Monday, November 7, 2011

Tom and Jerry: Just a cat and mouse game?

These two eternal iconic enemies need no introduction! Yes, I have enjoyed the Tom and Jerry cartoon series for as long as I can remember. Lately, these two have been my constant companions when I am on the treadmill in the gym (yeah yeah, didn’t I tell you I have been meaning to bounce off the calories that keep finding way to my kitchen – somehow the Cartoon Network schedule and my routine fits in perfectly well. 

You can call it lack of having anything better to do or an over imaginative mind -  however, in the last fortnight I seem to be noticing aspects – relationships, stereotypes, political impropriety – in the cartoon series that I have never consciously been aware of earlier. And since I have been spending a good number of waking hours doing so much thinking, I thought I might as well spoil the fun for you guys too…

Gender stereotyping and the lack of it…

Tom and Jerry are obviously two male names. Isn’t Tom the epitome of the confused male – brash, unthinking, more use of brawn than the brain?

Isn’t Jerry the witty guy who often wins against Tom inspite of his little size because he is more intelligent? What about the episodes where he cross dresses and flutters his eye lashes – he is effeminate but endearingly so – yet he is not convincingly homosexual because he is inevitably attracted to the female mice ! Metrosexual, perhaps :D?

So while a good many socially rendered gender stereotypes are evidently flouted in the character portrayals of Tom and Jerry, there is a considerable allegiance to “the norm” in the depiction of most other supporting cast.


There are not so subtle hints at racism too – the maid is shown as poor and “black”; and there are a lot of blackface gags that drip of racial slur. 
I guess the time period during which the cartoon series evolved, did not have this acute awareness of what is classified as being racist and what is not, that we have today.

Meaningless violence – Sadism

The more I re-watch Tom and Jerry, the more irked I am by this aspect. Comedic fights are funny only if you are thick skinned and insensitive
The fantasy violence is bone chilling – slicing and cutting, chopping off body parts, mangling, explosives – none of which would qualify as innocent slapstick humor – hardly deserving the TV-Y (All ages 0 and older) certificate it got from the censor board initially – The current TV-G (General Audience) rating is much more appropriate. Like so many other programs on Cartoon Network, this one too doesn’t seem very appropriate for kids.

The sadistic pleasure exhibited by Tom and Jerry towards each other, the meanness quotient, and the levels of aggression and goriness, even if only comical, is highly disturbing. 

Relationship dynamics

This is the most interesting aspect of the Tom and Jerry series – their love-hate relationship, to put it very simplistically.
Ofcourse you know, the “chase” is pointless. Tom never ever intends to eat up Jerry, even if he happens to catch him. Infact, if either of them crosses a certain line, they are seen nursing each other! Then why the hyper violent chase? The meaningless irony of so many frivolous ambitions in life?

And, have you noticed, only these two are allowed to hate each other. They unite against a common enemy or if the other is in mortal danger.  A third person – not even a love interest is allowed in between. There is jealousy and there is a strong need to keep this bond intact and exclusive. No, I don’t want to go back to the gay debate :P. 

Another worthy observation would be that the relationship is very physical. There is hardly any real conversation between Tom and Jerry – you could mute your TV and understand every single thing that’s going on.

So, what does this convoluted relationship stand for? It is definitely not purely feline-murine, not that of innocent friendship, not one of eternal love – so you really cannot categorize the relationship – Is it then a kind of theatrical comment on the angst ridden, insignificant and futile relationships that we share at some point or the other – or at how callous and reckless we can be in our own relationships?

What is this cat and mouse game?

[Image source (for all images used): Google Images]


  1. I see that your gray cells have been working overtime and the result is quite evident! A brilliant post. All the observations you have made can actually fit any relationship: siblings, spouses, mother-in-law & daughter-in-law, and others.

    Whatever said and done, for me, Tom and Jerry is a delightful cartoon series which I can never tire of watching.

    Joy always,

  2. given a entire new perspective to the show Tom and JErry ... :) geee i never thought it that way .. to me it was jsut plain simple comedy ..

    I still watch it and have a laugh ..

    but when i put your views its making me think .. :) Good one .. got us thinking


  3. Thank you Susan and Bikram for writing in. I agree, whatever be our insights, the series is quite enjoyable!

  4. Classic post!! :D

    I have been observing cartoons closely too... for different reasons. For me Tom and Jerry was pure physics. The levers, pulleys, gravity, splashing of water, air pressure... !

    I agree to all the point and yes.. sadly the violence part too.

    Wishing you a good week ahead Yuvika!

  5. Oh wow, your perspective is interesting too! pure physics - yep!

    thank u and u have a great week too!

  6. WOW!!! I wonder if even William Hanna and Joseph Barbara would have thought so much about the characters they have created.
    But I too feel quite bad when I see Tom get beaten (I like cats), but could not help laughing out like anything at the end of it..

    Never given a thought about racism though. Have not even noted the skin colour of the maid...


  7. hahaha was hilarious and was befittting!!

  8. @Ram: The perils of joblessness - u notice things that maybe ar enever meant to be to :)

    @VC" Thank u!

  9. good one, well written, and very observant :)

  10. Woah !! Should I not clap for you, Yuvika ? You've found not one but almost 3-4 pessimistic points for a world famous cartoon pair.

    Now I'd say you watched it in a pessimistic point of view, though I'd understand the pressure and frustration of wanting to lose calories in the midst of the 'silly' and 'racial' tom and jerry fights would have provoked anybody's blog, it seems. Anyways it was nice reading through. Well, this one's really cool ! :P

    1. Hey co'mon - am not anti Tom and Jerry - it's just that someitmes the sub-text can be quite overwhelming :)

  11. You stupid fool. It's a are reading into it like a literary work.

    For heven's sake...stop commenting on AMERICAN culture. Stick to your own.

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I appreciate you taking out the time to share your valuable opinions! They mean a lot!


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