Ethics Quiz: The Looney Tunes Cartoon Disclaimer

Warner Brothers Warning

Above is the disclaimer shown at the beginning of each DVD in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4, Volume 5, and Volume 6 sets, as well as the Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn Looney Tunes Super Stars sets and the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection:

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is the warning that introduces the Warner Brothers classic cartoon videos fair and responsible?

My answer?

“No, it’s obnoxious, insulting, unfair, superfluous, pandering, cowardly, misleading and irresponsible.”

This is a trigger warning, correct?  As such, it is unfair to the writers, artists and performers who made the cartoons, and ensure that viewers will be looking at them immediately from a political perspective rather that as they were designed to be seen, as cartoons. Moreover, whoever the political correctness officer who wrote this is, his or her assessment of what is “wrong” should not be definitive or even relevant. I don’t believe humor deriving from stereotypes is always or necessarily wrong. I think anyone who thinks that a Mexican mouse who is the hero of his cartoons and named Speedy Gonzalez is offensive or racist needs treatment at the National Institute for the Treatment of the Hopelessly Humorless. If you can’t watch the Looney Tunes classics without thinking that Daffy, Elmer, Porky and Sylvester mock speech impediments and that Granny (Tweety’s owner) is disrespectful to seniors and that Foghorn Leghorn stereotypes Southerners, just don’t watch them and let the rest of us laugh.

Why are just cartoons denigrated by this kind arrogant and condescending introduction? Why not “Gone With The Wind,” “Casablanca,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, ” and “Airplane!” (African-American sterotypes!), “McClintock!” and “The Quiet Man” (Spousal abuse!), “The Merchant of Venice” and “Oliver Twist” (Jewish stereotypes!), “Top Hat” and “Holiday Inn” (Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby in blackface!), and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (Sex trafficking!)? Why not “Huckleberry Finn”?

Oh, just wait a while: they political correctness gang will get around to putting the cultural straitjacket on these too.

Thanks but no thanks, Warner Brothers (actually it’s Warner Home Video). I think I can figure out that cartoons more than a half century old are “of their time” (what isn’t of its time?) and don’t need to be told what I can laugh at and what should offend me as an obeisant little progressive social justice warrior.

Still, I see all my Facebook friends are praising this trigger warning to the skies as a model of corporate responsibility, so maybe I’m missing something—hence the quiz.

I doubt it, though.

____________________

Pointer: Becky

63 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Looney Tunes Cartoon Disclaimer

  1. I’m still wondering why these people aren’t upset about Donald Duck’s (and others like him) lack of lower-body clothing. I mean, KIDS are watching this, this bestial pornography! I’m shocked! I mean, if we’re going to get upset about this stuff…

  2. I was raised to hate ducks because of looney toons. They are lazy, clumsy and generally uneducated. But then Scrooge McDuck taught me that ducks can be enterprising and hard working and I learned that the stereotype isn’t true. So I stopped hating ducks.

  3. I am waiting for the list of people who bought this now to be kept and used as blackmail material. “Gov. X is unfit to run for president because they willingly purchased material know to be racist in content. The disclaimer said it was wrong and they did it anyway.” This reminds me of when Sesame Street was treated the same way. We are going to have to buy our cartoons and educational shows with cash in shady back alleys.

    You may think that could not happen, but a major candidate was rejected because his father rented a place for a vacations that some people said had a rock with a word written on it that could be interpreted as a racial slur. I think renting cartoons whose forward SAYS it is wrong is much worse. “They knew there was racist content in there and THEY LAUGHED AT IT.”

  4. How’s this for a disclaimer:

    “These cartoons were from a less morose era, when everyone made fun of everyone else and didn’t care. No one took themselves too seriously as long as they tried to be good people. Enjoy! And if you are offended, let that be an indictment on you!”

    • Pretty much perfect.

      And some day, someone will have the courage to widely release the old “Amos and Andy” TV show episodes, and we will be shocked to realize that the only thing we were “protected” from all these years was being able to appreciate the genius of Tim Moore and the rest of the stellar cast and laugh at their craft. (You can view episodes here, though.)

    • Yes. As a woman I see this tied to the Old Dominion issue. If we cannot laugh, appreciate satire, and in general “get over yourself” then we are in cultural quicksand. Laughing at ourselves implies we can see our own faults. It’s part of mature self-evaluation. Maybe we need to slap everyone on the back and loudly proclaim, “That’s a joke son, a joke” just so they are clear. Now I need to find my Mac and Tosh videotapes and blow the dust off my videotape machine.

