“Blazing Saddles” gets a trigger warning

The Critic site is new to me, but appears to be a kind of Quillette-like UK website that fosters free speech, even when it’s not ideologically au courant.  At any rate, this article appeared on the site recounting how once again HBO has tried to sanitize a “problematic” movie by giving it an ideologically palatable introduction—one that cannot be skipped. This time the movie is Mel Brooks’s 1974 classic “Blazing Saddles“. I saw that movie once decades ago, but can remember little about it except for the post-beans farting scene around the campfire. Apparently the movie has become a classic, though.  As the article reports:

If you have not seen Blazing Saddles – and if you are under the age of forty there is an excellent chance some prudish authority figure sanitised it out of your cosseted millennial existence – it stands as one of the greatest, and the certainly the funniest, anti-racist films of all time. Based on a story by Andrew Bergman, Brooks conceived it as a scathing send-up of racism and the hypocrisy that still enabled it after the great civil rights victories of the 1960s. Brooks’s idiom was a parody of the classic Western, by then an exhausted genre that had, among other flaws, become inanely predictable and was much criticised for leaving out minorities. A landmark of American film, Blazing Saddles was selected in 2006 for inclusion in the US National Film Registry, which recognises “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” worthy of preservation.

It also has an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Click on the screenshot to read about the need for explaining. Mel Brooks isn’t exactly “cancelled” here; his movie is merely “explained”.

The “explainer” this time is the same professor who explained the racism in HBO’s reissue of “Gone with the Wind”, University of Chicago Cinema and Media studies professor Jacqueline Stewart. The problematic issue is, of course, that the movie, though anti-racist in theme (author Paul du Quenoy explains this clearly in his  article), uses the n-word—17 times.  And the anti-racist theme doesn’t matter, as the portrayal of racism itself demands that someone walk onstage at the outset and put the movie “in context”.

According to the report, this is how Dr. Stewart handles that:

[“Blazing Saddles”] arrived with a similarly patronising disclaimer already installed. In a three-minute introduction that apparently cannot be skipped over, Stewart is there again, this time to inform viewers that “racist language and attitudes pervade the film”, while instructing them that “those attitudes are espoused by characters who are portrayed here as explicitly small-minded, ignorant bigots … The real, and much more enlightened, perspective is provided by the main characters played by Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder”.

Oy!

du Quenoy explains that the film is problematic in many ways beyond the use of the n-word, as it also stereotypes Mexicans, Jews, Chinese, the Irish, and, in fact, almost every nationality on the planet. Mel Brooks appear in “full Indian dress,” and the movie finds humor in “drug abuse, capital punishment, physical and mental disabilities, cruelty to animals, and farting.” But these days, the major issue is race:

HBO clearly cares above all about the racial issue, which in the current moment is the most visible and reliable lever to establish media mechanisms for thought control, and to condition mass acceptance of diminished rights of free speech and expression. There are hopeful signs that it will not succeed. In her bland moralising tone, Stewart sounds like a Soviet bureaucrat of the late 1980s cataloguing the ideological demerits of some tentatively allowed item of Western culture to a jaded young audience ready to embrace it as enthusiastically as my students did when I covertly screened Blazing Saddles for them after Gene Wilder’s death in 2016.

I’ve tried to find Stewart’s introduction online as either a transcript or a video, but I can’t (perhaps readers can help). And, you know, I wouldn’t mind at all if the movie was preceded by a brief printed “trigger warning” explaining that the n-word is used and there are stereotypes that some people might find offensive. But a three-minute explanation of why the movie is problematic these days? No thank you! I don’t need to be told how to think about a movie.

Seriously, folks, I can watch the anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi movies “Der Ewige Jude” (“The Eternal Jew”) and “Triumph des Willens” (“Triumph of the Will”) without any “explanation”, and they’re both online for free (go to the links). Perhaps a brief explanation could appear for, say, 30 seconds at the beginning, designed for kids or the naive, but we’re not supposed to be told how to think about the movies. That’s what discussion is for. Stewart’s introductions appear to make such discussion superfluous—or even invidious.

du Quenoy gets a bit heavy-handed when decrying cancel culture, but I think his objection to the obligatory and unskipp-able introduction is right on the money. I’d be curious about what readers think. Perhaps it depends on what Stewart says, but I can’t imagine approving of any three-minute explanation meant to make a movie palatable to modern viewers. Imagine how many movies would require such a thing! I expect that will be coming when HBO gets their hands on some classic films. .

