Disney Stereotypes: Lady and the Tramp

Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a classical Disney cartoon that is based on Disney’s traditional plot starring two main protagonists; the damsel-in-distress- Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a classical Disney cartoon that is based on Disney’s traditional plot starring two main protagonists; the damsel-in-distress, Lady, and the hero who saves her, Tramp. This paper will analyze reinforced roles, stereotypes and stigmas that are reflected in the characters presented in Lady and the Tramp, while addressing the impact the perceptions of the protagonists in the movie.

Damsel- in -distress and the Hero

To begin with, the damsel in distress is, Lady, a pampered Cocker Spaniel that lives with a couple in a rich a residential area in the setting of the movie. She is a pretty dog with big eyes, thick eyelashes and is generally well groomed; this is similar to other Disney cartoons such as Snow White, Little Mermaid and so forth. Secondly, the hero, Tramp, is the ruff, ladies’ man from across the railway tracks. He doesn’t fit the traditional male hero aesthetically but, like all heroes, he wins the female hearts and lives happily ever after with Lady.

Kathie Maoi’s writes in an article (1998) titled, Disney’s Dolls , in prototypical Disney characters, young women, in this case, Lady, are naturally born happy who lie in a state of suspended animation until a man gives them a life. In this case, Tramp saves lady from the pack of dogs who ran after her after she escapes from Aunt Sarah, her temporary caretaker.   Lady’s life consisted of her caretakers Jim Dear and Darling until she met the Tramp. Furthermore, Lady, despite being a dog has slight makeup on, her eyes are big, eyebrows are shaped, has long feminine eyelashes and her hair is groomed well unlike her counterpart. Also, her speech is refined reflecting her status in the dog world, she is licensed, unlike the other dogs in pound and Tramp. Therefore, Lady is merely a reflection of other Disney damsels who are often portrayed as nubile, helpless and in danger. (TV Tropes, n.d).

In regards to the plot, it is less complicated as there are no real villains but rather situations that are greater the both protagonists, such as Aunt Sarah and the dog catchers.  Nevertheless, it is one based on romance, courting such as when the Tramp took Lady for a date at Toni’s and they kissed under the moonlight, saving her from the dog gang but also winning her heart by killing the rat at the end of the movie.

Other protagonists

The cartoon in essence is different from other classical Disney cartoons as most of the characters are dogs, with the exception of Siamese cats and Tony and Joe, the Italian proprietor and chef. Never the less, the cartoon features characters that loaded with stereotypes of Asians, Mexicans, Russians and Italians.

The more evident and overt stereotypes are of the Siamese cats Si and Am. First, there features of the cats are based on Asian stereotypes that were formulated and prominent in the 1950’s, such as the buck teeth, slanted eyes and broken English.  In lady and the Tramp such stereotypes reinforced the negative perception of Asians that existed in America pop culture at the time, both do not reflect how Asians really look. Also, the song- We are Siamese if you please, sung by the cats is in broken and high pitched voices that differs to all the other protagonists in the Cartoon.

Secondly, the nature of the cats in the cartoon is aggressive, opportunistic and cunning, as they tore the living room of the house in which Lady lived in, wanted to eat the pet fish and lastly blaming Lady for the mess they created when their owner enters the scene to ask about the commotion. Now, such characteristics were also evident in Hollywood movies in the early 20th century, such women were often referred to as Dragon Ladies (Padgett, n.d.) Lastly, Siamese in nature are known to be affectionate, friendly, loyal and bold (Pet Wave, n.d). Therefore, their true personalities are not reflected, creating false stereotypes not only of Siamese cats but also on cats in general.

Other protagonists in the cartoon are also based on stenotypes in American pop culture, like Mexicans, Russians and Italians. First, Pedro the Chihuahua, in the dog pound has a heavy accent, speaks in a heavy Latino accent and is illegal in the country. He only appears in once scene, when Lady gets caught and is taken to the dog pound, through the scene he sitting in a pile of straw. In addition, he only has two lines. The two lines are “pardon me, amigo. What is this ‘chili heel?” and “And my sister Rosita Chiquita Juanita Chihuahua, I think”, both the lines reflect the common stereotypes that Mexicans are not educated and they also poke fun at their long names, in other words, they are misrepresented (Pierre, 1999). Therefore, this is a classic stereotype of Mexicans that is still prominent today, “[they] are portrayed as illiterate criminals…lazy, dirty, and physically unattractive” (Holder,  2012), in addition, such stereotypes of Mexicans was evident in other cartoons in the 1950’s like Speedy Gonzales (Padgett, n.d.)

