Friday, April 10, 2015

That Time Tiny Toons Made a Domestic Violence Joke

Sometimes you wake up and suddenly remember a single gag in a cartoon you haven’t watched for twenty-five years.

The Tiny Toons version of Tweety Bird is Sweetie Pie, a smug, pink little thing that is thoroughly unpleasant. There’s this one short, “Eating Between the Lines,” that’s solely about her efforts to eat Bookworm, a sort of non-speaking non-character that is a worm who likes books. It plays like a typical Wile E. Coyote short, with Sweetie trying repeatedly to catch Bookworm and then getting injured, but there’s this one gag that happens in which Bookwork drops a book on Sweetie. After she gets smashed on the head, you see that the title of the book is The Mike Tyson Story, and Sweetie says “Now I know how Robin Givens feels.”

No, really.

Looney Tunes, Tiny Toons and a lot of other cartoons throw in little winks to adults who may be watching — the character of Shirley the Loon is at least conceptually a joke about Shirley MacLaine, and that is also a weird thing to include in a children’s show — but is it surprising that people thought this joke was okay? I mean, it’s not that funny, for one. And Givens alleged Mike Tyson abused her in 1988, so the joke wasn’t even all that timely. It just seems like the kind of thing to which a censor would respond with, “Yeah, maybe we don’t need this joke about the lady who got beat up by her killing machine of a husband?”

My take-away on this, I guess, is that 1990 was a very different place than 2015 is, in that if a kids’ show made a similar joke — say, with Rihanna and Chris Brown in place of Givens and Tyson — the internet would be instantly in a state of outrage about it. Twenty-five years ago, you could get away with more when you thought that no one was looking, or at least no one had a means to instantly, publicly tell the world that they were offended.

Sweetie’s voice may sound familiar if you watched Dexter’s Lab. It was provided by Candi Milo, who was the second actress to voice Dexter, and you can hear a little bit of Dexter in the way Milo voices Sweetie.

When cartoons were weird, previously:

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