Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vintage vs. Political Correctness


You've probably seen the furore over at Super Kawaii Mama's over her vintage kitsch blackamoor barman. A number of people found it offensive as an unflattering caricature of an African; Super Kawaii Mama finds it a fabulous example of retro kitsch (as indeed I did when I reproduced a vintage 1950s fabric print). The objectors generally considered that the statuette represents all that is wrong about racism and should therefore not be enjoyed as a piece of kitsch homeware, arguing that just because it's vintage and a relic of times gone by is no justification for the racism with which it is imbued.

By extension of this theory, it follows that all pin-up art is also distasteful as a tangible reminder of times when women were objectified and treated as inferiors (the Equal Pay Act was passed in the US only a year before the Civil Rights Act; It took Britain until 1970 to pass an Equal Pay Act. Sex discrimination in the workplace is still common). But very few in the vintage community would find Elvgren's and Buell's and Petty's work offensive. In fact I think probably a majority of us positively delight in pin-up art and all its kitschy glory, despite the fact that it's often almost as unrealistic a representation of women as a golliwog toy is of black people. Fantastically sexist advertising is an example of hilariously outmoded concepts, funny because society has moved on so far as to make them ridiculous.

The blackamoor statuette is of course an unkind and unflattering portrait, but is that in itself enough to find it offensive? For decades Hollywood and Disney villains have been cast with British accents, but I try not to find it insulting. More recently Austin Powers appeared as an unkind and unflattering caricature of British people. I managed not to be offended.

Another question that came up several times over the course of the debate was "would you display Nazi memorabilia?". Naturally, my kneejerk reaction was "of course not", but then I thought on it a little more. Poster art of the era is - some of it - quite wonderful, and to be honest, if a German equivalent of the "Dig for Victory" poster or one encouraging recycling found its way into my hands then, well, I may well hang it on my wall. Obviously I would draw the line at a poster declaring "Juden heraus", but SKM's little ornament doesn't proclaim any outright malice, either. [NB: I've actually just done some research and the German propaganda posters tend to be rather darker and less cheery than the optimistic British ones so it's doubtful I'd want one on my wall, but the theory remains that if I found such an article aesthetically pleasing I wouldn't hold its nationality against it (again, my imaginary poster is promoting something relatively innocuous like digging a vegetable garden or recycling clothes).]

So what do you think - does vintage make non-PC okay? Are there vintage collectables you would happily own, while you wouldn't countenance buying an equivalent article new? Are some outmoded ideas (sexism, certain types of 'harmless' racism like British villains) charmingly retro and others (racism against non-white ethnicities) simply unacceptable? I would be fascinated to hear your views. If possible I'd like to keep the discussion clear of whether specific articles are acceptable or not, but rather about whether 'vintage' can override 'politically correct' sometimes, always or never.

37 comments:

  1. I've come across this kind of thinking dressing up the old-fashion feminine style I do. For example my husband, who describes himself as a communist, finds it somehow funny that I, who describe myself as a feminist, like to dress in an old-fashioned, housewife-like style. I can't see why dressing up a certain style would affect my thinking and acting as a member of modern society :) Pin up art is funny in a way, old magazines that glorify women's housekeeping work are funny in a way and both tell about a society long gone. We modern ladies can read these as signs that remind us about success of womens' liberation movement; we can keep the good parts (style) and leave the bad ones (no choice). - When talking about racism I can't decide what to think. Coming from a very monocultural society (I first saw a black person when I was about 6) I have not come across this kind of racism that refers to historical issues. A friend of mine had a "male servant" statue from 40'5 /50's in her home but I think I wouldn't have such a thing in my house, for aesthetical reasons, too - it wouldn't suit my home.

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  2. Gosh I went over there and it really was quite fierce wasn't it. I have to say I would be fierce about racism, in fact all forms of bigotry. I didn't get involved as it brought up all sorts of doubts in my mind about what is right or not. I hate racism yet I have 50s kitsch stuff in my house that perhaps could be considered to have those connotations and that sits very uncomfortably with me.

