Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Shifty-eyed Nips attack Pearl Harbor!

I became a blogger largely so I could title a Pearl Harbor anniversary post, "Shifty-eyed Nips attack Pearl Harbor!" without being called a racist (yes I know I'll be called a racist).


When I was a kid the Arlee Theater ran the 1943 serial, The Batman. It was the first film version of the comic and, as the wiki points out, it was quite amazingly racist. "Shifty-eyed Nips" was the phrase that happened to stick with me, but it was not the only, nor even the most offensive, ethnic slur used in this garbage cliffhanger.

As the wiki also notes, a bowdlerized version of the serial was released for home video. Why? The Batman stinks, and there's absolutely no reason to watch it except to marvel at (and feel superior to) its exuberant racism. It's fun and edifying.

That's why it's always a bad idea to edit for present-day sensibilities, whether it's Huckleberry Finn or Radar Men from the Moon (offensive, of course, to Radar Men wherever the hell they're from). Wisely, therefore, the DVD of The Batman, released just this past October, is unedited.

Please don't drag in old-time radio.

Radio historian John Dunning (who is also author of a best-selling series about a sleuthing antiquarian) used to have five hours every weekend on Denver's KNUS to play his huge collection of old-time radio shows. As an honest historian, of course, Dunning would rather have cut off his arm than cut anything from, say, a Jack Benny program. Also like a good historian, he was apt to call attention to historically interesting aspects of the programs he played, including, naturally, incidents (fewer than you might think) of racism.

In fact, the only concession to modern sensibilities (and the FCC) Dunning ever made was to mention when a program had cigarette commercials (and they all did). "As always, the surgeon general says smoking will kill you dead as a mackerel," he might say, "and the Lucky Strike commercials are included solely for purposes of historical accuracy."

Jack Benny's pretty good too.

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