Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Betty Boop

Betty Boop was born in the Fleischer Studios and voiced by Mae Questel. We meet her for the first time as a club singer in 1930 in “Dizzy Dishes” where she became Bimbo’s girlfriend, the main character. From 1932 onwards, her popularity grew to such an extent that she became the main character of her own animated cartoons. But why?

Mae Questel


It is especially thanks to her original voice, singing style, physical appearance, and because of cultural reasons.  During the thirties, Americans had to face an economic crisis that made life very harsh for them: the Great Depression. Thanks to Betty, they could forget their problems for a while and think about the good old days of the twenties. Betty was indeed a flapper jazz singer, that is, a woman exploring her sexuality and willing to obtain gender equality in the twenties. But it is also  – and perhaps mostly – because of her sensuality that she got really popular. Before her, female characters were all animals, which is obviously not that attractive. So, Betty was the first and only female human character with generous curves on the screen at the time. Therefore, she soon became a sex symbol and a feminine ideal. That is why she was also one of Disney’s main rivals, since female characters never got the lead role in Disney productions. Betty is thus an originator and one of the first feminists of the small screen.

Helen Kane

Betty Boop’s main source of inspiration was jazz singer Helen Kane. She looked like her and borrowed her singing style with her famous “boop-boop-a-doop”. Kane felt threatened by the character for her popularity was in decline and she considered Betty Boop as unfair competition. Thus, in 1932, she filled a lawsuit against Betty’s creators. But  evidence showed that Helen’s so-called unique singing style was actually stolen from Afro-American flapper Baby Esther. Thanks to that, Betty’s creators won the case and Baby Esther’s legacy was restored.

Betty Boop first appeared as an anthropomorphic French poodle. However, she became fully human within a year. Back then, she represented a sweet and attractive girl with an innocent sexuality. As a result, she was often victim of sexual harassment: male characters were constantly trying to coerce her into sexual acts, as in “Boop-Oop-a-Doop” where there is almost a rape scene. Her only being 16 makes this even more horrendous. Reassuringly, the evil characters usually get punished in the end. It is also important to note that her cartoons were actually aimed at adults at the time. But it changed in 1934: a censure made her quickly lose her decadent personality:  the Hays Code, which demanded wholesome pictures. 

 Boop Oop  A Doop: from 6:00, she is victim of sexual harassment

Thus, Betty Boop underwent changes. For instance, she could not do suggestive gestures and had to cover her arms and legs. Due to this, her popularity went slightly down.

evolution of her physical appearance
She would also be accompanied by a dog named Pudgy and a savant whose name is Grampy. Thanks to these changes, children started to watch her show as well.
For your information, thanks to merchandising in the eighties, we still find products and advertisement with her effigy. 
mug with the effigy of Betty Boop
mascara inspired by Betty Boop

In conclusion, Betty Boop is a symbol of the Depression era, the Jazz Age flappers and feminism. She also personifies candor and was the first sexy icon of cartoon history that pleased everyone.

Eva-Marie Franck, Clémence Hooreman, Mélanie Lemaire. 


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