    I particularly like Oriental influenced stuff of the 50s which often depict what could be considered as racist depictions. In fact in my living room alone i have 2 oriental bookends, 4 oriental ornaments, 1 oriental lamp! I am not racist and would never consider these offensive, it is certainly not my intention!

    I don't know what I think having seen the venom on SKM's blog, I just don't know, this doesn't answer your question, it really just chucked up a load of questions for me!

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  3. Very interesting and thoughtful post. Another era that is fraught with tension in the States is civil war era memorabilia. If you display Southern items from that time (and I do not own any myself) you are often assumed to be racist and at least insensitive. Separately, I think the hardest problem is when modern groups take on a previous era's kitsch and artifacts and imbue the articles with new meanings and signifiers. Modern racists fly the Confederate flag and the Nazi flag thus making items from those times have fresh pain for certain groups. I've heard it referred to as death by a 1000 paper cuts. Most people have positive associations with pinups and the war effort, so I think it would take some horrible group appropriating the images to make it undesirable. Pinups for some of us are inspirational, but they do not have the baggage at this point. Certainly there may be those that object to the images, but generally they still have a "feel good" "support the troops" quality to them that some may even see as patriotic. Again, thoughtful post and I hope people keep their comments respectful.

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  4. I've never been one for being overly concerned with political correctness. If you have any strong opinions about anything, you are going to to offend people. Personally, I find people wearing Confederate flag memorabilia very offensive, but I don't have similar feelings about people who do Civil War re-enactments or who collect Civil War artifacts. I think the difference is the history. We all know that slavery is wrong, but it was a big part of American history and needs to be remembered, if only to prevent it from happening again.

    With sad points in our history, I think it's important to remember, but also let go. If steps have been taken to redress wrongs (such as end slavery and improving strides for Civil Rights and goodness, the US has an African American President now!), it is important to let go of hurts.

    From what I know of SKM, she wasn't using the kitchen doll to promote slavery! And, while I'm sure it's not everyone's cup of tea (it certainly is not mine), I don't think there is a problem with her having it.

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  5. Could be a contentious issue. But, these things exsist for a reason - they are part of history. Albeit the rough end of the stick.

    I think it comes down to personal choice. If it were me I would be interested in the origins and connotations of an item. Par example - if I found a piece of vintage jewllery circa 1940 from a UK seller but with German origins, I would be asking the seller if they knew the history of the piece. If they could not answer any questions that I may have - then I would have to reconsider my purchase. This is on the basis that a lot of Jewish owned jewellery went on the market for the duration. And it certainly was not donated.

    But, for example, I am very much a patriot. And that could be slanted to mean that I am a racist because I am proud of the union jack AND the St Georges flag alike, and would display them in my garden (if i had one). This is due to the dogma that surrounds such things from the past. I am most certainly not a racist, but others might not choose to see that.

    As for pin-up art - I have always seen it as something empowering. Women shown in a "traditional" role but showing her sexual power.

    Like I said - depends what slant you want to put on something.

    Fab topic :)

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  6. I have been a bit perturbed by the whole firestorm over at SKM's blog, and had several discussions with my husband the last few evenings on the topic of vintage kitsch and where it crosses the line in modern culture. While the figurine that SKM bought I would never own or display (being from the US that sort of thing is totally taboo here, and I find offensive from the standpoint that it was meant as a racial caricature of an African person and was made during a particularly dark time prior to the Civil Rights Movement), like Fiona this topic has brought up a lot of questions in my mind. I also admire things with an Asian flair from the 30s through 60s, as well as a handful of Southwestern-themed kitsch. Where does one draw the line? Am I being selectively sensitive towards one culture and not another? It's a tricky minefield to navigate, one that I think is made harder by the fact that--in the US at least--that the idea of a "colorblind" society is still reletively new in the grand scheme of history. So we're still trying to figure things out, so to speak. Having been brought up by parents who were decidedly not racist in any sense of the word, and being quite against and disgusted by racism I've encountered myself (we recently showed the proverbial door to a family friend who could not keep his tongue in check on this matter--neither of us were willing to tolerate his ugly words), I usually consider myself quite sensitive in regards to how to respect and treat those of different ethnic backgrounds than myself. I feel like this has really opened a can of worms, not only in regards to racism but some of the other things you pointed out as well! (Although I do admit I side a bit more with Stephanie on the pin up topic.)

