Danyael's Hist 389 Blog

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Blog Post #12: Short = Smart; Tall= Beautiful and Dumb???

In school, particularly English and History classes, we have learned to draw from the fiction we read at the time to gain a better understanding of what was going on at that time. It even helps us better understand things like social norms or what is considered attractive for its time. It is because of this that I have been wondering, what would people in the future draw from our fictitious works, more specifically our cartoons? When analyzing cartoons of the 20th century that I watched growing up, I came to the following conclusion: children’s cartoons in the  20th  century reveal that apparently we think that short people are smart, or vice versa, and tall beautiful people are generally dumb.

This idea becomes apparent in many popular 20th century cartoons. For example, the character of Dexter in Dexter’s Laboratory is a genius who is drawn as abnormally small and stout compared to other people his age.  His older sister, Dede, is considered beautiful and is animated as very tall, but her personality is very whimsical and child-like.  Another show with the same general premise is “Pinky and the Brain,” a short from the show Animaniacs. In it an abnormally small mouse named Brain keep hatching plans to try and take over the world, much like a mad scientist. People also regularly comment how ugly Brain is. There is only one problem with his attempts to take over the world. His friend, Pinky, a tall very dumb mouse keeps ruining everything. While Pinky is not necessarily handsome, he is considered better looking than Brain. This is not just a recent phenomenon. In the 1960s show Scooby Doo, Velma is the smartest member of the gang and coincidentally one of the shortest. Daphne, on the other hand, is beautiful and by no mean contributes really to any of their “mysteries.”

So what does this say about the 20th century? Apparently, we associate height with (a) being attractive and (b) being not necessarily the brightest. What type of stereotype is this? Height understandably can go with beauty because models have always been tall, but beautiful should not equal dumb. Plenty of beautiful people have been considered geniuses. In fact, Playboy had the most beautiful genius pose on its cover. Moreover, why is everyone who is smart, short. People like Albert Einstein was actually about average height by today’s standards, being about 5’9″. Bill Gates is around the same height. This is by no means short. People need to realize that despite the fact that cartoons are for entertainment, they may be sending the wrong messages about our culture to people in the future. Is this the message we want to send?

Dexter and Dede

Pinky and the Brain

Velma (orange sweater) and Daphne (purple dress)

Beautiful Genius

ETA: I commented on Brenda Weber and Gerard Thomas’ blog.

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April 15, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

13 Comments »

  1. I never really paid much attention to this until I read your blog, but you’re right! Like you said, height is usually associated with beauty because models are tall. I think this is quite a shame because short people can be beautiful too. Also, like you said beauty does not automatically make you brainless – there are plenty of intelligent and beautiful people in the world. Another thing you mentioned was how short people are perceived as brainy. This is definitely true.

    I just wanted to point out that in the pictures the shorter characters also appear to be plumper. Velma is a perfect example of this. She is shorter and smarter but if you compare her to Daphne she’s also curvier. This bugs me too because I know short people who aren’t curvy at all. I also know tall people who are plump. Yet, all of the taller characters have really teeny waistlines. It would be refreshing to see an end to these stereotypes. Good post!

    Comment by balberry | April 15, 2010 | Reply

  2. Danyael, your blog was very interesting. I never looked at the connection between height, physical appearance and intelligence in animation. Although I think one should take into account that some of the smarter characters you pointed out in your blog may have just been shorter because they were younger and not necessarily because they were smarter like Dexter and Elroy. I think animators tend to adopt the same stereotypes that are present in other art forms. For example, in television and cinema it is common to see beautiful characters of low-intellect and smarter, more rounded, less attractive characters of high-intellect. Maybe this is the media’s twisted way of teaching children about diversity by illustrating that nobody has it all, some people are smart, some people are beautiful but there is something special and likeable about everyone and we can all be friends like Scooby’s gang

    Comment by K.Wade | April 16, 2010 | Reply

  3. It seems I am not alone in noticing this trend. It use to irk me when I was young that the tall, pretty characters were either shallow or lacking in brain power. I don’t believe this to be true at all, but small children are impressionable…it makes me wonder what kind of message they are retaining and how can they be broken of these incorrect, preconceived notions. Perhaps they too will realize its a load of hogwash like the rest of us (hopefully) did when we grew up.

    Comment by cinnamellon | April 17, 2010 | Reply

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  5. I think it lingers on the stereotype that super-models are very tall and mad scientists are very short. Even modern depiction of the “mad scientist” brainy type in real action are short and are trying to show the world because they aren’t “normal” like the taller people. With being tall comes the sterotypical beauty of being skinny, strong, tough, and so on. I’m not saying it should be in our kids cartoons but its one of those life stereotypes that we as humans need to overcome first.

    Comment by mtaylo7 | April 18, 2010 | Reply

  6. Well, I have to say, I’ve never really picked up on any of this until you raised the point. I would like to think that what you had said about those characters who are short and those who are tall where done on accident and not intentionally. But to be honest, it seems quite the opposite of what I just said. It is unfortunate that they do that, but I think they believe it makes for more entertaining television or more entertaining movies if the characters act like this. Maybe they’ll switch it up at some point.

    Comment by cfdemarco | April 18, 2010 | Reply

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  8. I never really noticed that until now. I believe part of it may have to do with tallnes being a desirable trait in society just like good looks. When designing characters, the creators try to balance two character making one the brains and one the beauty. I am not sure whether it perpetuates a negative stereotype or reflects one though. It could possibly be both.

    Comment by osrabit | April 19, 2010 | Reply

  9. I did not pick on this until, I read your post. I have to agree with some of the comments in that tall is often associated with beauty. However, cartoons like Dexter’s Laboratory depicte girls who are tall and beautiful as brainless idiots. This not true, people who are tall and pretty are just as smart as those people who are short and smart.

    Comment by bgw1088 | April 20, 2010 | Reply

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  11. I agree with this post! Us short people get a bad rep in cartoons! I think what Ive noticed most in my watching of cartoons is not only the correlation to height and beauty, but hair color as well. I always remember wanting the brunette to finally become the beautiful (yes sometimes bimbo) and the blonde to be the less attractive nerdy one! These stereotypes lapse over into real life…I mean just look at Barbie or like you stated…playmates. There is a trend that seems to be forming with these examples, and it has to do with height and hair.

    Comment by rtownse4 | April 21, 2010 | Reply

  12. […] Blog Post #12: Short = Smart; Tall = Beautiful and Dumb???: I did some serious revisions to this. I changed my example from Elroy to Brain. I reworded some pieces. I liked this blog and chose it because (a) it was not on a feature film like most of my other blogs and (b) I think it is what history is all about- trying to draw conclusion from what is left behind. […]

    Pingback by Final Blog Specimen :( « Danyael's Hist 389 Blog | May 1, 2010 | Reply

  13. Welcome to a Facebook Page about mine,I’ve learned a lot from your blog here,Keep on going,my friend,I will keep an eye on it,One more thing,thanks for your post!.

    Comment by Authentic | April 28, 2011 | Reply


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