domingo, 18 de junio de 2017

ON STEREOTYPES

They're peanuts covered in chocolate. At first, there were only dark ones, and their mascots wore hula skirts and were armed with flint spears --not to mention the thick lips--. Their name? Conguitos. Which obviously comes from the place name Congo.



But the white Conguitos that appeared in the early 2000s gave a Copernican turn to the history of the brand, breaking the racial stereotype; first both white and dark Conguitos had thick red lips, now neither kind of Conguitos has this feature. Anyway, no matter the size of their lips, they're all completely unarmed, coming in peace, ever since the white ones appeared.



In a similar vein, the "Negritos del África tropical" that had been the mascots of Cola Cao ever since the drinking chocolate brand's inception became, in the same decade, a crew of space aliens (Los Kao Kao) that represented the various nutrients (iron, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A...) present in the product. No aliens from other star systems have been harmed psychologically by characters like Ferki, iron personified:





In the Germanosphere, similarly, a third chocolate mascot, the Sub-Saharan Muslim Sarotti Moor, has become the golden-skinned, but still Middle-Eastern, Sarotti Mage. No one has complained about the phototype lift, in spite of the turban and pointy slippers being retained.

 

Sarotti Mage (on the left) and Moor (on the right).

There is a film from postbellum Spain, script written by the Generalísimo himself, which bears the title of Raza (Race).
Nowadays, this is a four-letter word for a concept dismissed as total balderdash.
The climax of Raza, of which previous scenes had been set in Barcelona and Bilbao, takes place during the Battle of the Ebro, right before the downfall of the Valencia Region in general and the Castellón Province in particular (shudders). All the lead characters are rightist, while the leftists are portrayed as the bad guys unless they make a right turn (a dentist with «un pasado malo de izquierdismo» lo cual le dio «influencia en aquella sociedad corrompida» [sic]). The leftists defeated at the Ebro are "HOLLOW men" («hombres huecos»). Vae victis! Demonizing the wicked enemy to revel in the victory over them is nothing new under the sun; it's existed for as long as there's warfare.
But we hadn't been conscious of the labels attached to ideologies, religions, ethnic groups... and their negative innuendo before the countercultural revolution of the late 60s.
Victorian fairytales may be the perfect example. To put the most well-known example, the Pickaninny tribe of Neverland has recently been whitewashed over and over again (being portrayed as Caucasians in the latest Pan film): as early as in the 50s Disney film, the Pickaninnies were still so-called redskins, ie racist caricatures of the Sioux and other prairie First Nations tribes (lyrics of their crowd song even suggesting that the first Pickaninny prince turned red, a trait which has been passed to his descendants, due to an awkward crush blush while kissing his bride; and that the term "ugh" came to be when that first leader of the tribe saw his mother in law!)... More redskins appear in the Pecos Bill Texan legends as told by Disney; this time their warpaint runs off as the cowboy chases them, colouring the Painted Desert.
Oscar Wilde's fairytales also offer caricatures of, for instance:

"the old Jews bargaining with each other, and weighing out money in copper scales."

As if the only thing for Jews was greed, and similarly, that Negroes (Sub-Saharans) are prone to quarrel over glass beads:

"The negroes chattered to each other, and began to quarrel over a string of bright beads."

Hollow leftists, Jews bargaining with each other and weighing out money, negroes quarrelling over a string of bright beads. Add foppish gay men and butch lesbians. Nowadays, we frown at the sole thought of such stereotypical caricatures. The concept of human races is outdated. But in fiction from before the countercultural revolution, such stereotypes appear like mushrooms. 