    I had to chuckle at your comment about villian cartoon character's in children's movies having a British accent--so true! :/ But then again, often simple-minded/hick characters have a decidedly Southern US accent as well. *sigh* I wonder why this is?

    I think what frustrates my mind the most is that I see so many inconsistencies in the culture around me, despite our "enlightened" society. It has become a confusing, schizophrenic mess in many ways that isn't easy to figure out.

    ♥ Casey

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  7. I don't think your fabric was really 'un-pc' - now if it was a close up of a yellow Chinese face with slanty eyes and buck teeth, you could draw a parallel between that and the statue SKM showed on her blog. Additionally, the unkind portrayal of jews that you would not approve of displaying what I would consider the blackamoor statue equivalent to, not a poster about the war effort. They are both negative portrayals of a racial group that experienced significant discrimination as a consequence. Black people were enslaved and segregated, thought to be mentally inferior (hence why the 'tribal' image is part of what is offensive about the blackamoor) and criminal. Jewish people experienced the holocaust and a recent survey in my country showed that antisemitism is still at large. Importantly in the context of the "does vintage excuse non-pcness" argument, while the caricatures may be a rare sight nowadays, the discrimination is not, and therefore these stereotypes are not "charmingly retro" - they are alive and unfortunately well, and seeing such caricatures on a blog only went to remind some readers of that fact.

    I think you need to be really careful saying that as a white person if you were not offended by something, therefore black people should not be offended in a similar situation. I was called four-eyes and carrot top throughout school, and that was hurtful, but I would never say that my experience is equivalent to that of a person experiencing institutionalized discrimination on the basis of their skin colour or religion, nor would I say that "I was not offended by my experiences and therefore they should just toughen up" (as I felt the general tone of defensive comments on SKMs post to be. Bringing up such examples to me seems evident of white privilege - I just do not think we cannot adequately compare our experiences of discrimination to those of minorities, and thereby extrapolate our responses of non-offense to this situation).

    With pin-up art, I am drawn to the stories about the connections between the models and the soldiers at war. "Paper Dolls" and "Our Girls: Aussie Pin-ups of the 40s and 50s" are good starting points to see how pin-up art differed from the sexually exploitative images we are exposed to nowadays (although I don't doubt that existed in those times too). Additionally, these were depictions of individual girls, not a caricature meant to be applied to an entire race.

    My major problem with SKM's post, however, was the 'non-apology' she gave after it. It wasn't adequate to me, as I noticed several self-identified black readers expressed hurt and offense. I think it would have been important for her to recognize that with an apology, not just a defense of her actions. Regardless of her intent, people were offended, and I think that it is hugely inappropriate for SKM and defensive commenters to try to tell them to feel otherwise. As I phrased it when commenting on her second post: "If somebody tells you that you are stepping on their foot, I would hope that your first reaction would be to lift your foot, not defend your right to stand there and tell them that if it is hurting them then they should move."

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  8. Just wanted to say that I loved Emmi's comment--she stated so eloquently what I was trying to, but couldn't!

    ♥ Casey

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  9. Ditto, Miss Emmi's post very eloquently stated several nuanced points--white privilege, the offensive "tribal" aspects of some pieces, and the foot analogy really help to clarify. I also like when faced with a real life situation, Casey stood her ground and showed a disrespectful person the door. That is perhaps the most meaningful thing we can do. I also appreciated Landgirl's comments about 1940s jewelry--I had never thought about that before. I can see I will need to keep revisiting this post as I think it's very informative and so far the tone promotes the sharing of ideas.

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  10. Interesting comments ladies (and I can't thank you enough for not letting this degenerate into an argument!).