    • I look forward to the day when these get re-released with a warning for the warning reading: “The following warning was written in the early 20th century to notify viewers that the cartoons were old and a product of their era, in case they couldn’t figure it out themselves. We left it so that you too can make fun of those sissypants.”

  5. I think trigger warnings are pretty stupid in general. Cartoons do fall in a special category though because they are viewed primarily by children. I personally watch cartoons with my girls because they have constant questions. I feel like this “warning” before the Looney Tunes cartoons is an attempt to replace good parenting. Good parents explain these issues to their kids. I don’t see many youngsters reading this warning and understanding it on their own, so I see it of dubious benefit myself.

    My guess is that the real reason is that WB wants to make money and wants an easy response to any group that complains about the cartoons — “That’s why we have a disclaimer.” This essentially stops any protest in its tracks. So, even if it is stupid, it might be smart business.

    • I think that’s the right analysis, Beth. It’s good business. It’s more important to eliminate risk than to respect the art they are selling, since the harm to them of not doing the latter is minimal, and the artists are dead. Still: yechhhh.

      • I agree with Beth. Even so, it is condescending.

        They could have said the cartoons don’t reflect current societal values. Instead, they say it is wrong now and it is wrong then (because I really care about their moral compass).

        They could have said that they are being presented as they were originally created because to do otherwise would be an Orwellian form of censorship. Instead, they say they are doing it because they don’t want to pretend those prejudices never existed. (like they are doing a public service by reminding us about past prejudices, when, really, all they are doing is trying to make money off of cartoons they know we want to see, but can only do so with an over-abundance of ass-covering).

        This disclaimer could have been done right, but it wasn’t.

        -Jut

    • +1
      When my oldest asks about watching a new cartoon, or one gets added to Netflix, I (or my wife) watch a couple of episodes first to decide if it’s appropriate and what elements may require discussion/clarification. Works great for us, and even at his young age, my kid is very forthcoming on what he’s watching, and even when left alone with the phone won’t click on anything we have not allowed him to (thank God for the little things that make parenting easier!)

  6. I think that if the choices are these trigger warnings (Full disclosure: I think they’re stupid.) and censorship, I’ll still pick the trigger warnings. The people pushing these trigger warnings are the same people who wanted to print versions of Huck Finn omitting the n word. At this point I’ll tolerate stupidity to avoid evil.

    • If.
      I don’t think those are the only choices. We can still insist on integrity and fairness. I think trigger warnings are quasi-censorship. Distorting fair and objective reception of the message is tantamount to distorting the message itself.

      • Jack, you forgot to mention the possible needed trigger warnings before showing “Gone With the Wind” (wherever that movie isn’t already, you know, gone with the wind). I do resent the condescension and arrogance of someone’s imposition of a prelude statement such as “These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.” Crap. They may as well give an e-mail address for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to write to, with a prelude statement that says instead: “If you see anything offensive in the following video, please express your concerns to [address].” What a f-n police state full of weenies-at-the-mercy-of-stupid-control-freaks these we-know-better-than-you-for-your-own-good wannabe tyrants are imagining would be a better society.

          • Ohhh – so, this is domestic Fast and Furious. Instead of guns, videos of Warner Brothers cartoons. Clever girls!

            Thanks for the warning, Michael. I can’t wait to pollute young minds with Bugs and Daffy follies. I’ll send notice to the Commission in advance of my purchase, out of due diligence. You know, so they can verify their list of hate criminals. We wouldn’t want our government agents to make mistakes.

  7. In high school I wrote an op-ed in the student newspaper decrying the censorship of old Looney Tunes cartoons. In that instance, TNT was censoring old cartoons to remove references to drugs and alcohol, which were surprisingly prevalent (and their removal made the cartoons even less sensical). Also, Chuck Jones is a personal hero of mine, and his autobiography Chuck Amuck should be required reading for anyone who works in — or even has a glancing relationship — with art.

    All that said. This warning is fair, well-worded, and an excellent way to present context to material most often encountered by those who need the context most — children. It lets the cartoons stand as they are, without edits, without censorship, and encourages the viewer to consider (again, these are kids, so perhaps for the first time) how art is of its time, but should never be discarded solely for that reason. It stands as both an answer to the right, which too often wants to let past sins go unremarked upon, and to the left, which too often wants to suppress the past entirely as ill-considered to modern sensibilities. Frankly I want to give a medal to whoever came up with this language in their skillful tightrope-walking.

