalisation is a
representational scheme designed to make differences appear to be part of one’s
self, the essence of his/her being.

Bearing in mind that providing the audience a quick and
easy understanding of an idea, situation or character has always been crucial
to successful cartooning, it may not come as a surprise that stereotypes became
key element in the world of animation. Nevertheless, Hall argues that
stereotyping utilizes a “strategy of splitting” in a way that it differentiates
“normal” and “acceptable” ideas, beliefs, and behaviours from “abnormal” and “unacceptable”,
thus symbolically fixing boundaries and excluding everyone who is different. This
exclusion is achieved through the processes of reduction, essentialization,
naturalization, and fixation. Finally, it is possible to link stereotyping to
unequal power relations because power produces systems of inclusion (“Us”) and
exclusion (“Other”), targeting primarily the subordinate group(s) (ibid. 258).

Even though Hall focuses on racial and ethnic
differences of the African American culture in his book, the represented ideas
construct a theoretical framework that could be applied in various examples to other
aspects of difference. For the purposes of this thesis, his ideas were also
applied in the analysis of Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood” (i.e. gender
difference).

Methodology of the paper includes a short introduction
to term animation, followed by a historical overview of the development of
animated film with an emphasis on the films produced during the 1940s,
socio-cultural context that led to their production, and ideological
significance. This chapter also discusses the connection between ideology and
stereotypes, what should, together with biographical information and a brief
examination of Disney’s and Avery’s animating style, provide a better
understanding to “Song of the South” and “Red Hot Riding Hood”. After defining narrative
and stylistic aspects of aforementioned films, the bulk of the
research will be focused on the character analysis, more precisely their stereotypical
representations, for which Stuart Hall’s theory of representation was conferred.
The most important arguments are reiterated in
the closing chapter of the thesis.

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