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24 February 2002

Unless you've spent the last few days in a Skinner box, smacking a lever with your beak to obtain delicious food pellets, you probably know that Chuck Jones recently qualified for a celebrity guest spot on HBO's Six Feet Under. Many of the obits referenced the brightest stars in the Warner Bros. constellation (some of whom, like Bugs Bunny, weren't even Jones originals). Overlooked, however, were some of Jones' most charming -- and now hard to find -- creations: the "Inki" shorts. The half-dozen or so cartoons paired a spunky little African boy with a silent, preternaturally strong Mynah bird, who'd hop relentlessly along to a viola-and-woodblock version of Mendelssohn's "Fingle's Cave Overture." (Much of the cartoons' charm owed to the infectious musical score, as well as to the mystery of the Mynah bird's origins and motives.)

Anyway, it's not hard to figure out why the shorts have apparently been left to moulder in the Warner Bros. animation vaults: Inki was drawn as an outrageous stereotype of native Africans, complete with Steven Tyler lips, loincloth, and an actual spear to chuck. (The only thing missing, actually, was a bone through Inki's topknot.) And yet, by the debased standards of Hollywood, the caricature was arguably rather mild -- Inki was a plucky little guy, after all, and if he ever acted childishly, it's because he was a child, not a grown-up African man with the mind of a second-grader. Moreover, the stereotype of a spearchucking African is now apt to be taken seriously only by the most naive and ill-educated of Westerners. (Which is not to say that racist beliefs about Africans no longer exist, but only that today's racists no longer peddle the particular stereotypes represented by Inki.) Does that mean the shorts should be regarded as more or less innocuous? And who has the moral authority to decide that question, anyway?

posted by Throbert | 2/24/2002 05:08:00 PM |
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