From The “Just Tell Me The Rules” Files: Are Alvin And The Chipmunks Racist?

The song you hear above was the brainchild of Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian, a cousin of author and playwright William Saroyan. He performed under the stage name of Dave Seville, and using that name, had a novelty hit in 1958 with “I Told the Witch Doctor.” The song introduced the gimmick of speeding up a human voice to sound high pitched and funny, as with helium. The singing “witch doctor” (it was, of course, “Seville” himself) was returned to vinyl later in the same year as a chipmunk, actually three chipmunks, in a Christmas novelty song, “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” That hit, in turn, spawned sequels, eventually an animated TV series, and finally, two movies.

By current woke standards, having a “witch doctor”—generally thought of as a black member of a primitive African tribe—sounding silly and singing gibberish like “Ooh ee ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang, ooh ee ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bang bang” is racially demeaning (rather than what uninfected people would call “silly and harmless”) bordering on racist.

Is it? That doesn’t matter: if the Woke say it’s racist, then it is, at least sufficiently to intimidate anyone out of testing the Grievance Mob by performing or playing it. But by the rules as I understand them, a performer who sang a “racist” song at any point in their career is, by definition, racist. That means song-writer Ross Bagdassarian was racist (and that his immortal alter-ego, Chipmunks manager Dave Seville, is racist), which means Alvin, Simon and Theodore are also racist, since not only did their real voice (Bagdassarian) sing the “Witch Doctor” song, he sang it as a chipmunk—we just didn’t know it was a chipmunk then.

Doesn’t that make Alvin and the Chipmunks racist by definition? I’m asking for clarification here. If we are going to have absurd, retroactively enforced political correctness rules, they should at least be consistent.

23 thoughts on “From The “Just Tell Me The Rules” Files: Are Alvin And The Chipmunks Racist?

  1. But Jack, consistency boxes you into a corner. Besides, I was pretty sure the rules are as follows:

    1. The rules are whatever I say they are in order for me to win and/or for you to lose.
    2. For any complaints about double-standards, inconsistencies, hypocrisy, or unintelligibility, please see #1.

    • It’s like in that 3-part epi of law and order in which the characters have to pursue a suspect to California and battle in L.A. County Superior Court to get him extradited back to NY. The suspect’s lawyer plays golf with the judge, who ignores an obvious precedent to rule against extradition. When ADA Jack McCoy protests that that’s not what the precedent says, the suspect’s lawyer sneers to him “it says whatever the judge interprets it to say.”

  2. I see your confusion. You missed the most important part of the racist nature of that song, aside from the obvious slight against animist religious practices and human transpeciesists ridiculing animals.

    See, there is a theory that Western music, based on European musical tradition is inherently racist because Western musical ignores or dismisses other cultures’ musical styles. This song is a perfect example of white supremacy because the song’s chord structure uses a typical I, IV, V (or major, subdominant, and dominant) chord pattern, which really is a problem because it appropriates the blues song structure, which we all know comes directly from slaves on plantations singing songs with hidden messages about toiling in the hot sun for no wages for a brutal slavedriver who wanted nothing more than to kill the male slaves and “have his way” with the females.

    Here, that song, not only insulting the blues musical tradition by employing its chord structure, is played a break-neck speed using nonsensical vocalizations clearly meant to diminish the contributions of the late Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Then, the composer adds insult to injury by deviating from the blues tradition by modulating in the Circle of Fifths, which everyone knows is common in racist Western musical trick. Therefore, Bagdasarian is a racist and anyone associated with him is and was a racist. I never met the man but, considering that I was amused by it in the early 1960s, I have participated in white supremacy by inadvertently displaying white privilege.

    jvb

    • See, there is a theory that Western music, based on European musical tradition is inherently racist because Western musical ignores or dismisses other cultures’ musical styles.

      On the other hand, if Western music didn’t ignore or dismiss other musical styles, then it would be racist because of imperialism, colonialism, and cultural appropriation.

      Heads I win, tails you lose.

  3. What about the purple people eater? As I would also racist or not because there are no purple people

    • In the absence of evidence that there never have been a race of purple people, or a group who was racially and cruelly stereotyped as “purple,” we must assume that such a tribe did exist, before being wiped out by racists (known as purple people eaters, who succeeded in devouring and destroying all traces of their civilization.) Further, the song expresses the desire to go on and subsume forms of music not native to the eaters’ culture, so they seek to continue their reign of terror on a cultural scale. Verdict? Racist. And so are you for asking the question. And so am I for answering.

      • Don’t forget that the Purple People Eaters were one-horned, one-eyed, and could fly (although they probably didn’t fly very well because of impaired depth perception) so they have their own identity niche.

        • And don’t forget “hairy”, Jim! Which is completely natural, but the purple women were clearly forced to shave & wax w/primitive devices to satisfy the ugly, superficial needs of the dastardly men in charge. And since feminists had not yet come to their rescue,
          their newly regulated hairlessness contributed to the denigration, demoralization, & downfall of this tribe.

        • That song was sung by Sheb Wooley, who is best known today as the actor who played the HS principal who hired Gene Hackman in “Hoosiers” Sheb was in a lot of TV Westerns, too. And the “Witch doctor” voice made a brief cameo in “Purple People,” saying “Tequila!” at the end…

  4. That period (1960 +/- a year or so) had its fair share of songs that would be ethnically “problematic these days. A few others:
    Mr. Custer
    Ahab the Arab
    Running Bear

    Surprisingly, I’ve heard nos. 1 & 3 fairly recently while flipping through cable service music channels.

    We might need to be told the rules for this one:
    https://www.songfacts.com/facts/kyu-sakamoto/sukiyaki
    A song by a Japanese artist, sung in Japanese, but re-titled “Sukiyaki” as a hit in the U.S.

    • Pat Boone talked about that one on his Sirius 50’s show recently. The real title was “Ue o Muite Arukō”, and the marketing decision was made to come up with an easily remembered and pronounceable Japanese word. It worked; it became one of the best selling world singles. I’m sure the singer didn’t mind.

      I remember it well.

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