Secondly, Boris, the Russian wolfhound who speaks with a heavy Russian accent, appears in the dog pound scene as the, philosopher. Now, perhaps the stereotype of Russian s being philosopher is not a negative but rater reflects the golden days of Russian being one of the centers of European philosophy. In fact, Russians in American media are often associated with the Mafia (Ferguson, p. 8, n.d.).  Other characters are Toni and Joe from Toni’s restaurant where the Tramps goes regularly and also invites Lady for dinner. These two characters are based on typical stereotypes of Italians as chubby, jolly people with a heavy accent and fast hands gestures. Now, the stereotypes might not reflect the realities of all Italians but it shows a different image than what is seen in mainstream media, of Italians being in Mafias and/or gangs (Ferguson,  p.10, n.d.) .However, there is a slight variation of Toni’s voice when he sings, because as he suddenly became more articulate when he sings Bella Notte, for the Lady and Tramp on their date.

There are other aspects of the cartoon that are worth noting that are not based on stereotypes but rather on stigmas and positive roles. For the former, the rat creeping in an the last ten minutes of the movie creeping into the baby’s room to bite him seems implausible, moreover there is a redundant stigma of rats being  nasty, licentious and cunning and are often associated with filth and disease( TV Tropes, n.d.). Despite the rat having no name or identity, the cartoon reflects it in such a negative light that viewers can formulate negative impressions of rat in real life. For the latter, Jock and Trusty, Lady’s’ neighbors and friends, are positive roles that reflect real dog traits such as loyalty, friendliness, and overly concerned with burying bones (TV Tropes, n.d.).
Conclusion
Lady and the Tramp is classical cartoon that can be said to less loaded with stereotypes and impossibly beauty standards that are evident in other Disney classics. Nevertheless, it has stereotypes that can create stigmas to certain ethnic groups like Asians and Latinos in the films’ case, this can allow for aggression to fester up especially among young viewers (Ferguson, n.d.). Moreover, such depiction distorts perceptions of ethnic groups (Ferguson, n.d.) and also certain animals as in the case of the cats and  rat. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the movie was set in the 1950’s and therefore reflected stereotypes and stigmas common them, as today many of them have changed especially stigmas relative to Asians Americans. To conclude, Lady and the Tramp is perhaps a better version of happily-ever-after-stories that doesn’t include heavy racism, stereotypes, and glass ceilings for girls and violence that are presented in other Disney classics.

Reference


Ferguson, C. J. (n.d.). Portrayals of Immigrants in Mass Media: Honest Depiction of Cultural Differences or Unfair Stereotype. Texas A&M International University Retrieved November 24, 2012, from http://www.tamiu.edu/~cferguson/Immigrants.pdf

Holder, M. (2012). Mexican American Stereotypes. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mexican.htm

Maio, K. (1998)  Women, race & culture in Disney’s movies.  Retrieved November 23, 2012 from  http://www.newint.org/easier-english/Disney/diswomen-p.html

Pierre, C.L (June 4, 1999). Mass Medis in the White Man’s World. Ethics of Development in a Global Environment. Retrieved November 22, 2012, from
http://www.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/mass.htm

Tv Tropes (n.d.). Animal Stereotypes. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AnimalStereotypes

Tv Tropes (n.d.). Damsels in Distress. Retrieved November 22, 2012, From http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DamselInDistress?from=Main.DistressedDamsel

Padgett, K. (n.d.). Brown Face. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from http://brown-face.com
Padgett, K. (n.d.). Yellow Face. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from  http://yellow-face.com
Pet Wave (n.d.) Siamese Cats. Retrieved November 22, 2012, from
http://www.petwave.com/Cats/Breeds/Shorthair/Siamese/Temperament.aspx

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