I’m Matt Groening. Stereotypes in cartoons

Luigi, the Italian cook

Luigi, the Italian cook

Christmas of 1989 is coming, is a little bit more than a month that the opening of the border between Eastern and Western Germany – plus the demolition of the Berlin Wall – declared the end of communism. Way more important, a tv series begins, and it will be the real revolution of the year, it’ll change the manner to create and develop cartoons: with the Christmas episode Simpsons roasting on an open fire starts the saga of the most famous American family, by the genius of Matt Groening.

The animation loses its stars and stripes moral office in which there’s a main character fighting against the villain, whether is Micky Mouse vs Peg Leg Pete or Superman vs Lex Luthor, in a dichotomy good vs evil heritage of the Cold War. The representation is now a (mor or less) mirror of the new society, relating with characters go beyond their positive qualities. Homer is full of flaws, lazy, ignorant, alcohol addicted and careless father, but how can you not love him? Because he’s good, deep down.

The antihero is a thousand years old, is not what The Simpsons changed. But they brought on screen a fresh structure, totally disrespectful for that period, and based on stereotypes. First of all against Americans themselves, Homer and Marge can be the average middle U.S. small town citizens, like all the other characters of the show. From the rich and ruthless Mr. Burns to the unqualified chief ot the police Wiggum, to the ethnic stereotypes, not fully evolved yet. Anyway, the Italians are one cook (Luigi) and a mob guy (Fat Tony), they rip a bit on Judaism (Krusty the Klown) and Hindus (Apu) too, using the main features.

The following series like South Park and Family Guy brought the game overboard. If in the early 90’s the Simpsons were considered radicals was because they were the first to relate with the audience that way. Now they might even look dated, but there are no doubts on the credits: they paved the way to the others, they’ve been the prototype of a biting humour.

Family Guy, is no secret, replays The Simpsons diagram. Fat, uncultured husband, attractive wife, three kids, the last one just an infant, even if Stewie Griffin attempts to dominate the world while MeggieSimpson is a regular one. But It’s the use of stereotypes, especially ethnic ones, has grown exponentially. And the pillar of the plot of many episodes and most of the gags.

South Park, Museum of Tolerance: the stereotype of muslim terrorists

South Park, Museum of Tolerance: the stereotype of muslim terrorists

One of the first examples was about Asian women, two categories which , they say, are better off the wheels. A woman with an Asian accent cut through lanes to avoid traffic, causing quick-fire accidents. Part of the success of Family Guy is due to being politically incorrect, which also was it’s curse. The show was shut down for years, between 2002 to 2005. Blacks and Jews are also on the list too, very often. The first ones as potential criminals, the others for the proverbial greed.

Offensive? Not at all. Not if you know what’s behind the final product. Most of the writers are Jewish themselves, the creator Seth MacFarlane is an activist of the Democrats for the rights of the minorities and the homosexuals – who are also on the roost. So, a show which can adapts itself on trend topics, from Islamic terrorism to gay marriages. No surprise the Nyc rapper Q-Unique, speaking about media misinformation, said in a line “I get more truth when I watch out Family Guy”.

Even South Park waves stereotypes like a flag. In season 6, episode 14 (Death camp of tolerance), the protagonist kids are forced to attend a camp to learn the value of tolerance. They complained of the extreme actions of their homosexual teacher, Mr. Garrison, who acted on purpose in a not proper way to get fired and get a millionaire compensation. And right before getting in the camp they were led in a visit of the Museum of Tolerance, with the greedy Jew on wax, as well as the black guy with chicken and watermelon and a Chinese with a calculator. Because stereotypes are not only negative. The very next episode, City Sushy, the restaurant war between a Japanese and a (fake) Chinese ends with the suicide of the first one, who yells, while falling down a tower with a katana on his stomach, “nooo, that’s racial stereotype!”.

South Park, a lesson to explain differences between China and Japan

South Park, a lesson to explain differences between China and Japan

Gays, muslims, fatsos, Asians, rich men, poor men, Italians, black men, rednecks, Mexicans, nobody is safe from the virtual blade of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, not even Canadians or vegetarians, among the most pacifist and harmless. Everybody except one: Muhamad. In Cartoon Wars (season 10, episodes 3 and 4) the prophet of Islam is protected by a special goo which makes him immune to sarcasm and satire. But that’s irony too, if you think about it.

That could lead to a conclusion, a thread which resumes the point and maybe teaches something. But there’s not, as each one got his own ideas. Maybe everything is laughable, like Umberto Eco (and Aristotle!) suggested in The name of the rose, sadly an argument again after the terrorist attack of January 2015 against Charlie Hebdo. So what, I’m Matt Groening, Seth MacFarlane, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.



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