Where does cultural inspiration end and cultural appropriation begin?
This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015
Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.
If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!
Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.
Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.
Alan Taylor, a senior editor for the photo section of The Atlantic, noticed differences back in 2005 and decided to photograph them. From his Flickr album:
"The 1963 edition is my own, bought for me in the late 60's when I was a toddler, and read to tatters. The 1991 edition belongs to my kids today. I was so familiar with the older one that I immediately started noticing a few differences, and so have catalogued 14 of the more interesting differences here in this collection."
Taylor found 14 pages with differences between the original and updated versions.
Here are eight changes that reflect some of the progress society has made:
Images via Alan Taylor/Flickr, used with permission.
The original has a woman (bunny) in the kitchen, while the updated cover has both a man and a woman (still bunnies) in the kitchen. Also: The "policeman" bear changed to a woman, and the label changed to "police officer." The word "mailman" became "letter carrier," and a female farmer was added. Oh, and we went from a cat-mom pushing the stroller to cat-dad! Progress!
(The bunny brushing its teeth in the house was changed from a boy to a girl, but I'm not gonna read into that because hopefully all bunny-kids brush their teeth, right? I mean, for the sake of their little bunny teefs!)
While the gender of each role remained the same in the newer version (which is, unfortunately, pretty legit, given the glaring lack of female pilots in real life), the stereotyping was eliminated by making the "handsome pilot" more of an everyday "pilot" (raccoon?) and by turning the "pretty stewardess" into a regular flight attendant.
Shhhh: Don't tell the Starbucks Christmas cup haters this, but there are a lot more winter holidays than just Christmas. The newer version of the book included a menorah in the blank space to recognize those who celebrate Hanukkah.
...and the subtle change from "called to breakfast" to "goes to the kitchen to eat his breakfast" reflects that.
(Side note: Do Daddy Bears realllllly want to be treated like Kid Bears by being called to a meal, where they must promptly appear? I'm thinking not.)
And Richard Scarry's book was updated to reflect the late-20th-century realization that everyone belongs in the kitchen!
The updated version recognized that fact by changing "policeman" to "police officer" and "fireman" to "fire fighter." The ever-important job of cowboy was eliminated ( sigh ... how many career hopes and dreams were squashed?), replaced with a gardener and a scientist, both of which are filled by female characters. Three cheers for women in STEM! Also: The milkman was replaced by a taxi driver, but I'm pretty sure that was had to do with the fact that milkman (or woman) isn't a growing occupation any longer.
The newer version did away with the "beautiful screaming lady" (sigh... how many career hopes and dreams ... oh, wait — none) and replaced her with a regular "cat in danger." The "jumping gentleman" label was removed altogether, and the "fireman" became a "fire fighter" again.
We're still waiting for our football teams to get with the times, but the folks behind the Richard Scarry book update eliminated the "Indian" character that was wearing stereotypical clothing.
Florida State University recently led "the most comprehensive study of 20th century children's books ever undertaken in the United States." As you can surely guess, they found a gender bias toward male lead characters, even in books about animals — books like those by Richard Scarry.
Janice McCabe, the assistant professor of sociology who led the study, wrote:
"The widespread pattern of underrepresentation of females that we find supports the belief that female characters are less important and interesting than male characters. This may contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls and privilege among boys. The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children's media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games and even coloring books."
And we need changes to keep happening! Kids should be able to read books with same-sex couples and characters who have disabilities, for example, because those are everyday occurrences and books are a great intro to the world for kids.
Any time conversations about wealth and poverty come up, people inevitably start talking about boots.
The standard phrase that comes up is "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," which is usually shorthand for "work harder and don't ask for or expect help." (The fact that the phrase was originally used sarcastically because pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps is literally, physically impossible is rarely acknowledged, but c'est la vie.) The idea that people who build wealth do so because they individually work harder than poor people is baked into the American consciousness and wrapped up in the ideal of the American dream.
A different take on boots and building wealth, however, paints a more accurate picture of what it takes to get out of poverty.
Author Terry Pratchett is no longer with us, but his writing lives on and is occasionally shared on his official social media accounts. Recently, his Twitter page shared the "Sam Vimes 'Boots' Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness" from Pratchett's 1993 book "Men At Arms." This boots theory explains that one reason the rich are able to get richer is because they are able to spend less money.
If that sounds confusing, read on:
\u2026 He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of okay for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars\u2026\n2/5— Terry Pratchett (@Terry Pratchett) 1643144843
"The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet."
