Love and Theft Ruins Mickey Mouse for Me

Oh, y’all, it’s so good, Love and Theft, if a little too much a product of its time in ways that are regretful. But my mind, she is blown. Anyway, I’m still hung up on how minstrelsy became… I guess I want to say…. repressed in our cultural imagination. So, I was looking on YouTube for minstrel performances to see if I could see what I was trying to understand. It lead me to racist cartoons.

Now, I’d like to show you two of them. Let me reiterate that they are racist. I mean, just motherfucking racist, no denying, no equivocating. Just as racist as they come.

This is the first one I saw that started to give me an uneasy feeling of “Wait, I’ve never seen this, but this is familiar.”

Something about the shapes of the people’s heads, the way their jaws and mouths are rendered just reminded me of Disney characters. This is from Universal, directed by Walter Lantz, best known for Woody Woodpecker. And it’s in color. So, wrong studio and too late to be an influence on Mickey Mouse. But it still gave me the WTF?s.

Then there’s this one:

And there’s a mouse looking for all the world like Mickey. That film, “Dixie Days,” was made in 1930, so it’s younger than “Steamboat Willie.” But it’s hard to watch “Steamboat Willie” after seeing these and not wonder if something that would have been readily apparent to Mickey’s audience in 1928.

So, down the rabbit hole I went (speaking of rabbits, let’s not even talk about Bugs Bunny) and here’s what I found. According to Wikipedia, Walt Disney got the idea for “Steamboat Willie” after watching The Jazz Singer. If you want a good appreciation for how woozy Love and Theft can make you, just follow that thread. Al Jolson, a Russian-born Jewish guy who both performed in blackface and was an ardent advocate for desegregating the Broadway stage performed in Champaign, Illinois, where Samson Raphaelson saw him. Raphaelson goes on to write the play “The Jazz Singer” which is later adapted into a movie. In which Jolson stars. Since the movie is a loose adaptation of Jolson’s life, the movie is about a blackface performer. Walt Disney sees the movie and it inspires him to go home and create “Steamboat Willie.” And two years later, there’s “Dixie Days,” in which a mouse that is, for all practical purposes Mickey is also a black stereotype (Mickey will go in blackface three years after that, in a short also having to do with Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

So, the question I have is this: If Mickey was inspired by blackface and if he inspires what we might consider cartoon blackface (white cartoonists presenting black stereotypes to us for our amusement) and he participates in literal blackface in the 30s, would it have been obvious to viewers of “Steamboat Willie” that Mickey Mouse was coded “black”? Even in the absence of stereotypes we now recognize?

Does this question make sense? I just wonder, after spending an evening watching these old cartoons if it doesn’t ping us as invoking the same kind of performative “blackness” as minstrelsy until there are lazy people and Mammies and someone’s eating a watermelon and “Way Down Upon the Suwanee River” is playing in the background as a riverboat gently paddles by, but all an audience in 1928 would have needed to see to know that was what was being invoked was a black body (or more) and a riverboat and a rural setting.

If so, I’m going to have to revise my belief that minstrelsy is being repressed out of some embarrassment about corniness and instead wonder whether what happened is that there used to be a whole wide vocabulary–visual and aural (both musically and just how people were supposed to sound)–that evoked minstrelsy and, even as people clamped down on the stuff that was undeniably racist and objected to it, the stuff that was deniably racist just got uncoupled from it and kept.

We pretend to have forgotten about minstrelsy in this scenario not out of embarrassment, but because then we can keep what we love that has roots in that ground without controversy.

The Mouse is just The Mouse.

Duck Dynasty

This is an insightful look at why Duck Dynasty is so good. I’m glad she brought up the faith part, too, because there’s something, I think, really charming and nice about seeing people whose faith is obviously important to them acting it out in their daily lives without wielding it as a weapon against others or even making a big deal out of it.

I also think they do a good job of letting the young kids participate without overburdening them with making them individual stars. There are a ton of kids. It’s not always clear who belongs to whom. They’re not always named.

And I like it because I like seeing a large family dynamic on TV. Lots of people live in large extended families that are important to them. You don’t see a lot of that on TV.


I’m feeling blah about gardening this year. Partially because I still feel uncertain about my shoulder–it’s fine, I’m just ultra-paranoid about fucking it up again. And partially I guess just because I’m feeling blah about it. So, I have small goals.

1. Replant the hollyhocks where the neighbors’ dogs tore them up last year in front of the shed.

2. Try again to get something going on in the sunny part of the big bed.

3. The usual morning glories around the bottle tree.

4. Cut down all the minor privet all over my beds.

5. Move the rose.

Every year after I lived here a year, I have wanted to move the rose that’s near the Butcher’s bedroom window. And every year, I let someone talk me out of it. I want to move it because it doesn’t get enough sunlight there, but either the Butcher or my dad will be all “But The Butcher/I could just cut back those shrubs” and I say, “Fine, if that’s really going to happen” and it never does. And then every year, the rose gets a bunch of leaves and one blossom. And the blossom is always right in the one tiny bit of sunlight that corner of the yard gets. Then the bagworms eat it (which is weird, because the bag worms are always closer to the tea roses, but not interested in them at all).

And it could be that the rose is just a million years old and is on the way out. But I don’t think I’m wrong. How confident am I? I’m planning on sticking some astilbe there instead. Because that spot no longer gets the afternoon sun you know that rose longs to bake in.

6. Then, obviously–plant astilbe where the rose used to be.

7. Dig up all the weeds in the old fountain and replant with something–haven’t decided what. Usually I grow strawberries there, but I can’t eat them and the Butcher doesn’t, so it just ends up going to the birds. But I need something that spreads like strawberries do to suffocate all the weeds that grow from the seeds the birds drop when they come to the fountain to bathe in the upper portion. I’d like something that flowers. Which I think just means a clematis. But I wouldn’t call that spot full sun. More like partial shade. So… I don’t know. I turn to you, internet gardeners.

8. Reset the walkway through the big bed.

9. Try some lily-of-the-valley again. Though I don’t know where. Though I guess I should also watch to see if the ones I planted last year decide to come up this year. I don’t know how I’m fucking up, but every year, I plant lily-of-the-valley and it never comes up.

And then just weed like it’s going out of style. Like it’s the most depressing task known to man. Which it is.