    • I see no “sins” and I don’t approve of a marketing department saying that humor is wrong. As a playwright and a stage director, I know that framing a work of art in any way before the audience can see it is a kick to its gut. Nobody, including kids, should be told what it’s “wrong” to laugh at. Being told that you shouldn’t find this funny before you’ve been able to decide for yourself is unfair to both the audience and the artist. Politics has no business being used to grade cartoons: screw the left and right: this is about an artist’s right to have work viewed without being pre-judged.

      • But that’s done all the time. Museum curators, English teachers, promotional materials, reviews, DVD packaging, “notes on the text”… we hardly ever interact with a work of art without some intermediary having tried to influence our reading of it. That’s not wrong at all. Warner Brothers is engaging in the conversation in a different way than usual, true, but the key is that they are participating in the conversation without unilaterally dictating how it would go (i.e., by cutting or not releasing the cartoons at all).

      • Well — now you’re going out on a limb. Children, by their nature, are horrible little beasts to start. We do instruct them not to laugh at behavior that harms others — like bullying or making fun of people who are different.

        • Also, I appreciate that you (Jack) don’t agree with Warner Brothers’ view of the cartoons, but just because you don’t agree with it that doesn’t make it unethical — just as it wouldn’t be unethical for a reprint of Merchant of Venice to point out that portraying Jews on stage with hooked noses and bright red wigs was perhaps not the best thing to do, and reading Shylock as a tragic figure rather than a comic villain is a relatively recent superposition onto the text.

    • Do you really think kids will read that disclaimer and somehow be educated by it?

      (Hint: No, they won’t. Read it, that is. If they notice it at all, they’ll simply shrug it off as one more of those senseless delays that must be endured before the fun starts.)

      As someone who does it for a living, I can appreciate the disclaimer’s wordsmithing — but it’s a smooth landing at the wrong airport. That statement isn’t there for the kidz. It’s only there so that a few adults can point to it as evidence of their own advanced sensibilities.

      • [Reply to Ing’s Aug 25 at 3:59 pm]
        Bingo on your third paragraph, Ing, with the words “presumed (arrogantly)” preceding “advanced sensibilities.”

    • Without edits is usually deceit for these collections and repacks. Animation fans make catalogs of which shorts have been trimmed in the last 25 years for these ‘complete’ short collections. That list is not short, and often trivial and dumb. The originals could be abrupt, but the many trims for PC take the punch and wit away from shorts that don’t even have major triggers.

  8. It’s also stupid and pathetic. Bugs Bunny (Philly/Brooklyn wiseacre) is one of the all time great American characters) and if you can’t see Foghorn Leghorn in Al Gore, you’re an idiot.

    • I recall my office mates and I of yore agreeing that we saw Fritz, I say, Senator Fritz Hollings in that Foghorn Leghorn character.

  9. I disagree. I’ve seen some of the cartoons so labeled, and they are blatantly racist. They portray Black people as lazy, clumsy, lustful, and stupid – and that’s in comparison to the other cartoon characters! This is especially apparent when there are animals in the cartoon: the animals are treated like people, and the Black people are treated like animals! And then there’s the Japanese, who are all portrayed as hideous and treacherous. I expect my humor to have a better punchline than “Haw haw, foreigners are evil, right?”, but that’s all these cartoons amount to.

    WB are right to not suppress or censor these old cartoons, but they are also right to be ashamed of them. The jokes therein are lazy, xenophobic, and malicious, and the best reason to watch them is to learn what NOT to do.

    • The best reason to watch them is not to “learn” anything. They’re cartoons. Any reasonable person watching Bugs Bunny call a Japanese soldier “slant eyes” would immediately think, “wow, they really didn’t like the Japanese during World War II” which would be a thing that he or she already knows, because he or she is a reasonable person. Then that person would get back to enjoying his or her cartoon.

  10. Jack,
    Companies post disclaimers like this because their interests are commercial, not political, and are hoping to side-step the politics by covering their asses up front. Unfortunately, cultural crusaders like yourself are determined to “save Christmas” from the secular humanists find offense in their trying to avoid offense. Nothing about the warning limits or infringes upon a person’s right to enjoy the cartoons as they were conceived, racial insensitivity and all. So, what exactly is the harm?

    This doesn’t count as political correctness abuse unless the cartoons were censored or banned outright for content. And, in the case of this collection at least, they haven’t been. So, either enjoy your home viewing experience or throw the set in the garbage. Ranting about it, however, only makes it harder for collections like these to come to market as it encourages yet still more people to have an opinion or take sides — encouraging more and more companies to whitewash or try and ignore their past, rather than make it accessible to contemporary viewers.

