|We Don’t Serve Your Kind Around Here|
A couple of weeks ago a new version of a “classic” 80’s toy commercial/cartoon series, Thundercats, premiered on Cartoon Network. There was a lot of discussion about the show in the nerdosphere, much of it focusing on whether the program was a reboot or a sequel to the original program. There were also the debates of which was hotter: the new Cheetara or the old one. Finally, a lot of people remarked on the fact that the Thundercats (not just the band of protagonists, but their culture at large as depicted at the start of the show) were incredibly racist. Throughout the premiere, their society’s abuses and biases against the other races of their world were on full display. Some questioned whether a team of racists would be accepted by audiences.
Some people blithely responded that racism had been tackled in other childrens’ shows and that this was no different. The problem is that there’s a very significant difference between this show and others: here, the racists are the heroes.
Take the X-Men. The racism is directed at them. They’re the victims of the whole thing. Even Magneto, who is “reverse racist” (you know, hates humans) is a villain. There’s a serious problem with making the protagonists the racists; audiences are likely to root against them. Towards the end of the premiere, the city of Thundera was destroyed by the lizard people. Are the lizard people the villains? From the look of it, they were the oppressed striking for their freedom. In any other version of this story, Mumm-ra (the lizard peoples’ leader) is basically Braveheart and Lion-O is the British King. The problem is that we’re supposed to root for Lion-O. Oh, sure, one could argue that “well that’s the brilliance of the writing team; they’re taking those cliches and turning them on their head and forcing the audience to sympathize with the villains.” But that would be the voice of fans deluding themselves into thinking a kids’ show on Cartoon Network is intellectually challenging material. Also, if the writers were working on that deep a level then the third episode with its heavy-handed “message” and erratic pacing would need some kind of excuse … or just the explanation is that it’s par for course for a kids’ cartoon. That explanation would make complete sense, too, because it’s a kids’ cartoon.