Our Gang Two-Reelers
TCM was having a day-long marathon of what we used to call “Little Rascals” back when they were showing public domain copies on early TV. I TiVoed ten of them. Our Gang is what they were originally called, and that’s what I’ll use here. We loved them. I find myself wondering if kids still do, or if the world they show is now hopelessly alien to them. I mean, little kids going out in the big bad world all on their own? No parental supervision? No stranger danger? No seat belts or child safety seats in cars? No iPhones to call your friends on? These kids might as well be playing on Mars.
Like so many films of this era, some of them are tainted by racism. Back in the bad old unenlightened days of my youth, those were shown on TV, too. And I will admit that one of the worst was a real favorite of me and my friends. It’s called “The Kid From Borneo,” and features a “wild man,” dressed in leopard skins, who somehow ends up in Spanky’s house. Spank starts feeding him stuff from the icebox (remember that term?), and the guy devours it all, growling “Yum yum, eat ‘em up!” which are the only English words he knows. He eats a can of sardines without opening the can, then he eats the key. He eats everything. We howled with laughter … but I think we would have howled if he had been white, too. These shorts have now been removed from broad distribution, or censored, and for once I agree … to a point. These things don’t belong on Saturday morning TV, for sure, or on Nickelodeon, or anywhere that children will watch. But I hope TCM still will show them. I don’t know if they do; that one wasn’t among the ones I just watched.
What impresses me more, given the times, is how racist they are not. Stymie, Buckwheat, and Farina are just part of the gang … a situation that, ironically, probably didn’t happen all that much in real life. Stymie in particular is often the wisest of the group. He will get scared by ghosts, as all “darkies” did in those days, rolling their eyes and such, but he’s no more scared than any others in the gang. They interact with and are treated exactly as the white children are. Stymie was, in fact—and I’m sorry to say this, but it’s true—my only interaction with a black kid during my whole childhood. Me and my gang all liked Stymie, though. He and Spanky and Alfalfa always had the best lines.