Sunday, February 11, 2018

Are Mickey Mouse's spats and gloves racist? The argument against.

I love Ty Templeton's comics, but I think he and the people he's siding with are wrong about Mickey Mouse's spats and gloves coming from the minstrel tradition.

Here's the comic: The Gloves are Off Bun Toons!

And here's the condensed version of my argument in the comments:

1. Mickey Mouse was created in 1928. One year earlier, Cole Porter wrote Puttin' On the Ritz, which opens:
Have you seen the well-to-do, up and down Park Avenue
On that famous thoroughfare, with their noses in the air
High hats and Arrow collars, white spats and lots of dollars
Spending every dime, for a wonderful time
Spats were popular for a decade after Mickey was created.

2. When Mickey first appeared, he did not wear shoes or gloves. Walt Disney claims,
We didn’t want him to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves. Five Fingers looked like too much on such a little figure, so we took one away. That was just one less finger to animate.
Now, it's possible Disney was revising his past when he said that. The man was antisemitic, he refused to hire women for years, and the kindest thing you can say about Song of the South is that it has some great songs and a remarkably clueless approach to the portrayal of black folks.

But if you look at the earliest appearances of Mickey in black and white films, you should notice that his hands are less distinct than in the later ones with the white gloves. Once the gloves were established, the studio kept them.

You can see how Mickey evolved at Mickey Mouse Through the Years.

3. I haven't found Mickey's first appearance in spats. He only seems to wear them when he has an occasion to dress up. But I can say this: if Mickey was created to make fun of black people, the problem is greater than gloves and spats.


4. In early cartoons, black characters spoke in an extreme southern black dialect. Mickey Mouse did not.

5. Mickey, from his first appearance, was remarkably scrappy and clever. If he was intended to be black, he should be seen as more admirable, not less.


From Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks. Steamboat Willie. 1928 | MoMA:
So strong was the audience demand for Steamboat Willie that two weeks after its premiere Disney re-released it at the largest theater in the world, the Roxy in New York City. Critics came to see in Mickey Mouse a blend of Charlie Chaplin in his championing of the underdog, Douglas Fairbanks in his rascally adventurous spirit, and Fred Astaire in his grace and freedom from gravity's laws.

Steamboat Willie

Fred Astaire - Puttin' On The Ritz from Evgeny Demchenko on Vimeo.

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