In one of the great songs in all of Broadway, lyricist supreme Oscar Hammerstein III argued that racial insensitivity was not an inherent human trait. In his mind - and he was 100% correct - such horrific concepts as bigotry and prejudice “had to be carefully taught”. While no one is accusing South Pacific (from whence the tune originates) is the perfect example of understanding and diversity (“Bali Hai”, indeed…) it’s clear that Hammerstein wanted audiences to recognize the power of persuasive - and even more importantly, the greater influence of suggestion. Show a child a man belittling another with slurs and epithets, and they probably won’t comprehend the confrontation. But give them cutesy, cloying characters that clearly fit into hoary old ideas of class and culture, and you are guaranteed to influence them in frighteningly unnatural ways.
Ten years ago, George Lucas was raked over the coals for introducing that “Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit”, Jar-Jar Binks to the newly infantilized Star Wars universe. Added for “comic relief” and executed via a cartoonish CG process, the Gungan gave critics conniptions, mostly for his basic broken English bumbling. In response, Lucas argued that Binks was a conceit to “kids”, a chance for them to have a character that they could relate to and root for while an entire universe of vague political intrigue was playing out onscreen. Granted, it’s a weak excuse, but it goes to a much bigger issue. A decade later, Michael Bay used his mandatory sequel to Transformers to up the robot factor significantly. Among the new Autobots are a duo known as Mudflap and Skids, two smaller sized machines that begin their time together as a broken down ice cream truck but eventually wind up as two smaller, slicker vehicles.