69 Comments

  1. Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    If in this country we have millions of people stupid enough to vote for Trump, maybe we do need some sort of intellectual guidance for them. Three minutes is a bit long, however. How about 10 seconds, and then letting them agonize ?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Or put a link with a disclaimer and a place to read more….I dunno it’s a bit rough for the not stupid to endure this crap.

    • Posted August 20, 2020 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps next week’s Republican Convention should start with a disclaimer each day: “The following program contains racist dog whistles and bigoted language and is deemed inappropriate for voters of all ages.”

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Come on people. I can tell racists language when I hear it. Stop assuming we’re all stupid.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think they want to make you feel stupid; they want to make you feel guilty.

  3. Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I saw this movie in the theatre in 1974 with my older sister. I was not yet fourteen years old. Yeah, lots of it was shocking but THAT’S THE POINT. Trigger warnings. Gimme a break already.

  4. GBJames
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    What is most annoying to me is how this kind of thing disrespects the intelligence of the audience. As if anyone with a handful of remaining neurons wouldn’t recognize the anti-bigot message of Blazing Saddles.

    I’m amazed these people haven’t gone after Randy Newman yet.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that’s what really gets me too. I’m sure no one cares that the white woman feels condescended but I’m sure it’s not just white people.

    • kelskye
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      “What is most annoying to me is how this kind of thing disrespects the intelligence of the audience.”
      Exactly. What is the number in the audience who
      a) would seek out old movies that have different standards than today
      b) be offended that art in the past worked to a different standard
      c) be assuaged by a 3 minute preamble putting it into some context

      My guess is that the number of people would be 0, or so close to 0 that the entire exercise is worthless.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      Bingo.

  5. DrBrydon
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s almost twenty years since Disney issued their Disney Treasure collection, with warnings from the unctuous Leonard Maltin prefacing some cartoons like “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”

  6. Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I rented Blazing Saddles several years ago to see how I liked it, after having seen it long ago when it first came out. I must be getting old and so slightly crotchety because I could not finish it. I recall wincing at the constantly foul language and juvenile humor. Any higher aesthetic in the movie was completely lost to me in a cloud of fart jokes.
    But I would watch Young Frankenstein or The Producers in a minute, I am sure.

    • Posted August 21, 2020 at 3:17 am | Permalink

      There’s one fart joke and it is, perhaps, the greatest fart joke ever committed to film.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I saw Blazing Saddles on the big screen again a few months before the pandemic closed the local arthouse, as part of a retrospective on 1970s’ films that changed Hollywood.

    Sure, it’s politically incorrect by today’s standards, but I still laughed my ass off, as did everyone else in the audience. And, as I always say, fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I should add, it was politically incorrect by 1970s’ standards, too. That was the heart of its charm, goddammit.

      Chrissake, Richard Pryor was one of its scriptwriters. Anybody got the stones to try to “cancel” him?

    • jezgrove
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      Politically incorrect, certainly. But only an idiot could doubt the intended targets of the humo(u)r: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bcokL59jeqU

      • Posted August 21, 2020 at 3:20 am | Permalink

        That’s one of my favourite bits.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted August 21, 2020 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        The clip clearly shows racist stereotypes on display.

        A black man speaks with tone, inflection, and language clearly distilled from portrayals of black men in cinema.

        A white man speaks with tone, inflection, and language clearly distilled from portrayals of white men in cinema.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 21, 2020 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Sadly, there are idiots out there. The generic trigger warning at the beginning of all films should be:

        “Warning: Idiots should not watch this.”

    • darrelle
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 6:21 am | Permalink

      Humor always seems to be the first casualty.