    Ugh,
    Neil

    PS: This, more than anything else, is what makes you sound like a curmudgeon.

    • No, it’s what makes me sound like an artist, which I am. I just spent 20 years editing out “Director’s notes” in theater programs that tried to explain to audiences what the “concept” was—uh-uh, even the artist himself or herself shouldn’t presume to interfere with a pure take on the work.

      See how many novelists, playwrights, filmmakers, directors and cartoonists you can find who approve of trigger warnings.

      “Ranting about it, however, only makes it harder for collections like these to come to market as it encourages yet still more people to have an opinion or take sides — encouraging more and more companies to whitewash or try and ignore their past, rather than make it accessible to contemporary viewers.”

      I wish I had time to unpack the convoluted ethical fallacies in THAT sentence!

      • Jack,
        There can’t have been ethical fallacies because it wasn’t a statement concerned with ethics. I hereby recuse myself from any and all ethical considerations in regard to this matter.

        Companies think with their bottom lines, and the more convoluted they become, the less likely they are to mess with it.

        I don’t know how to tell you this, but it doesn’t MATTER what the artist thinks in this case. They central to the creation of a work, but not the enjoyment that follows. However their work is interpreted after the fact takes precedence to whatever the original intent was. Artists may hate trigger warnings, but consumers don’t (and they’re the ones buying these things), which is why they keep popping up. This isn’t even a heckler’s veto; it’s market pressure.

        As for anyone who doesn’t like it: tough. Find a distributor overseas whose less concerned with such things, download them illegally, or go without. There’s no “right” to watch Looney Tunes and, in the same way that Warner Brothers was completely within their right to produce them with whatever message they wanted, they have the same right to now attach a viewer warning.

  11. Jack:

    The disclaimer is idiotic and pandering to cultural weenies. There is absolutely no justification for that type of content restriction or trigger warning. What’s next,20th Century Fox should put out a disclaimer that “The Simpsons” were and do not represent lower middle class mid western Whites? While not government censorship, it is societal and cultural sterilization and sanitation.

    As luck would have it, I recently read both “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” to our son (he was five or six at the time) and I was dismayed that they books already contain trigger warnings and content disclaimers. At the first mention of the dreaded “N-word!, there is a footnote, and the only footnote in the texts, apologizing for the use of such an inflammatory word. The editors, publishers, and culture warriors declared that, while they unanimously found the dreaded word offensive (and quite possibly the singularly most offensive word in the entire history of the English language), they would keep the word in the texts because it was important to show how people talked ‘back then’, that understanding that use of the word was commonplace, and as such, was important to the cultural references in the stories as well as dialogue and dialect. They seemed to miss the point in the stories: Tom Sawyer was the adventurer, the glory seeker, the rogue; but Huck Finn was the greater of the heroes because he, an uneducated and uncivilized cretin, had more principles than any of the high society characters combined. Huck Finn thought that stealing a person’s slave was wrong but that having a slave was even more morally unjustified and indefensible. Huck Finn thought that if the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal”, and setting Jim free was stealing, then Huck was willing to lose his soul for Jim’s sake.

    I wonder

  12. Since these are DVD’s, there should be an option to watch with censor’s commentary, the only problem being that every few months you’d have to send away for replacement copies with newly discovered outrage.

  13. I’ve started and deleted so many comments that I’m really doubting my ability to add anything beneficial or coherent. Fingers crossed.

    I’m a parent of a 4 year old. I grew up in the 80s. If you asked me about the Looney Tunes I watched, I would tell you that there was never ever any racism or stereotypes. I don’t know if that’s because of poor comprehension / memory or because the cartoons I watched on TV were edited.

    So, now that I’m older and want my 4-year old to watch what I did as a kid, I go out and buy (from the kids section in a store) a DVD collection of classic Looney Tunes shows that Warner has now decided to have the integrity to stick to the original artists’ intent.

    Is it more helpful or less helpful, as a parent making viewing decisions for my 4-yr old, to have that warning? I thought I knew what I was buying because of my childhood experiences, but this warning gives me caution and perspective.

    Without the warning, I would question why it was in the “kids” section of the store. Why Warner felt the need to derive further profit off of racist propaganda. Without the warning we’d still be asking the same questions but thinking we could make a change, that it was an oversight by Warner, and what do they think? Then somebody suggests that they should edit the videos or not release them at all, that a warning isn’t enough.