    From what I'm reading, the consensus (if there is one) seems to be that offensiveness is proportional to historical suffering of the target group in question - is that a fair conclusion? So peoples that have been systematically exploited and exterminated - blacks and Jews, for example - are less game for mockery or caricatures than women or, say, the French.

    Ooh, that brings up another interesting question - would the blackamoor be so offensive if it *weren't* for the historical context? Obviously it's hard to imagine a world where all that history hadn't happened, but just hypothetically speaking...

    I'm also especially interested to hear any further thoughts on whether 'vintageness' affects your feelings about certain un-pc things - would you cheerfully purchase a vintage Chinaman lamp (say), but balk at the idea of buying a modern version? One thing I'm sure of is that although most of us would happily have an Elvgren print on our walls, I doubt a single one would have a modern glamour photo!

    xx Charlotte

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  11. well said Miss Emmi!

    i believe that the statue has value, and should be preserved. if i saw it in a thrift store i would probably buy it (sheepishly!) for it's historical value, and then donate it to a museum or a collector etc. displaying it in your home....that makes me a little uncomfortable...and for some reason the fact that it will be used for it's original purpose, to "serve" drinks, somehow makes it worse.

    as far as pin-ups go...i might be the only vintage lovin' gal that hates them. they gross me out! yes they are beautiful, i can appreciate their historical context, and i can see how some people see them as empowering, and i'm not here to say that's wrong. but i get that icky feeling whenever i look at them, and i don't want one hanging up in my house. same for the statue.

    what we find offensive vs tasteful is such a personal thing, but that statue is OBVIOUSLY going to be seen as hurtful and offensive to some people, whether they are vintage kitsch fans or not. my main issue with her original post i suppose is that she didn't really acknowledge any of the complicated issues and emotions that the statue represents, and to me that's where the value is in that type of historical item-to bring those issues up and to create a dialogue.

    i'm surprised that anyone would be surprised that the statue stirred up strong emotions!

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  12. As someone who hails from the "deep South" of the United States, I have very strong feelings on racism and things of the like. However, reading through these comments I feel like my personal views would be far into the minority, and with that, I am simply choosing not to share them.

    However, I would like to say this topic has made me think, and I am likely to pursue conversations with my partner on the topic.

    I have to give a nod to Casey's post about the Southern accent bit...I have a very thick Southern accent and those simpled minded characters always crack me up.

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  13. I read an interview where a director said the reason most Hollywood villains are British is because 'They are the only ethnic minority left who don't complain about it'

    As to the subject of PC I think it's often a case of finding the middle ground.
    I grew up reading Enid Blyton and contrary to current thinking this did not make me a racist. I have to say I have seen some vinatge material that just makes me cringe it's so blatently racist so I don't know where I would stand on collecting it, it's certainly food for thought.

    I was once challenged on what I thought I could possibly know about racism as a white female. Well a fair bit actually. My mother is German and I have a German christian name. Over the years I have had to deal with some deeply offensive behaviour and comments. Surprised? so am I really, fascinated as I am by all things WW2, the war has been over for a long time and relations with Germany these days are very harmonious. I guess old habits, prejudices and fears die hard though and are often passed on to other generations. As it goes my Mother's family nearly ended up in a concentration camp because they weren't 'pure' I wonder where that counts in the mind of the person who called me a f*****g kraut.

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  14. This is very interesting. I've actually been surprised how little these issues have come up in the vintage community, so I am actually glad someone is broaching the topic. It's so easy to look back at the past and only hand-pick those pleasing aspects of history and integrate them back into one's "vintage lifestyle" in the present. However, the item SKM owns is a symbol of a very brutal and painful side of history in the Western World. I'm not saying the history of female oppression is not brutal....I just think the historical oppression of african-americans in the U.S., for example, has a more visibly bloody side to it and I think

    I personally have wondered at the politics of "black americana" collections....on the one hand, like it or not, these artefacts are important historical pieces, in that they visualize the sorts of racist stereotypes and ideologies that white western cultures used to legitimize ethnic oppression and that fueled slavery, etc. When I see these pieces in museums or images in history classes, I think they are powerful and instructive. HOWEVER ,I'm not sure how I feel about non-black contemporary collectors celebrating their collections without being sensitive to the role these artefacts played in the oppression of people of colour. It may seem odd, but to me it's like the idea that there's a big difference between, say a black rapper, using the n-word as an act of re-appropriation that ironizes and defuses the previously racist meaning of that terrible word and a white person going around using this term.