In other words, people who have the money to spend a little more upfront often end up spending less in the long run. A $50 pair of boots that last five years essentially cost you $10 a year. But if you can only afford $10 upfront for a pair of boots that last six months, that's what you buy—and you end up paying twice as much over a five-year period.
There are so many areas in which this principle applies when you're poor. Buying in bulk saves you money over the long run, but you have to be able to afford the bulk cost up front. A reliable car that doesn't require regular repairs will cost more than a beater, but if the beater is all you can afford, that's what you're stuck with. You'll likely spend the same or more over time than if you'd bought a newer/higher quality car, but without the capital (or the credit rating) to begin with, you don't have much choice.
People who can afford larger down payments pay lower interest rates, saving them money both immediately and in the long run. People who can afford to buy more can spend more with credit cards, pay off the balances, build up good credit and qualify for lower interest rate loans.
There are lots of good financial decisions and strategies one can utilize if one has the ability to build up some cash. But if you are living paycheck to paycheck, you can't.
Climbing the financial ladder requires getting to the bottom rung first. Those who started off anywhere on the ladder can make all kinds of pronouncements about how to climb it—good, sound advice that really does work if you're already on the ladder. But for people living in poverty, the bottom rung is just out of reach, and the walls you have to climb to get to it are slippery. It's expensive to be poor.
When people talk about how hard it is to climb out of poverty, this is a big part of what they mean. Ladder-climbing advice is useless if you can't actually get to the ladder. And yet, far too many people decry offering people assistance that might help them reach the ladder so they can start taking advantage of all that great financial advice. Why? Perhaps because they were born somewhere on the ladder—even if it was the bottom rung—and aren't aware that there are people for whom the ladder is out of reach. Or perhaps they're unaware of how expensive it is to be poor and how the costs of poverty keep people stuck in the pit. Hopefully, this theory will help more people understand and sympathize with the reality of being poor.
Money makes money, but having money also saves you money. The more money you have, the more wealth you're able to build not only because you have extra money to save, but also because you buy higher quality things that last, therefore spending less in the long run. (There's also the reality that the uber-wealthy will pay $5,000 for shoes they'll only wear a few times, but that's a whole other kind of boots story.)
Thanks, Terry Pratchett, for the simple explanation.
On Tuesday, Upworthy reported that actor Peter Dinklage was unhappy with Disney’s decision to move forward with a live-action version of “Snow White and the Seven Drawfs” starring Rachel Zegler.
Dinklage praised Disney’s inclusive casting of the “West Side Story” actress, whose mother is of Colombian descent, but pointed out that, at the same time, the company was making a film that promotes damaging stereotypes about people with dwarfism.
"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast.
"Well, you know, it's really progressive to cast a—literally no offense to anybody, but I was a little taken aback by, they were very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White," Dinklage said, "but you're still telling the story of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' Take a step back and look at what you're doing there.”
"It makes no sense to me, because you're progressive in one way and then you're still making that fucking backward story of seven dwarfs living in a cave. What the fuck are you doing, man?" Dinklage added. However, he could get on board if Disney made some drastic changes to the fairy tale.
"If you tell the story of 'Snow White' with the most fucked-up, cool, progressive spin on it—let's do it!" he said.
Dinklage is one of the most high-profile dwarfs in the world, so when he speaks out about matters facing the dwarfism community, his words carry a lot of weight. They clearly caught the attention of Disney, which responded with a statement on Tuesday.
“To avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film, we are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the film will have cultural consultants and that the updated “dwarf” characters will be “CG/animated.” Disney has employed cultural consultants in the past on films such as “Coco” and “Mulan” to avoid promoting any harmful stereotypes. It's a tough lesson that the company has had to learn. Some of Disney’s most classic films now come with a disclaimer notifying people that they contain outdated depictions of certain groups.
The story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a sensitive topic for the dwarfism community. Although it’s a cartoon, it’s often a child’s first exposure to dwarfs, or "little people" as they are sometimes called, and it promotes some of the worst stereotypes attached to them.
Throughout film history, dwarfs have been depicted as magical, communal people, villains or characters to be laughed at. Only recently has Hollywood has begun telling stories where little people are portrayed as fully developed humans. Dinklage has been a wonderful example of someone with dwarfism playing characters that are about more than simply being short-statured.
Historically, bigots have used “Snow White” as a cudgel against little people by comparing them to the characters in the story and by playing cruel jokes such as shouting “Hi-ho” at them in public. So it’s important for Disney to get the characterization of Snow White’s short-statured friends right or risk giving more fodder to those who wish to victimize them.