Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Japanese boy in plenty hot water

Ahh, what passed for humour 60 years ago. I found this video (right) today on YouTube: a Popeye short called "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap." It is so, so, so, so, so wrong.

There are so many painful moments in this cartoon, I can't decide which is the worst. Obviously the bucktoothed portrayal of the Japanese ranks right up there. Along with the representation of Japanese music as nothing more than clanging pots and a car horn, and Popeye referring to them as "Jap-pansies." It's that sort of thing that's so terrible it's funny in that "Great googly-moogly I should not be laughing at this but I am and I hope no one can hear me because it's so very, very wrong" way.

For me, the most cringeworthy moment comes at the very beginning of the short, when a chorus sings:
"You're a sap, Mr. Jap;
You make a Yankee cranky.
You're a sap, Mr. Jap;
Uncle Sam is gonna spank ye.
Wait and see, before we're done,
The A,B,C and D* will sink your rising sun.

Spank ye?

Truly one of the finer moments in American cinema.

*Short for "America, Britain, China and Dutch" -- the powers the songwriters felt the Japanese should be concerned about. Personally, it strikes me as shoehorned to fit the rhyme scheme. The Dutch?


Rob said...

i think it's only fair to judge something like this by the standards of its time.
WWII (against the Japanese) was unquestionably a race war on many levels.
my suspicion is that the zenophobia and level of scorn for the Japanese portrayed here would have been equalled or exceeded by how the Japanese viewed Americans at that time...
(sorry to get all serious)

Chris Cope said...

True, Bryan. To be fair, by the standards of the time it's pretty middle ground.

David T. Macknet said...

Keep in mind that people were actually hired to come with slogans & things, and that racial epithets were "better" if they were short and could be easily rhymed with things.

What I really want to know, though, Chris? I'd like to know how many times you had to listen to it in order to get the "spank ye" bit, 'cause it'd have run right past me except that you'd pointed it out.

Tim F said...

Hello Chris, I came over here because Annie Rhiannon told me to. The Dutch were in charge of Indonesia, which the Japanese occupied, so they had a vested interest in seeing "the Japs" (note distancing effect of quotation marks) beaten. Unfortunately, the Netherlands had also been occupied, so they rather had their hands full.