    As I type this, it occurs to me that a black collector of "black americana" would have a different relationship to the pieces than a white person who, like it or not, has a whole lot of historical baggage to deal with due to historical ties to the role of oppressor vs. oppressed. Same thing: if a Jewish person had a collection of Nazi paraphenalia, for some reason, it would be different than if a German person had a closet of nazi items...well, maybe not; perhaps in all cases, some eyebrows would be raised and explanations would need to be made to inquisitive parties because the fact of the matter is that there is SOOOOOO much baggage there, historically speaking. In all cases, I think it is very remiss if a collector of Nazi or black artefacts did not think carefully about the implications and symbolic value of the items they are collecting...which is the same with women who collect "pin-up" images (on that subject, I think these images are more easily embraced by modern women because they have been read as symbols of the sexual power of women more than as reminders of the socio-cultural disenfranchisement and oppression of women....while I think this is a flaw in contemporary feminism, it's a common equation made in the media all the time. Once again, one's relationship to the oppressor-oppressed equation matters: if a man collects these images, I still think he'd more likely have to fight not to be called a pig or perv--he could be the most enlightened and sensitive guy around, but he happens to be of the gender that patriarchy favoured, so it's more of an uphill battle, I think).

    Side note: while it's annoying to be made fun of for one's accent, (as a canadian, I am so familiar with how we supposedly speak) there is no way one can compare that sort of ridicule with racist caricature experienced by people of colour. What an irony, though, since, at least in the last century, the Queen's English was taught to people in so many parts of the world as THE ideal accent, as part of the imperialistic and colonial agendas of Britain. Anyway, I really appreciate your post and applaud you for opening up this avenue for dialogue and discussion.

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  15. I find political correctness is often only necessary to appease those who don't understand the basis behind what it is they are correcting. Nor do they often understand the idea of planting concepts, a huge issue I have with "racism." In these modern times of 'equality', most people and certainly young children, would only see a humorous figure in SKMs man. I bet his skin colour would not even be noticed, unless pointed out - therein, pointing out that there is some "difference" between black people and white people and that while we are equal, we have to remember we are different...but don't ever point it out or you are being racist!

    So my question would be...Why the heck point out that the object is supposed to be racist to begin with?! Is that not just perpetuating the entire problem?

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  16. sorry, when I wrote "It may seem odd, but to me it's like the idea that there's a big difference between, say a black rapper, using the n-word as an act of re-appropriation that ironizes and defuses the previously racist meaning of that terrible word and a white person going around using this term" I should have written, " a white person going around using this term unironically or without clear awareness of the loadedness" of the term.

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  18. ARg! I'm sorry I keep deleting my comments. I keep rereading them and seeing they could totally be interpreted in a way I didn't mean. :(

    Best when living a modern "vintage" life to leave some things in the past, in my opinion. Although we live in a time of "open thought" there still is a lot of sensitivity. There never will be an entirely politically correct world.

    There are some well known issues, like with the way the past characterized African Americans and the Japanese. But there are a lot of other cultures and groups who are still being made fun of today but it's ok?

    I like novelty South American and Western prints, but maybe they're offensive and I'm ignorant of it. I don't really know, it's so hard to gauge. I don't understand certain modes of dress in relation to the pin up culture in regards to the way it portrays women, but there are some pinup styles I think are cute.

    In some ways I think the internet has sped up our ability to be offended, especially in terms of social networking, where one little innocent prase or good intention can be turned around to be offensive or seen as pointing fingers, which is why I'm often times somewhat hesitant to reply to certain issues. Sorry again for the multiple edits.

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  19. I thought your previous post was very eloquent!

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  20. "It's alright, it's vintage innit?" IS lame.