  8. Terry Sheldon
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Blazing Saddles is one of my favorite movies and IMHO one of the funniest movies ever made. Maybe that says more about my warped and puerile sense of humor than anything else, but I digress. I was 17 when I first saw it and subsequently dragged my parents off to see it (first time that had ever happened).

    I heartily agree with the others who have stated that the perceived need for the three minute disclaimer insults the intelligence of the audience. Anyone with a modicum of brain power can easily distinguish between a sendup of racist attitudes and real racism.

    Incidentally, I thought that Brooks’ portrayal of the Jewish Native American chief was one of the funniest parts. I took it as a sendup of the old chestnut that Native Americans were the Lost Tribe of Israel.

  9. Steve
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    🤯🤯🤯🤯

  10. jezgrove
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    “Alright, here we go. Hold your ears, folks. It’s showtime!”, as Sheriff Bart would say…

  11. Jonathan Dore
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Compulsory warnings telling you how to think about a film come from the same mindset as those who want compulsory college courses on eugenics or racism for every student no matter what course they’re taking. Coercive, patronizing, and fundamentally undemocratic.

  12. rickflick
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I think we need a trigger warning-warning for the explainer warning, for people who are fed up with cancel culture. We might as well enjoy the era of cancel-cancel culture.

    • jezgrove
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      A trigger warning for a film about a sheriff in the Wild West is already beyond parody.

    • eric
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      I can see a Monty Python-esque “Moose” sequence at the start of the film, with trigger warnings for the trigger warnings for the trigger warnings… until people realize that they’re actually watching the movie, not the preamble.

      It’s sad but not surprising that a movie intended to criticize bigotry via it’s use gets complained about for it’s bigotry. But, as Mel said, tragedy is when I cut my finger…

      • rickflick
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        “tragedy is when I cut my finger…”

        I think we can all agree to that.

  13. Taz
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    The next logical step is an intro to “The Producers” explaining that “Springtime for Hitler” doesn’t mean that Mel Brooks really likes Nazis.

  14. jezgrove
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    But the character Franz Liebkind loves Hitler…

    • jezgrove
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      That was a reply to Taz at #13.

  15. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    You know what? Somebody’s gotta run the Lenny Bruce bit, “How the Negro and the Jew Got Into Show Business.”

  16. freiner
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s Roy Rogers’ movies that need Trigger warnings.

    • phoffman56
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      IIRC after dying, Roy had Trigger stuffed and placed in his bedroom.

      As Mass Murderer donald would say: Some people are saying that, thinking about that, Dale was hoping he’d go before she did.

  17. David Harper
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    That reminds me that I haven’t watched Blazing Saddles recently. I shall dig out my DVD copy and watch it this weekend.

  18. Steve Gerrard
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    First, it would have been fun to have Mel Brooks et al. do the three minute intro to Blazing Saddles. They would have been much more effective, while also being funny and engaging.

    Second, in this day and age, I feel I am an expert at avoiding lead-in material in any format. Commercials, intros, previews, whatever, TV, YouTube, HBO, whatever, I can always mute that and find something else to look at while waiting for the actual thing to start, no problem.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Oh yeah Mel Brooks doing the lead it would have been great!

    • davelenny
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I agree about avoiding lead-in material. I always have a book on my lap for such things and ad-breaks on TV. Indeed, her introduction would be quite counter-productive as it would have me fuming – who is she to waste my time and tell me what to think?

  19. Steve Pollard
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I find it difficult to understand how anyone with two neurons to rub together can buy a cinema ticket to see Blazing Saddles, or rent/buy a DVD (if anyone still does that any more), or pick it up on Netflix or whatever, without having the faintest idea what it’s about.

    Jacqueline Stewart seems to feel she has to patronise and talk down to anyone who might think of watching this great film just for the laughs and the satire. Who the dickens does she think she is?

    Is the Cinema and Media Studies bit of the UofC anywhere near the Biology Dept, boss? Any chance of having a quiet word with her?

