Cultural Studies is the study of shared patterns of behavior and the evolution of them over a period of time. Cultural studies are important because it plays a huge part in social transformation and informs us on the world’s view of certain topics like race, and through race, stereotypes are naturally created. The cultural of race has been a huge phenomenon of great importance over the last one hundred years.
Culture today is different than it was a one hundred years ago, or even just a mere decade ago; It’s constantly changing and/or staying the same. Race has been a constant global issue and has evolved through the decades and changed how different races were viewed and treated throughout generations. Although Race is defined by physical and/or geographical characteristics, the culture of race is determined by the ‘world’s view’ on a certain nationality.
Lady and the Tramp was a film that was produced in 1955 where, in that time period, where great amounts of racial tension. Throughout the film, Lady and the Tramp, there were many examples of how the culture of race and stereotypes were depicted in the 1950’s by being shown through the personality and characteristics of the fictional characters. Anyone who has seen Lady and the Tramp knows her friendly and trusty confidant, Jock, the Scottish terrier. Obviously, with him being a Scottish terrier, he is characterized as being Scottish in the film.
Not only can you identify his race by his breed, but also you can easily distinguish his race by him repeatedly calling Lady “lassie”, which is the scots word for a young female, and by the popular Scottish tune, “The Bonnie Banks o Loch Lomond”, that he sings in the beginning of the film when he arrives at his secret bone burying location. When Jock arrives at his secret burying location, however, it is evident that he has been stockpiling and saving bones for a long period of time. The traditional Scottish stereotype is that they are characterized by being thrifty from the heritage of extreme poverty in the past decades.
In the article “Beat of a Different Drum: Ethnicity and Individualization in Disney”, Brode, a popular critic, states “Jock, the terrier in Lady and the Tramp, in defined by his thrifty temperament – a cliche long associated with Scotsmen” (Brode 79). Brode is saying that due to the notable stereotype of Scotsmen, Jock is defined by his willingness to save. Extreme poverty in Scotland ended shortly before the 1950’s had risen and Scottish Poor Laws, which were laws that were created to care for the poor, were passed in Scotland between 1579 and 1929 before poverty was not a substantial issue anymore.
Because of the poverty situations that the Scottish underwent, they developed a worldwide reputation of being penny-pinchers from the constant saving they always had to do. Since the extreme poverty ended shortly before the 1950’s, the stereotype and worldwide view of the Scottish stuck with them and had become apart of their culture for the long term. With that being said, in the 1950’s film Lady and the Tramp, Jock’s particular behavior is a reflection of how the world viewed the Scottish at that period of time.
The highlight of the film and the most popular scene in the movie is widely agreed to be the “spaghetti scene” where Lady and Tramp share a plate of spaghetti behind the Italian restaurant. But did you notice who provided the Italian dish that Lady and Tramp were dining on? The scene in Tony’s Restaurant was where Lady and Tramp where welcomed with open arms and eagerly provided with a dish by the Italian owner, Tony, and his assistant. Their thick Italian dialect and their caricatured features is what make it obvious that the owner and chef are from an Italian descent.
In the middle of the scene, Lady asked Tramp to verify a word that the owner said, Tramp then responds with “…he doesn’t know how to speak English that good”. That comment was an underlying verification and informative notion that was thrown in the movie to help us understand how the world viewed Italians. From 1880 to 1920, a surge of immigration occurred and brought more than 4 million Italians to America. Since the Italians had only had a couple of decades to settle in to the States, by the 1950’s their English dialect wasn’t quite up to the standard that it should have been, which in turn, made many of the Americans rather frustrated.
Despite their thick Italian accents, their generosity and friendly character is how the Americans viewed them with the assumption that they were very well liked. You learn in the movie that a touch racism is inflicted on individuals of the Spanish descent. When Lady gets captured from chasing chickens, she is sent to the dog pound where she encounters various impounded dogs from different breeds and races. One dog in particular is a Chihuahua named Pedro with a thick and prominate Spanish accent. Chihuahua is a city and Mexico and is also the dog that represents the country as well.
In the film, Pedro is treated as if he is not the brightest dog in the pound and almost disregarded. When the dogs are talking about tramps womanizing ways, one of the dogs says “…but remember by friend, even Tramp has his Achilles heel (which is referring to his weaknesses)”, Pedro then responds with “Pardon me amigo, but what is this chili heel? ”, the dog then nonchalantly explains to Pedro what he’s talking about as if it is nothing new that Pedro is confused.
By that statement, it is clear that the filmmakers where trying to portray Pedro as an uneducated and disregarded character, which is the same way the Spanish were viewed. M. M Bakhtin, a popular intellectual theorist stated that “…the unity of style in a given work is transformed into a unity of an individual language” (Bakhtin 485). He explains that the style or dialect that is represented in a novel, or in this case a film, can have more of a deeper meaning just like the dialect presented in this scene. Throughout the 1950s – 60s, extreme racial action took place against Mexicans, which didn’t allow them to get jobs, had them living in different residential areas, and even harassed by the public. A little taste of what was going on in the real world was shown through this small 5-minute scene in the movie.
Everyone knows Aunt Sarah’s infamous Siamese Cats and their mischievous and cunning actions that take place towards the middle of the film. Being one of the most well recognized racist symbols, this particular scene when Aunt Sarah brings in her Siamese Cats in the household raised many eyebrows. Like stereotypical Asians, the cats features start with their slanted eyes, buck teeth, and very prominate Asian accent. Both of their names together Si and Am represent a city in Asia, so it is clear that the characteristics of these cats are no coincidence.
In 1941, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor occurred which came as a profound shock and started World War II. After the attack, the view of Asians to the world and their temporary stereotype was that they were manipulative and cunning which were characterized in the Siamese cats. The Psychological Press states “The general racist belief scale was not anchored in a specific group and measured the belief in the inferiority of certain social groups or peoples based on biological or cultural factors. ” (Vala 1). This is saying that society doesn’t develop an opinion based off of nothing, they base it off of past experiences and cultures.
In this case, the reason why society in the 1950s viewed the Asians in such a way was because of the past experience of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which directly reflects the personality of the Siamese cats in the film. In conclusion, cultural studies and race can be shown through the media in harmless fables that reveal underlying meanings. The way that characters are depicted in Lady and the Tramp informed us on how the world viewed certain races in the 1950s. Factual events and circumstances in the past created the stereotypes that are still known for till’ this day.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Discourse in the Novel. Malden, Mass: 2006. Blackwell Publishing. Brode. “Beat of a Different Drum: Ethnicity and Individualization in Disney”. Multiculturalism and the Mouse: Race and Sex in Disney Entertainment. 79.
Vala, Jorge, Cicero Pereira, and Rui Costa-Lopes. “Is The Attribution Of Cultural Differences To Minorities An Expression Of Racial Prejudice?.” International Journal Of Psychology 44.1 (2009): 20-28. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Feb. 2012.