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Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fairy tales, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also review children's and young adult books for Kirkus and teach English at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"I just thought she was a cartoon character who spoke Spanish."


A Washington Post article helps circulate the above image of beloved Dora the Explorer having been evidently beaten up and arrested by Arizona border patrol. The illustration was originally done before the new immigration law was even being talked about, although the illustrator says she is against the law.


I find it fascinating how disturbing the image is. The article compares it with the Tinky Winky episode from a few years back. On the one hand, it's a poor comparison; speculating over a character's sexuality is a far cry from depicting another character (and a child, at that) sporting bruises and a trail of dried blood leaking from her lip. (Then again, maybe that says something about how far we've come on the issue of LGBT rights since the Tinky Winky episode. Would anyone really care if a character were gay or "acting" gay today? Would it just be assumed, however wrongfully based on stereotype that assumption would be, that Tinky Winky were gay and leave it at that?) On the other hand, I think there is an intriguing similarity between the two instances. Fans of both characters could care less whether they're gay or straight, illegal or legal. As one parent says towards the end of the article, "I just thought she was a cartoon character who spoke Spanish." Wait ... isn't she?


The article does a rather silly investigatory job (though I don't blame it for that) trying to determine where Dora hails from. It even tracks down the two voice actresses (one is of Peruvian heritage, the other Cuban-American). Another "expert" suggests that Dora speaks like an American trying to pronounce Spanish words. I'm not against deconstructing and seriously studying a character like Dora. But the motivation behind such inquiries should be scholarly in nature - not political.


Why is it so disturbing to see Dora depicted in this way? Is it because she's a child? Yes and No. It's certainly less disturbing than seeing a real child (of course). But Dora is far more than a mere representation of a child - she's a representation of us as a child. Because we associate cartoons with childhood (and specifically with our own childhood), we see an attack on cartoon characters as an attack on our own childhood. This is why many adults in America fail to see the appeal of adult-oriented animation ("anime"). It's why many are so repulsed by the idea of "slashing" animated characters from one's childhood. Sex and politics do not belong in our idealized remembrance of things past.


I have to hand it to the illustrator though: it seamlessly weds political cartoons with traditional cartoons. And somehow manages to be all the more disturbing for it.

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