A Croatian lieutenant who took to writing and illustrating storybooks after the Great War (trading the sword for the pen like many others), considered one of the Great Ones of Austrian children's literature, Franz Karl Ginzkey is most renowned for Hatschi Bratschis Luftballon (Hadji Bradji's Hot-Air Balloon), about the all-Austrian boy Fritz whisked away by a malignant and turbaned Turk skilled in sorcery (similar to the Jafar and the evil jinni of 1001 Nights), the titular villain, by means of the titular montgolfière. Turks, that even besieged Vienna more than once, had always been demonised by Austrians. More than Croats, Hungarians, or any other outgroup within the Habsburg Empire. The story ends with Fritz freeing all of Hadji Bradji's European child prisoners from his dungeons, slaying the sorcerer, and returning in triumph home to Austria, followed by all the children he's freed.

As time has gone by since the Roaring Twenties, the titular villain has been regularly less and less Orientalised, his home country changed from Turkey to some Morningland (Morgenland) in the Middle East, and nowadays the turban and the Hadji title are the only things that remain intact in the storybooks. The initially Jafar-esque malignant and turbaned Turk has become a jolly, hefty figure like a Dickensian gentleman (Mr. Fezziwig, Mr. Micawber, Wemmick the Elder...), but still with a sinister side as a child abductor.
Also, the monkey episode. Originally, when Fritz had anchored the balloon on a small island to harvest dates or bananas and have a rest, it were Negro cannibals (Menschenfresser, ie Human-Eaters), who stormed forth to eat his flesh. Just like when it comes to the gipsy outlaws who want to eat Gerda in the Fifth Story of The Snow Queen, dark-skinned Others attempt cannibalism on the innocent, blond European child hero/ine, who finds a lucky, providential escape (Gerda is saved by the leader's daughter, Fritz manages to set sail on the balloon just in time). Nowadays, in the present-day updated version, Fritz is attacked by monkeys, who are less interested in his flesh and more in defending the fruit he is wresting from them.

Nazi storybooks like Der Giftpilz (The Poison Mushroom, a series of anecdotes about sinister and/or greedy Jews waylaying innocent Germans), or Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher (The Poodle-Pug-Dachs-Pinscher, about the counterparts of the Jew in the various provinces of the animal kingdom, one of them being the titular mutt), as well as Francoist kidlit, go the extra mile. The same can also be said about left-wing, let's say Stalinist, propagandistic children's fiction --the far left being as interested in this strategy as the far right--. But still the most vivid examples are from the Third Reich.

In Der Giftpilz, a mother and child, both obviously German (blond, good-looking; all the Jews in this book are dark-haired caricatures with potato noses and thick lips, and sinister looks in their eyes: what a stark contrast to the mother and child in the introduction!), serve as a way to break the ice while picking mushrooms in the woods. 



Jewish lawyers, Der Giftpilz. Contrast the two men on the right with the two girls on the left, and also with the mother and child in the prologue illustration below.


"Just like there are good and bad mushrooms," Mami says, "there are good and bad people. The toxic mushrooms of humankind are the Jews. Often, just like when we take a really poisonous mushroom for an edible one, it's hard to see the Jew as the scoundrel he or she is."
The titles of the stories are as ominous as: 
HOW TO RECOGNISE A JEW, 
HOW A GERMAN FARMER WAS DRIVEN FROM HOUSE AND HOME,
THE EXPERIENCE OF HANS AND ELSA WITH A STRANGER,
INGA'S VISIT TO A JEWISH DOCTOR,
HOW JEWS TREAT THEIR DOMESTIC SERVANTS,
HOW TWO WOMEN WERE TRICKED BY JEWISH LAWYERS,
and
MONEY IS THE GOD OF THE JEWS...

The cover, which has mushrooms with caricature Jewish features not unlike those of the stories' villains, already gives an idea:




It makes even Wilde's "old Jews bargaining with each other, and weighing out money in copper scales" look innocent in comparison.