    What they put as a “warning” is appropriate and honest. It also means they’ve taken a stand and they’re telling everyone their stance on the subject.

    Finally, above all, commercial expediency. It’s a variation of political expediency. If you produce these videos for distribution and you get 10,000 angry emails and a firestorm of internet fauxrage and then need to hire 2 additional customer relations interns to defend yourself and say what you would otherwise say in a 4 sentence warning, then I say you just put the 4 sentence warning on the video and see if 1) lot’s of Jack’s facebook friends are complimentary to your company and your company’s foresight to the issue of packaging racist propaganda as a kids program being sold for profit, and 2) if you can reduce the 10,000 angry emails to 50 angry emails and not have to hire those interns.

    • I’ve heard that cartoons from that era were actually made for teens and adults, not kids. I assume that’s true, since there were so many war-related ones.

      I watched a DVD full of classic Mickey Mouse cartoons once that had a video disclaimer that seemed much more reasonable and less like a socialist condemnation of “harmful opinions.” It simply said that some of the things the characters do in these videos may seem surprising to see in a cartoon today, and that’s basically because these cartoons are really old and things were different then.

      (Off topic a bit, and has nothing to do with your comment, but anyone who takes the idea of “trigger warnings” even remotely seriously is dangerously dimwitted and there should be literal kids’ tables for them to sit at at all times when grownups are talking. You can call them “safe spaces” and they will willingly sit at them.)

  14. Has America lost it’s sense of humor thanks to these pc types? “I am offended” is the mark of a snarky liberal. I really doubt anybody South of border would have their feelings hurt watching reruns of Speedy Gonzales. Pat Boone even wrote a song about the character which was kind of dull but only dunderheads would think it was racist.

    • I just heard the song again this week. It’s not racist, but it surely a collection of every Mexican stereotype in existance, and is pretty much musical mockery. Mel Blanc, the voice of the cartoon Speedy, has interjections, like the human Speedy telling his wife that they’re giving out green stamps with tequila at the Cantina. Pat sings, in the voice of the Mrs. Speedy, that they’re out of frozen enchiladas in the adobe and the its crawling with cockroaches.

      It’s pretty insulting, a lot worse that any cartoons.

      • Coming from the landscape industry, our company is about 85% mexican. 75% straight from Mexico. They love both the song and the cartoon.

        They are too busy trying to make good families and provide for them than to be offended over humor.

          • Pretty sure, I’m sure there’s some who could be offended, but though it may be a stretch, I’d equate the average family culture of our Mexican workers to be somewhat equitable to the average family culture of American laborers 1920-1950 (a notion I think George Friedman at Stratfor may have sympathy with if I read his book “The Next 100 Years” correctly). And I love it.

            They range from 19-30s with crew leaders who are 40ish with one outlier in his early 50s.

            • One of the landscapers that I share the building I work out of with told me that we should build the wall between the US and Mexico. When I said Really? He replied “of course, we Mexicans could use the work, whose going to build it? You white people? ”

              I nearly spit my coffee I was laughing so hard.

  15. Firstly, this warning is apt for a small minority of cartoons that were overtly racist even in their era. If these episodes are included, good for them! They usually never see the light of syndication.

    Secondly, have you ever actually read the FBI warning more than once? These flick by and nobody cares. Still, poisoning the well for a small minority of cartoons is probably unneeded.

  16. The funny thing is that the good classic cartoons were written and produced by adults for adults. That’s what made watching them as a kid on TV in the ’50s and ’60s so much fun. They were done as lead ins to movies to be shown in theaters. They weren’t done for kids to watch on Saturday morning (or, gasp, before going to school during the week).

    And then “Rocky and Bullwinkle” came along as a kids’ show but it was clearly very grown up humor. All the puns. “Out of Gas in Moscow” or “Fuels Rush In.” Boris Badinov and Natasha Nogoodnik? “Moose and squirrel must die!” Incredibly anti-Slavic but so was everyone’s favorite Ukrainian Stalinist thug pounding with his shoe on a table at the U.N. shouting ‘We will bury you.’

    If you want to get depressed, watch the kids’ shows being produced today. All the horrid Disney shows with smarmy, smutty teeny boppers making incredibly sexual jokes about each other. Or for that matter, watch “Grease” sometime. It’s incredibly unsuitable for pre-teens to watch. In any event, today’s run of the mill cartoons are brain rotting (excepting “Toy Story” and “Cars” and the work those people are putting out).