    My own personal take on this is that an interest in the vintage era can involve coming into contact with all sorts of bygone attitudes and objects (as does daily life in the modern world). Some people will reject the racist, and some people will say: "It's okay - it's vintage racism."

    With all due respect to SKM, I think the whole affair is distasteful and should never have happened, but at least we are all talking about it now and those who have not had their racist leanings challenged can be enlightened, as can we all from sharing our views and experiences.

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  21. Lots of great thoughts on this topic here. And I agree with Lauren, I think the Internet and social networking can really send things into a tailspin, especially when the only way we can represent ourselves is with typed words. People speak before they think, people get misunderstood easily, etc. Suddenly it's a huge debacle.

    I know that we can only approach an argument from our own perspective. I get that there are some people who wouldn't be offended by SKM's barman. I get the notion that it's what you make of an item, not its original intent that should matter. But I don't think I agree with it.

    The first example I thought of in my head was when people throw around the phrase (and forgive me Charlotte if this is not something that's used in the UK, so you might not be familiar with it) "That's so gay" to mean something is lame or crappy, and then they turn around and say "but I have gay friends, I don't mean it THAT way, it's just words, it doesn't mean anything". Certainly not a parallel example, but the first thing that popped into my head nonetheless. (Though as an aside-- I felt this had dwindled in the last several years, but there's currently an ad campaign on tv about this very phrase.) Anyway, I think it was that kind of tone that bothered me about some of the replies defending her love of the barman. Especially the comments that seemed to use it to jab at other groups of people (the person assuming "rude" commenters were Americans springs to mind). Those comments bothered me more than the original item, I think. The rigidity and lack of willingness to be open to other perspectives or levels of sensitivity.

    I love Miss Emmi's comment above, and I completely agree that artifacts like the barman have an important place from a sociological and historical perspective. But I know I wouldn't feel comfortable with something like that in my own home, that's for sure.

    All my rambling aside, sorry I don't think I've really made a point! I guess we do the best job we can do to understand ourselves and others around us. I do my best to be as sensitive as I can and I'm sure sometimes I fail! We don't always know what is offensive. Is my Mexican circle skirt with a sombrero on it offensive? Well I never thought about it before, maybe it could be? I'm not really sure. But I feel like when it's pretty blatantly obvious like the representation in barman kitsch, it is best avoided.

    Ultimately every day we learn a little bit more about the world and each other. I hope each discussion like this teaches us that much more about our past, our future and ourselves.

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  22. I collect vintage and retro fabrics which is how I chanced upon your blog. I've seen this sort of discussion crop up before on other sites - although nothing quite as fierce as what was leashed onto SKM. Yikes!

    I grew up with a golliwog, a black Tiny Tears, and black Barbies. Whilst the latter are entirely acceptable to this day, the former is apparently not. In my case, it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I even discovered what golliwogs were supposed to represent and thereby deemed offensive (I didn't grow up in the UK). It had never even occured to me to associate the figure of the doll with that of a black person...

    Whilst I now understand why it was banned, it raises the question of whether there can be a point of prescription, i.e. when objects cease to be offensive and can become harmless and cute once again. Clearly it is still too soon for some commenters with regards the kitchen figurine, but I would venture a guess that even something like that will lose the power to offend after a while because it will cease to raise any racist connotations and be no different from a representation of a Frenchman say, in a beret and stripey top with a string of onions around his neck....

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  23. I wish I could find the Whoopi Goldberg quote where she explained why she wanted Disney to take all of the banned Merry Melodies out of the vault and put them out on a DVD (with a warning about how while people these days realise that that kind of things is racist, this was what people did then and it's a part of history, and while it shouldn't be a part we celebrate, it still happened and we shouldn't forget).
    It was something along the lines of "It's far more racist to try and brush things under the carpet and pretend they didn't happen".
    It actually really annoys me when people try and brush things under the carpet like that, it's like those people that burn Nazi war memorabilia.
    You can't change history by trying to hide your embarrassment destroying things.
    I managed to miss Super Kawaii Mama's post, but I'm actually going to hop on over and give her my support.