The same goes for the animals used as counterparts for Jews in Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher, aside from the titular mutt, which is described as the scourge of the street where the author lives. Most of them are toxic or parasitic species, or pests: hyenas (scavengers), cuckoo chicks (nest parasites), bedbugs (vampiric pests), locusts (crop pests), venomous snakes, and the crowner may be the last two stories about endoparasites: tapeworms and pathogens, respectively.
The first story, the one with the tapeworms, opens with little Hans's Mami, Frau Müller, taking him to an obviously German doctor: "My lad is so weak, so pale, he never smiles... but he eats like a horse, more than both his parents! It happened overnight..." After examining Hans's abdomen, the Herr Doktor breaks the news to a shocked mother and child: "He's got a... tapeworm!" He then explains that it can be several meters long.
FRAU MÜLLER: And does that huge... thing live inside my boy?
HERR DOKTOR: In the gut of a human, it grows to reach that length of several meters.
The Herr Doktor explains that tapeworms wind up in the human gut if the host has ingested rare pork or beef meat, or rare freshwater fish: the pig, the cow, the pike already had the bug in the flesh, and only cooking it well can remove the parasite before it gets in... but this tapeworm is currently feeding off the nutrients Hans has consumed, so he has to take a purgative medicine to flush both the head and all the proglottids of the dead tapeworm out of his system. If the dead head's out, the infestation will be no more, he reiterates, warning Frau Müller to cook her meat and freshwater fish well to kill the cysts and prevent further tapeworm incidents.
This short tale might as well be completely positive tapeworm prophylaxis... if not followed by an allegory of how the Jewish fifth column is undermining, and sapping, the health of the Reich's system from within, and this parasitism will never stop until the land is completely purged of Jews. 
In the next story, in which Jews are compared to pathogens and we see young Hans Müller and the Herr Doktor once more, things get equally ominous. The comparison of a healthy system to a well-ruled state isn't that new either, dating back to the Greeks and/or Egyptians...

ANGEL CAKES (falsetto, mincing on their toetips) One and two and three, four; one and two and three, four... You should marry one of us because we are so good!

Moving away from Nazis and back to Disney before the 1990s Renaissance, and to when-Walt-was-still-alive simple stereotyping (as opposed to propaganda)... from the various stereotypes in the Cookie Carnival short ("queeny" gay angel cakes, alcoholic babas au rhum, a negro Miss Licorice and an Eskimo Miss Coconut), to the jive-talking crows that encourage Dumbo, the yellow-peril Siamese cats who threaten Lady and the Tramp (similarly, space overlord Ming the Merciless of Mongo was distinctly Asian before his skin was changed to chartreuse [tennis ball green-yellow])... Long story short, the redskin Pickaninnies in the 1950s Peter Pan are only the tip of the ominous iceberg.
There was a time before political correctness, and, whether we like it or not, we should take such stereotypes in fiction with a grain of salt. If present-day B movies like Foodfight or Sausage Party want to perpetrate such noxious stereotypes, it's a free world but I'm nevertheless at least slightly offended.


 
The "leftish" drinking chocolate on the left, the "rightish" brand on the right.
There's nothing that says all tub-bathers are rightists and all showerers are leftists. The same goes for brands of drinking chocolate (Cola Cao vs. Nesquik in Spain, Ögon [owned by Fazer] vs. O'Boy in Sweden) and newspapers. Being called a Commie (Sp. "rojo") is as much of a slur as being called a Tory (Sp. "facha"). The lyrics of the Gaber song Destra-Sinistra do nothing more than satirising stereotypes, this time related to ideology. Leftists and rightists are portrayed as not so different at heart: no matter if you have a swim in a private pool or a lake, wash yourself in a tub or a shower, prefer one brand or another... it says that stereotypes are merely labels not to generalise with...

Tutti noi ce la prendiamo con la storia 
ma io dico che la colpa è nostra 
è evidente che la gente è poco seria 
quando parla di sinistra o destra. 

L'ideologia, l'ideologia 
malgrado tutto credo ancora che ci sia 
è il continuare ad affermare 
un pensiero e il suo perché 
con la scusa di un contrasto che non c'è 
se c'è chissà dov'è, se c'é chissà dov'é. 

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