  17. Relevant story: I perform music, and not long ago we were doing an outdoor event on an Apache reservation. I spent some time reading the reservation’s official online newspaper before going, to get an idea of the culture and mindset there. Based on the articles I read, they seemed VERY angry and sensitive about any and all Native American stereotypes, including Indian Halloween costumes, etc.

    I was a little anxious about this and made sure to let everyone on our team know not to do or say ANYTHING that could be taken as disrespectful or stereotypical, out of respect for our hosts.

    Our DJ setup (for in between sets, etc.) included the song “Apache” by Sugar Hill Gang, which is one of my favorite old school songs. The lyrics of the actual verses are full of Native American stereotypes. “My medicine man said get those squaws just as fast as you can…” etc., So yeah, obviously we cut that song right out of the playlist.

    We did some promo at the rez’s radio station, and the DJ/manager there was also at the event. I was telling him about how we cut the song, and he told me, “Oh, you should have played it. Everybody loves that song. We play it on the radio here all the time.”

    Moral (which everybody already probably knows): The type of people who become bloggers and “activists” (the quotes are important) are generally WAY more into being offended and outraged than the average, well-adjusted person. There are reasons for this involving echo chambers, women’s-study programs, and people with worthless college majors needing to justify their educations…but you know.

  18. I am a longtime entrenched, incurable fanatic for ragtime. The original hey-day for the music was the 1880’s to about 1920, so I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that along, with the thousands of compositions I had to chose from, a great deal – many hundreds, another thousand? – of pieces were lost. What did surprise me, however, was that most of those pages were “lost” deliberately, starting even before today’s powerful revival began in the 1950s and “went viral,” (when computers were still science fiction to the general public, and viruses were still organic), when The Sting was released in 1973 with the catchy classic rags of Scott Joplin for a soundtrack.

    It was a pop step-child of ragtime called “Coon Songs” — how’s that for “offensive?” — that both began and ended in the middle of the original ragtime era, that made it all the way from (practically) everybody’s home piano to success on Broadway in dozens of all-Black productions. There was no other name for them, then or now: the word “coon” was usually in the title. The Coon Songs WERE racist (in spite of having black composers and artists), the pictures and lyrics WERE offensive, and they were not (obviously) the deathless melodies that arose out of much of ragtime itself … but they held a population in this country and in many parts of Western Europe in thrall for at least 15 years

    Before reproduction there was notation. In order to sell the notation to practically every household that had a piano, there was an illustrated cover on each piece of sheet music. And lyrics running between the upper and lower staffs. And, worst of all, titles. Coon songs were composed by black and white alike, performed by black as well as black-faced actors.

    They didn’t all perish out of sudden shame. There were fig leaves to wear. Some were republished with new titles on the cover (and aliases for the composers), some with the lyrics altered, others with the parent tunes disguised in “versions” such as Mister Johnson or just shorn of lyric altogether and presented as instrumentals, like Shave ’em Dry … People are more familiar with some pre-rag — pre-copyright! — folk & country songs (and children’s music): the 180-year-old Old Zip Coon that transitioned multiple times into Turkey in the Straw, word alterations in Li’l Liza Jane and Old Dan Tucker, Dixieland and Bluegrass standbys, that made these syncopated tunes into perennial survivors acceptable to Decent Folk. But the pop songs of Then (the randier rap of Now) were shut down around the time we went marching off to the War To End All Wars. Ragtime already had a reputation for being fast, literally and otherwise, so there was nothing to do but leave the Coon tunes behind and pretend thereafter, that it was pretty much instrumental.

    The sheet music is still around, though (mysteriously, paper, you know, can last longer than metal) an integral albeit unintegrated part of American social history as well as being the “original” original all-American music. It is traded and played and even framed to be hung on private walls by people who love the music and who know their history, who are neither necessarily racist nor politically correct, who cross all class and. most recently, age lines. But they know better than to display it except where other fans and collectors collide. You can Google “Coon Songs” on YouTube and get dubious information and, as usual, the most extreme (i.e., offensive) examples to be found. If you’re curious beyond the ugly examples online — we fanatics take our syncopation very seriously — check out the seminar (no test/no grade) of a ragtime historian, enthusiast, composer and Denver radio host, Jack Rummel. It starts off with a disclaimer that does indeed include the word “offensive” and which his audience took to be a joke. While you’re watching (it’s audio and slide show plus full transcript below) think about whether it’s ethical or not to be watching something soooo unethical that its own creators destroyed it.
    http://www.westcoastragtime.com/seminars/2012_seminars/jack-rummel/skeleton-in-ragtime's-closet_legacy.htm

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