In the 1940s, animators at Warner Brothers, Walt Disney,MGM, and many other studios produced hundreds of cartoons containing racial orgender stereotypes and references to alcoholism, cross-dressing, overt sexuality,gambling, and suicides. For most of modern audiences, many of these cartoonsare probably shocking; however, they illustrate the pervasiveness andinstitutionalisation of stereotypes and discrimination in American culture, notso long time ago (Padgett). According to Bivins, the 1940s have marked aturning point in one’s perception of animation and cartoons ? the mythicunderstanding of animation as an entertainment solely for children wasabandoned (Bivins). The decade was stricken with World War II and itsaftermath. What was once considered light, children’s entertainment soon becamewartime ideological apparatus targeting primarily male audiences.
In this thesis I focus on analysis of racial and genderstereotypes in two animated films made in the 1940s: Disney’s “Song of theSouth” (1946) and Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood” (1945). “Song of the South”, ahybrid film that combines animation and live action, was criticised at the timeof release by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) for the “impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship” (Cohen60) in the way it depicts happy, kind, and harmless, old Southerner slave UncleRemus in the second half of the 19thcentury. On the other hand, “Red Hot Riding Hood” is ananimated short which is a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” tale and whichbrings sexuality to the formation of female characters. According to Orenstein,Avery “brought the heroine and her wolf from the European forest to theHollywood nightclub and transformed the fairy tale into a caricature ofAmerican courtship” (112). Even though Avery subverted the main ideas ofinstitutions of marriage and motherhood, he constructed a new gender stereotypeof the time: a pin-up girl heroine. In order to understand racial and gender stereotypes andto provide a theoretical framework for the in-depth analysis of characters inDisney’s “Song of the South” and Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood”, therepresentation theory of sociologist and cultural theorist StuartHall is conferred.
In his book “Representation: Cultural Representations andSignifying Practices”, Hall argues that we use “types” to make sense of theworld around us. Simply put, typesare broad categories of things that have common characteristics. They allow usto 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 exaggeratedcharacteristics which are represented as fixed by Nature. The reason for the naturalizationis simple: if differences between people are cultural, then they are possible tochange; however, “natural” differences are innate, and, therefore, fixed andalmost impossible to change (257-258). In other words, naturalisation is arepresentational scheme designed to make differences appear to be part of one’sself, the essence of his/her being.
Bearing in mind that providing the audience a quick andeasy understanding of an idea, situation or character has always been crucialto successful cartooning, it may not come as a surprise that stereotypes becamekey element in the world of animation. Nevertheless, Hall argues thatstereotyping 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. Thisexclusion is achieved through the processes of reduction, essentialization,naturalization, and fixation. Finally, it is possible to link stereotyping tounequal power relations because power produces systems of inclusion (“Us”) andexclusion (“Other”), targeting primarily the subordinate group(s) (ibid.
258). Even though Hall focuses on racial and ethnicdifferences of the African American culture in his book, the represented ideasconstruct a theoretical framework that could be applied in various examples to otheraspects of difference. For the purposes of this thesis, his ideas were alsoapplied in the analysis of Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood” (i.e. genderdifference).Methodology of the paper includes a short introductionto term animation, followed by a historical overview of the development ofanimated film with an emphasis on the films produced during the 1940s,socio-cultural context that led to their production, and ideologicalsignificance. This chapter also discusses the connection between ideology andstereotypes, what should, together with biographical information and a briefexamination of Disney’s and Avery’s animating style, provide a betterunderstanding to “Song of the South” and “Red Hot Riding Hood”.
After defining narrativeand stylistic aspects of aforementioned films, the bulk of theresearch will be focused on the character analysis, more precisely their stereotypicalrepresentations, for which Stuart Hall’s theory of representation was conferred.The most important arguments are reiterated inthe closing chapter of the thesis.