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[Detail] Krazy Kat goes a-wooing. 1916.

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: Ethnicity in Animated Films

Media often reflects and influences the culture in which it appears. Political cartoons and animated films in particular, rely upon common stereotypes and caricatures to convey an idea in a limited amount of space. A number of films in this collection depict various classes and ethnicities in different lights. Please note that when viewing these works, it is important to keep in mind the cultural climate in which these films first appeared.

The Katzenjammer Kids film, Policy and Pie (1918), focuses on the adventures of a German-immigrant family while a caricature of an Irishman appears at the end of the film, Fun in a Bakery Shop (1902). The Irish are also represented in the film, The Phable of a Busted Romance (1916), when a workman named Dennis O'Shay returns a purse to its wealthy owner. He imagines possible rewards before receiving a Canadian dime for his effort.

A white and black boy standing in front of a barn.

Bobby Bump and his black companion in Bobby Bump Starts a Lodge.

The collection's only representation of African Americans occurs in Bobby Bump Starts a Lodge (1916). Bobby offers to initiate his black friend into a club but sets him up for a goat to hit him from behind. The boy turns around to stop what he thinks will be a paddle and butts heads with the goat--only to knock the goat unconscious. Bobby chases his friend into the woods until they run into a bear. The black child saves Bobby after he promises to let him into the lodge. The boys plan to be initiated into their lodge by submitting to being hit by the goat. When the goat approaches them, however, both children jump out of the way.

  • What do you think that Bobby Bump Starts a Lodge (1916) implies about race relations in the early-twentieth century? What does the film imply about exclusive clubs?
  • What is the significance of the animator's use of children to discuss race relations at a time when the segregation of African Americans was still in effect? Do you think that social expectations (and segregation) were different for children and adults?
  • How do the films featuring German Americans and Irish Americans reflect the social standing of these ethnic groups in the early-twentieth century?
  • What do you think is the tone and intent of these depictions?
  • How do you think that audiences might have responded to these depictions?
  • Why might social and racial tensions have been such a popular topic for humor?