Having a 3 year old who, shocking to me, is taller than 40″ meant that we were able to take him on Splash Mountain at Disney World last week. The exterior of the ride gives visibility to the largest splash, but I had forgotten that the interior is filled with scenes from the movie Song of the South, a film that will likely never escape the Disney Vault.
Song of the South is based on the Uncle Remus Stories. The stories are mostly folk tales collected from former slaves. As a result, the stories and the film depict racial stereotypes reflective of the period between the Civil War and the civil rights movement. That is, they are racist to modern eyes.
I have a copy of Disney’s Uncle Remus Stories that I loved as a kid. I think there are a lot of good lessons in the fables there, but I have never read the stories to my kids. I don’t think the stories would suddenly turn them racist, but I am concerned that since kids seem to have a knack for picking up the vocabulary that you least want them to repeat (e.g. swear words) that reading from that book might result in the uncomfortable use of the phrase “tar baby.” (For those who don’t know the stories. Br’er Fox’s tar baby is actually a baby that he made from tar in order to trick Br’er Rabbit, but the term has clear racist implications.)
Today I learned that a publisher has updated ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to eliminate Santa’s pipe smoking for fear that the reference encourages kids to smoke. A claim that Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom), smartly rebukes in her post.
As societal norms change, should we insulate our kids from the past? Should we censor classic tales if they contain outdated views even if they have other merits?
I plan to continue to read the traditional, tobacco-fueled version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to my kids, but they probably won’t see the Uncle Remus Stories until they are old enough to understand their context. I might still sing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da every now and then though.