Pop Culture
May 01, 2024, 06:24AM

Betty Boop As a Vehicle For Racism

Nearly a century later, a hate-filled society is back (but never really left).

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The song “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You'' was written in 1929 by a Tin Pan Alley man named Sam Theard. A few years later the Fleischer Brothers studios and Merrie Melodies made Betty Boop cartoons. The recorded song accompanying an early cartoon was made famous by the vocal stylings of then America’s Ambassador of Goodwill, Louie Armstrong. Its negative racial overtures and stereotyping undertones were obvious depictions of blacks as African cannibalistic savages chasing Betty around the jungle throwing spears and boiling Betty’s buddies, Bimbo and Koko the Clown in a big kettle cooking pot.

Another notable example is the 1933 film Rufus Jones, which features a seven-year-old Sammy Davis Jr. singing and dancing to the tune with a group of black men dancing behind him while eating fried chicken. A vicious racist image, it conjures the malicious intent and imagery of the post-Civil War era with a feel-good bad sense of humor that makes fun of black culture. This sentiment never ended and is making a comeback in today’s hate-filled society. It never really left, and by today’s standards, it’s in your face. Blatant hate-filled imagery is commonplace.

The song was also popular in New Orleans funeral processions. It was a favorite tune for marching bands that played during funeral marches through the streets of New Orleans on the way to the cemetery. It’s a fitting tribute to jazz, the original Devil's music until rock ‘n’ roll came along. Originally, anything that was made by Hollywood or the music industry depicting blacks as poor slaves, butlers, maids, or flesh-eating savages was something to fear and mimic as a bigot's sick joke. Shirley Temple, the adorable, good ship lollipop girl dancing with Stepin Fetchit. It's ludicrous and just as rampant as the supreme whiteness wet dreams of D. W. Griffith's epic Birth of a Nation or the Hollywood blockbuster Gone with the Wind.

What’s all the hype about today? Half the country seething hate-filled rhetoric over the other half, equally hating each other. One side appears to be patriotic, and the other isn’t. One group is angry with impotent rage, and the other one is afraid to address the problems. It’s difficult to discern who’s who in this bizarro world of flag-waving villains and quiet heroes. They’re all insane with alternative facts and diluted half-truths. Somebody’s right half the time, and everyone’s dead wrong about exactly what they think they’re talking about all the time. Who’s to blame for this mess? We can point fingers at each other. It’s obvious who’s in charge around here, and it’s not us. It’s that exclusive club that we’re not in.

Difficulties arise when certain groups of people believe they’re the chosen ones. Hand-picked by their god to be better than you and everybody else too. That puts them in a precarious position, becoming the head target for the rest of the world to take potshots at. This goes for any and all religious groups that think that because they’re in love with their god and share the same personal beliefs, they have a right to put down everything else. This isn’t a new idea or as far-fetched as it seems. Take a closer look at the MAGA crowd and their feckless leader. It’s an example of the civil war to come. Check out the Gaza Strip and Israel. Ukraine and Russia. This is what occurs when bad politics mix with poisoned religion, creating perverse and strange bedfellows.

We go about our business as usual, so there’s no room for misunderstanding or plenty of room for prejudice against others’ business. We’ve already created the acceptable monsters. Those man-made creatures are put in place to make us feel uncomfortable in our skin. The frightening Frankensteins and deranged Draculas of our imaginations. We’re the boogeyman. The real monsters go unnoticed in this world. We want our monsters to die terrible deaths. But also, we need them to be loved by being hated unanimously by one nation under God, indivisible with blah, blah, blah. Our father, who art in Gobbledygook in any book anyway, you read it. Comparable to the great leader marching to the church in the middle of a fierce riot to hold the holy Bible up high above the crowd and denounce what they’ve just created. The monsters are the same in every country, in any language; they’re equal in evil. I don’t know what the prime directive in Christianity is about, but it’s not about forgiveness or understanding. 

  • Sorry, a "civil war" ain't coming. Maybe at most some repression which most people will be oblivious to. Now if this depiction was accurate we would indeed be at eachother's throats. But it's mot. First of all a majority of the public is still basically apolitical if they were all that excised they'd be voting in larger numbers. Second only about 20% of the population has any sort of political consciousness, and the activist portion is even smaller. There are your "haters," and they don't really represent anyone except the news media that is obsessed with politics. Third Americans are terminally moderate, nonjudgemental, etc. and there is no judgement unless they are compelled to. So essentially you have two clusters of activists loathing each other but the "hate" pretty much ends there. Oh and really, retroactive anti- racism identifiication is getting pretty stale.

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  • Lots of rambling going on here, but I can't discern an actual coherent message.

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  • Maybe the overarching message is "blame it all on the Christians"? That's the best guess I can hazard.

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