Arts & Culture

Before ‘Post-Racism,’ There Was Buckwheat

With the release of The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection DVD box set making front-page news in The New York Times, I figured it was probably worth checking out some of the shorts that Homer Simpson deemed worthy of waking … Read More

By / November 11, 2008

With the release of The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection DVD box set making front-page news in The New York Times, I figured it was probably worth checking out some of the shorts that Homer Simpson deemed worthy of waking up at 6:00am every day to catch before heading in to his job as Mr. Burns’ new Smithers. Other than the 1994 big-screen adaptation, which featured such latter-day child-star luminaries as the Olsen Twins, Raven Symone, Travis Tedford and Ross Bagely (Nicky from The Fresh Prince), my generation is generally pretty unfamiliar with The Little Rascals, with Eddie Murphy’s hilarious take on Buckwheat serving as the primary point of reference (even though Eddie Murphy as a cutting-edge comedic staple on SNL is also really before my time).

I watched a couple of the Our Gang shorts on AOL TV, and while the humor doesn’t quite hold up in the way The Three Stooges or Buster Keaton films do, it is easy to ascertain its cultural significance. One of the episodes that I watched all the way through, 1939’s Dog Daze, included all of the following:

  • Disdain for a regiment, well-adorned Boy Scouts troop
  • A duo of juvenile Irish street-toughs who run a loansharking racket
  • A mischievous goat, a penguin and 10-15 stray dogs
  • The Gang turning to ‘petnapping’ in order to pay off the gangster kids
  • A violin-toting, well-spoken rich kid who the gang wants nothing to do with
  • Top hats and bowlers as far as the eye can see

It’s cool that a series of films produced in the 1930’s featured poor kids who were obviously somewhat aware of their families’ limited financial means but young and naive enough that they were accustomed to just making their own fun and not thinking about it. Our Gang is the direct descendent of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Sandlot, Heavyweights, Peanuts and The Bad News Bears. The concept of the happy-go-lucky poor kids has become such a staple of pop culture that David Wain and Michael Showalter’s Wet Hot American Summer was able to parody the entire genre in a single monologue, during which Showalter’s team of poor kids decides they aren’t interested in competing against the rich kids from sports camp and simply forfeit the proposed baseball game. Also noteworthy in the Little Rascals films is the inclusion of Buckwheat and other black characters as unstated equals. Despite Murphy’s minstrel-esque portrayal of the nappy-haired Nubian Rascal, the other characters never mention or react to Buckwheat being black; he is just part of the gang – another poor kid who is prone to mischief and contributes to the gang’s sense of fun. Same goes for the female characters, such as Darla and Farina. The gang’s unquestioned incorporation of black and female characters is the direct ancestor of the PeanutsFranklin and Peppermint Patty. Suspiciously, or maybe progressively, the non-children of The Little Rascals also don’t seem to react to the Gang’s diverse makeup – even the police officers they regularly interact with never drop any N-Bombs on Buckwheat, something that I’m pretty sure is not a reflection of things really went down in most of America in the 1930’s.

 


Watch more Our Gang Comedies videos on AOL Video