  20. Posted August 20, 2020 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t realise I’d ‘seen’ this film until about halfway through the post. There’s a club/pub in Edinburgh which has a cinema room where they show films all night. I was out with a friend once earlier this year and we were, let’s say, enjoyably inebriated. In the wee hours we end up in this place and go to the cinema room and yes, now I remember, it was Blazing Saddles. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of it given the, er, situation I was in. But I found it funny and satirical. And, while I can handle my drink, if I can get the point of it while blotto, then I don’t think any introductions are needed!

  21. Jon Gallant
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    “Blazing Saddles” was a very, very funny
    movie, which is why it needed the earnest introductory sermon. The latter is not for
    us, but is rather meant for wokies as an emollient introduction to the alien concept of humor. But alas, 3 minutes isn’t nearly long enough. 3 hours, or 3 days, of lecturing by media professors and Diversity Consultants armed with PowerPoint could not get that conception across.

  22. Mark
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    It was the first movie I ever saw on VHS back in the 70s.

  23. sugould
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    If the film ratings that precede movies (G / PG/ PG-13 / R and NC-17) aren’t enough to serve as a “warning,” they should just admit they want the film banned or burned.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      …Want the film banned or burned along with the director and producer, and/or any living descendants.

      • Doug
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

        Most movie channels just flash a content warning before the start of a movie. For example, “Rated R: contains violence, nudity, language and smoking.” Just add “Ethnic stereotypes” or whatever. We don’t need someone blathering for three minutes, although I do like the way she earnestly warns that the film contains “drug abuse, capital punishment, physical and mental disabilities, cruelty to animals and farting.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

        And all watchers marched in a shameful parade.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

          …in chains.

  24. David ford
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    The image of the Soviet bureaucrat, examining an artistic work from the West, is spot on..One is also reminded of the North Korean authorities, confiscating and examining black market South Korean DVDs. It’s a worrying trend – puritanical, humorless. Erasing or amending the past, so that it accords with the dominant values of the present. Orwell, anyone?

  25. James Walker
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I think I must have been 12 or 13 years old when I saw the movie, on television, with the obscenities (but not the n-word – this was around 1980) bleeped out. I knew then what the movie was about.

    It also has a joke about effeminate gay men but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the movie every time I watch it again.

  26. kelskye
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t understand how disclaimers help. Did they run some sort of test where people either watched with or without a disclaimer and reacted differently to the material that was in it?

    I’m also troubled that someone thought a movie as obviously anti-racist as Blazing Saddles required a disclaimer. When a movie that satirises racism and takes a firmly anti-racist stance is seen to require a disclaimer, then I’m completely lost as to what the aims are for this. Prima facie it seems like the aim is to demonstrate racial sensitivity now by remonstrating the past for its lack thereof. Because I can’t imagine that there’s a problem of people watching old films and turning racist from it, or people watching old films and being shocked that attitudes were different in the past.

    • AlTazim
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 12:01 am | Permalink

      I can understand some purpose for warnings on very old material. Growing up, when VHS tapes were still quite expensive, my mom bought some discount tapes with old Loony Tunes (and other studios) cartoons from the 1930s and 40s. Looking back, there were many ethnic and racial stereotypes, and also a lot of blackface-style humor that went right over my sister and I’s heads: we just assumed that crows always talked a specific way, not that how the crows behaved was intended to mock black people. A couple years ago, I found some of these collections transferred straight to YouTube and elsewhere, and they had a disclaimer at the beginning (as kids we never paid attention to text about copyright or the studio the beginning of a VHS) stating something along the lines of these cartoons being produced decades ago, and that they reflect the prejudices of the time.

      Seems like a fair way to acknowledge the issue given that these cartoons were often orphaned or purchased very cheaply and compiled to make a tidy sum of money. This is very different from Blazing Saddles though.

      • kelskye
        Posted August 21, 2020 at 1:16 am | Permalink

        I do wonder the difference between a warning and an explanation. Context is good, and I sometimes wish more older material would come with the equivalent of end notes, because it’s quite easy to not understand the authorial intent outside that place and time. My copy of Voltaire, for example, same with dozens of end notes explaining what would have been assumed knowledge to the contemporary reader.

        On a non-racist note, I’ve been watching certain “classic” films recently, and having the internet is quite vital in understanding some of them. I just watched High Noon and did not pick up on its allusions to McCarthyism, so it was good having Wikipedia to make sense of what the film was trying to say.