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  24. Looked up said quote, it's now part of a disclaimer at the begining of a few of the Merry Melodies DVDs:

    the cartoons are products of their time and contain racial and ethnic stereotypes that, through modern eyes, would be considered offensive, but the cartoons are going to be presented on the DVD uncut and uncensored because editing them out and therefore denying that the stereotypes existed is almost as bad as condoning them in the first place.

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  25. Alexandriaweb...yes, but at least the disclaimer didn't call them "..the BEAUTIFUL stereotypes.." !

    Terminology is very important, we all have to double check ourselves on this issue.

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  26. I think the reason most people are so touchy about things like that is they are uncomfortable with the normalities of such (to us) offensive depictions of people, cultures, sexes etc. They need to get over it. Yes, racism was normal back in the day. As was sexism. But you don't see people getting their panties in a bunch when something Bewitched related is talked about. That's seriously the most sexist show I've ever seen, but it was just normal back then to consider women subservant.

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  27. To me, the issue is not that these objects exist, but how they are handled. A perfect example is SKM's blog post compared to this one - you are trying to view all angles in a thoughtful manner, and you respect and listen to people who have different opinions. She is not overtly racist, but is insensitive to the issue by treating her statue the same as her kitschy flamingos, with cutesy captions and fuzzy photo edges. This kind of behavior I chalk up to either ignorance or racism - and since she claims to not be ignorant of the connotations, well...

    I think my personal threshold for collecting racially charged vintage items is pretty low. I certainly don't try to whitewash the past or avoid the topic, but I also don't need to have a personal collection of offensive items on display. I don't even buy felt Mexican jackets if I think the scene depicted is derogatory. I'm not offended if people collect those items IF they treat the issue with respect. But as I feel that I've been lucky to least a privileged life, and I try to not be flippant about difficulties that other people/groups have faced. So I'll just stick to decorating my house with flamingos.

    Regarding pin-ups, I think I stand right where the Baroness laid it - I think that modern women have reappropriated the pin-up, and view it as a symbol of feminine strength today. But I'm still offended when men use it. So I think a pin-up print is cute on a purse, and disgusting on a tie. (But if a man were carrying the purse, that would probably be okay. :)

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  28. I was dismayed to see SKM's blog and her insensitive handling of the matter. Thank you for your thoughtful discussion of the trickier side of vintage love.

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  29. It is sad to me to hear so many people consider SKMs reaction to be "insensitive." In this world of a global internet, we seem to forget a HUGE factor in this all and that is of our own culture and where WE are located.

    She is not American. The people in her country who are of African origin, immigrated there mostly in the 20th century, if not mostly in the 21st. The Aborigini issue in Australia is a hot one and one that cannot be fully understood by those of us who do not live in the country. I was in Australia when the PM apologized to the Aborigine's for their treatment in the past. But I wonder, did the Queen ever apologize to the Australian people for shipping them off to a hostile, deserted place for little more than stealing a loaf of bread to feed themselves? Because it was white against white, that doesn't matter?

    From my experience in Australia, racism is by and far less prevalent in that country than in America. Americans like to get on everyone elses case about it...yet they are by and large the worst offenders; especially when it comes to First Nations peoples..or Native Americans or whatever it is you now consider the "none racist" term for the people you stole your country from. Australians are surrounded by people from the Pacific Islands and Asia and I don't believe I have ever met an Australian who hasn't vacationed to one of those places. And vacationing in Fiji is not like locking yourself away in Mexico...one tends to actually visit the COUNTRY when there.

    A lot of people need to take a step back and consider country and context and realize there is no answer than will ever fit EVERY culture in the world. If you can't figure this out for yourself, go to your local university and enroll in an introductory Cultural Anthropology class. You will be hit with many many a lightbulb. Did you know, for example, that the most prevalent (in number of cultures practicing it) form of marriage on earth is polygamy?

