Speedy Gonzales caged
NEW YORK — Speedy Gonzales easily bested Sylvester the Cat, Daffy Duck and other assorted banditos in his nearly 50-year career. But the Fastest Mouse in Mexico can't seem to escape the clutches of the Cartoon Network.
The rapid rodent has been deemed an offensive ethnic stereotype of Mexicans, and has been off the air since the cable network became the sole U.S. broadcaster of old Warner Brothers cartoons in late 1999.
But that has animated fans of the spunky character who want Speedy cartoon shorts — and the famous "Arriba! Arriba! Arriba!" cry — back on the airwaves.
Hundreds of fans have engaged in an e-mail campaign to resurrect Speedy, gathering on animation-fan Web sites to debate and organize, according to Virginia Cueto, an associate editor at HispanicOnline who wrote an article about the cartoon controversy.
"Speedy Gonzales has always been a very popular cartoon character, and cartoon fans are among the most diehard loyal fans around. They just want him back," she said in a telephone interview from Miami. "And these aren't just non-Mexicans; a lot of these are Mexicans themselves."
In his adventures, the sombrero-wearing mouse sports an over-the-top Mexican accent and uses his super speed to foil foes like the "Greengo Pussygato" Sylvester. Speedy is sometimes aided by a coterie of drunken Mexican mice who lounge around the village, or by his lazy cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez, who seems as slow-witted as he is slow-footed.
"Speedy Gonzales was a great character and I understand how he portrayed Mexicans in a bad light. However, the cartoons are still funny and it's a disservice and disgrace to the original animators to never show them again," said Geoff Mukhtar, an Indianapolis publicist and Speedy fan. "These cartoons reflect the time they were created and we're trying to impose modern standards on them."
There evidently wasn't a problem with the Mexican caricatures at the beginning of Speedy's career. The 1955 animated short "Speedy Gonzales" won an Academy Award, and two other cartoons, "Tabasco Road" and "The Pied Piper of Guadalupe," were nominated for Oscars in 1957 and 1961.
But the outdated messages in cartoons like Speedy aren't appropriate in the 21st century, Cartoon Network spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said.
"It hasn't been on the air for years because of its ethnic stereotypes," she said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "We have such a huge library, I think we intend to go with popular shows that aren't going to upset people. We're not about pushing the boundary. We're not HBO. We have a diverse audience and we have an impressionable audience."
Networks like the Cartoon Network have edited out scenes from or simply refused to show animated movies with now-questionable gags or behavior like smoking or drinking since the 1980s. Among the most taboo of Warner Brothers cartoons are the "Censored 11," which depict blacks as fat-lipped minstrels or cannibalistic savages.
And though adult fans may bemoan the fact their favorite rodent has been sent to broadcast limbo, they ought to consider most of the viewers are children, Los Angeles psychologist Robert Butterworth said.
"These stereotypes are ingrained when we're young. And what do kids watch? Cartoons," he said. "I know the adults are saying, 'Oh God, it's just Speedy Gonzales,' but these are impressions that are put in very early and very hard to pull out. I'm the last person to hold a sign for political correctness, but kids absorb this thing on a preconscious level."
Fans aren't buying that argument.
"It seems to be yet another attempt to be PC," New York account supervisor and cartoon enthusiast Kathleen McCullough said. "Sure, adults understand and dislike the bigger ethnic issues related to such a character, but to little kids, Speedy is just a cartoon!"
And where do you draw the line with a medium that, by its nature, relies on caricature for humor, Mukhtar asked.
"What about Pepe LePew? His chasing of unwilling females surely sends the message to children that's it's OK to stalk and attack them if they resist," he wrote in an e-mail. "Plus, because he's French, does this mean that all Frenchmen are sexual predators?"
Speedy boosters shouldn't expect to see their furry hero anytime soon, at least in the United States, Goldberg said. But there is a place where Speedy can still be found zipping across TV screens — and, presumably, where the crude stereotypes he embodies don't touch a cultural nerve.
That place: The Cartoon Network Latin America, where, ironically enough, Speedy Gonzales is "hugely popular," Goldberg said.
What do you think?
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