        So in that respect, I’m all for more information that helps explain a piece of material as a product of its time and place. Those cartoons similarly went over my head as a child, yet as an adult I don’t need the further warning that such depictions are inappropriate by today’s standards. At some point, it has to be assumed that there’s a competence of the viewer to understand the difference in values.

        I would have thought that by the time of the abolition of the Hays Code, people would have stopped freaking out about morality being corrupted by inappropriate cinema…

  27. Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    My husband and I used to live in Palo Alto, CA in the 70s. We went to dinner in San Francisco with friends and had a fairly significant amount of wine, after which we decided to go down the street to the theater to see Blazing Saddles. Knowing that my husband loved Westerns and, particularly, John Wayne, but not sure of how he’d react to the humor of this humorous Western movie, we fibbed to him that John Wayne was in it. Fifteen minutes into the movie, he blurts out (a little too loudly) “Where’s John Wayne?” That became a saying in our family forever after in similar situations.

    I’d much rather see the very humorous Western movie, Blazing Saddles, than many subsequent more modern, violent and swear-word riddled interpretations of the Western genre. “Where’s John Wayne?”

    • rickflick
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      Ha!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      Haha. That’s a funny story. The other movie goers were probably amused too.

  28. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    At this point, Idiocracy needs an explainer to explain it before the movie starts.

  29. Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    How pathetic. And to think I actually saw Blazing Saddles in CHURCH (our youth pastor eventually got in trouble for the movies he was showing when a bunch of kids freaked out at Night of the Living Dead).

  30. phoffman56
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    IIRC, the ‘Injuns’ in Blazing Saddles, when supposedly speaking their native language, were actually speaking Yiddixh. Or was that a different one?–getting forgetful!

    • phoffman56
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      ..YiddiSh..

  31. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Two words: Oy vey!

  32. Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    There seems to be a lot of people who can’t figure out for themselves that the most blatantly anti-racist movies, books, etc., are anti-racist. Consider the many groups that oppose having students read Huckleberry Finn because of the N word.

    Of course, there are people who think teaching sex education causes students to think of sex (and have sex) when without such classes they’d never think of sex themselves.

    So yes, I think there are people stupid enough to need an intro to the film. But I don’t really think we should give them one. Just get tough enough to think, and say, “You idiot!” to people who object to Blazing Saddles as racist.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      So true. There is some kind of willful ignorance of what’s obvious in such criticism. Exactly what causes that is unknown to me.

  33. Posted August 20, 2020 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    The trigger warnings – lectures – are so infantalizing. How can you watch – say — the Enternal Jew – a Nazi film – and not realize its context?
    Are people that stupid they can’t?

    Well… no.. but there’s a big industry in virtue signalling by “helping” the proles with “problematic texts”.

    So insane.

  34. ladyatheist
    Posted August 21, 2020 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    As a baby boomer, I don’t think my opinion would have any relevance to someone born after 1980. We grew up with the civil rights movement, multiple assassinations, a disgusting war, hippie culture, drug use, and questioning of almost everything. We can handle anything.

    I have almost every line of “Blazing Saddles” memorized, and knowing that most people only remember the campfire scene literally hurts me — a film with so much cleverness and heart and so many thumbs in so many eyes is remembered for its farts.

    A 20-something who hears about the campfire scene might think it’s like “Dumb and Dumber” or an “Ernie” film, so they might really need to be warned.

    A better warning might be “Warning: the film you are about to see is a film about films, a film about racism, corruption, and politics. If you came for the farts, click “exit” and find that scene on YouTube.”

    • GBJames
      Posted August 21, 2020 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      “so they might really need to be warned”

      They need to be protected from being exposed to something they hadn’t expected?

  35. Tim
    Posted August 22, 2020 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l7mSqf57aA

  36. kraeuterbutter
    Posted August 23, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    When will “Tropic Thunder” actually receive a trigger warning? After all, blackfacing plays a very decisive role in the movie. Moreover, the drug dealers are clearly Asian stereotypes.


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