When Childhood Classics Aren’t Innocent

by Tracy R. Walsh

Russell Saunders watched Peter Pan in its entirety for the first time and was shocked by its racism and sexism:

Popular media is full of beloved movies that are, in retrospect, embarrassing in some way. I remember a (straight) friend prevailing on me to watch Revenge of the Nerds with him (I’d never seen it), and then having to reconcile his remembered affection for the film with the offensively fey gay character, which he hadn’t really thought much of when he first saw it decades before. (I wasn’t all that worried about it.) Attitudes change, generally for the better in my opinion. Unless we want to constantly cull things from our culture (which I am loath to endorse), we have to address the mixed bag of good and bad that they will appear to be from the perspective of our contemporary vantage point.

But it still leaves me a bit stunned that something so obviously racist was made such a relatively short time ago and is still so universally embraced. For all the talk about whether or not Washington’s football team or Atlanta’s baseball team need new names, I would honestly have expected more attention paid to the much more overtly problematic content of a movie that has spawned a whole “fairies” franchise of its own. America’s attention to such things remains quite selective, it seems, and makes me wonder how much more attention I should be paying than I have up to this point.