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  30. I think the fact that something is vintage is a perfectly fine excuse. I have several items from WWII which include extremely racist images of the Japanese, and countless papers which include the word "Jap". Additionally, there is the phrase "Jap out" which to my knowledge does not have any relation to the Japanese, yet very few people use it just because it contains the word "Jap". With regards to Nazi items, there are people who collect it and display it prominently in their homes - it's not because they support it, but that they find the design and imagery fascinating, combined with the fact that it is a reminder of the real evil that does exist in the world.

    With regards to pin-ups, they are nothing like what exists today in terms of degrading images of women. They are cute, playful, and are not explicitly sexual at all. They are about the art of the tease.

    While I accept vintage is an excuse to be non-PC - I do not accept people from that era to use their age as an excuse - they have the ability to change, while these items do not.

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  31. Well goodness! Nothing like a hot debate in the blogsphere!!

    I'm half jewish. I have a siggy at a forum I post to all the time with a clip of "Springtime for Hitler" from the 1968 movie "The Producers". My other siggy is a funny vid someone made of a dancing Hilter.

    I find them funny. I also know enough Holocaust survivors to know, they themselves said: the one's who survived were the one's who maintained a sense of humor.

    The people getting bent over the "racist" aspect of the bar thing need to chill out. Stop taking life so damn seriously. If the owner of the item likes it, that's enough for me.

    I don't care if you collect Nazi stuff, Black stuff, Jap stuff, white cracker stuff, sexist stuff, whatever.

    All I care about is: Are you a good person? =)

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  32. As an African American female who adores retro style, I have many feelings that come up when I entertain things from the past in regard to vintage style or art. It's a touchy topic for both those who may not fully understand what some of these pieces of art mean to specific groups and those who feel very hurt by the pieces.

    I definitely will return to give me two cents..at work at the moment! (shhh!)

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  33. To continue where I left off, my opinion on the matter is that figurines of this sort are offensive because of what they portray and I don't feel they should be found in the homes of whites in general ever, strictly because of the very emotional, very negative relationship that was had between whites and blacks. They don't bring me to tears, I don't plan to go protest any shops that sell them, I just don't think they serve a purpose anywhere beyond that of a museum as someone stated where they can serve as an educational piece. That's my honest opinion. If someone really wants to put one in their house, so be it. But really…why would you be surprised that some are offended?
    This is not similar to pinups in the way that these figurines were often made with grossly disproportional lips, and body parts. They were created as humor. Although exploitative, pinups were admired in the past by both men and women. This figurine was never to be admired - it's a servant who has grossly enlarged lips, black (not brown) skin, and a cork screw for a penis (what does that imply?). Let's not forget that in the past, African Americans, had to actually stand there and hold a glass of water, a hat, a pipe, let your imagination run wild - for whites. That's what this means to me. I don't appreciate anyone telling me I should get over it or stop being sensitive because all that should matter is that it’s offensive to me. I would imply that life probably isn't very serious for the person who says such a thing because they're not in my shoes. I feel we should respect other peoples perspectives when something such as this happens to be a really sensitive topic to the group on a general level. Some African Americans may not have a problem with this and that's fine. But on a general note, it's offensive and should be treated as such.

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  34. I had my previous post in paragraph form..I dunno what happen!

    I forgot to mention, I'm not a fan of ethnic stereotypical art vintage or not. Flamingos, sure. Mexican male statues with sombreros and blankets taking a nap - no thank you.

    Thank you for opening the floor for discussion on this topic, I do believe it's important to speak to each other about what matters to us on a more emotional level. :)

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  35. Perhaps a better example than pin-up girls for sexism is this collection of vintage ads. Personally I find them hilarious because they're so utterly ridiculous by modern standards - like some of those laughably outdated laws that supposedly still exist in some places (like that it's apparently okay to shoot a Frenchman with a bow and arrow within Canterbury city walls, or that London cabs are required to carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats). Indeed, ads of this type have been heavily parodied, for example in the "Women! Know your limits!" series in The Fast Show. While I think these ads are horrendously sexist, I don't find them offensive now, today, but more as an example of how far we've come.

    xx Charlotte

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  36. Where did you get that image? Very amusing not offesnsive at all!

    kate_bush@operamail.com

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