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Fair for Its Day

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"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?"
Shylock, William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, in what seems to be a radical statement for his day (as opposed to being, as is now clear, pretty self-evident)
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This trope concerns itself with things from the past that seem like a huge load of Values Dissonance. They may be laden with, say, a Rose-Tinted Narrative or a Historical Hero or Villain Upgrade.

Only... it turns out it was comparatively Fair For Its Day. Maybe the Historical Hero Upgrade or Historical Villain Upgrade wasn't that unfair a reflection on the person's views. Maybe the Rose-Tinted Narrative just wasn't rose-tinted enough for its original audience. Maybe it was even ripped apart in its own time for being downright insurrectionist and was brave to go as far as it did.

This doesn't automatically make the work immune to criticism: something less dissonant than its contemporaries can still be pretty darn dissonant. Oftentimes, though, a little research will show that something cringe-worthy or laughable today is also something worthy of applause for what it stood for, and the context can be important in interpreting the work at large. Authors often work under a system of rigid censorship that decrees even mild criticism of the status quo to be going too far, even in enlightened democracies. Attempting to argue for modern values would have really been pushing your luck. (In other words, here Failure Was the Only Option.) A work that's only a little culturally subversive is more likely to escape censorship and earn public acclaim than one that goes all the way, thus ensuring its relevance - or at least survival - into the present day. (For an ironic counterpoint, consider Crosses the Line Twice, which is when one has to go all the way to get away with being offensive.)

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Please remember that this trope does not mean "surprisingly enlightened for its time period." It means "more enlightened for its time period", which is not necessarily the same thing. If a vintage work has a message that comfortably fits modern audiences, that's Values Resonance. To qualify for Fair For Its Day, a vintage work must have negative cultural traits as well as positive ones.

Contrast Rule-Abiding Rebel. Innocent Bigot and Racist Grandma are related tropes. Executive Meddling and Lowest Common Denominator may also play roles if unprejudiced creators are forced to pander to widespread prejudices among the public. The same principle applied to innovation in fictional works is "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny. Ironically, a clear counterpart to You Are a Credit to Your Race, the utterance of which was fair for its day.

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NOTE: For something to be considered Fair For Its Day, said attitude, law or outcome must be considered progressive compared to what the user can generally believe to know or have a frame of reference. For example, Bill Clinton and his policies on homosexuality cannot be considered such, because other nations (e.g. Netherlands) had more progressive policies, which at the time Bill Clinton would have known. However, the Code of Hammurabi is considered such, because it is unlikely that Hammurabi would have had such a frame of reference or knowledge.

Examples more recent than 15 years ago are not allowed.


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    Advertising 
  • Levy's "you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy's bread" campaign may seem a bit cringe-worthy today, but back in the early 1960s, it was rare for non-WASPS in the media, including wide-reaching ad campaigns like this one, to not be featured as a racist caricature, however subtle. Jews got a bit more of a break because there were so many writers, producers, directors, and other highly-placed show business creators who are Jewish.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Often noted in the case of Osamu Tezuka given that, while the content of some of his work is offensive by modern standards, he was actually a very enlightened writer for his time and would likely appreciate the more open-minded nature of today's society. A good example would be Princess Knight. While the work can come across as incredibly sexist by modern standards (among other things, having it that women are naturally timid, unsuited for fighting, and enamored of pretty things like dresses), it still has a heroine who fights for her happy ending and becomes strong and brave enough to defend herself. Furthermore, while the series shows women as naturally being frail, it also showed that they can grow to be strong and most of the women were shown as being naturally brave, compassionate, and intelligent. Friebe and Hecate are shown as being good people while ignoring gender norms and engaging in unladylike behavior (and are shown to be very good at it). Meanwhile, the villain takes advantage of the kingdom's sexist laws to further his own goals, while the heroes agree that the rules limiting the rights of women are misogynistic and outdated. When the women of the kingdom finally revolt, while the whole thing is generally Played for Laughs, they do put up enough of a fight to worry the Duke, and Plastic granting women equal rights to men and letting Sapphire rule is shown as him being a true man and doing the right thing.
  • Cyborg 009 was written in the 60s and it shows - the characters tend to be portrayed rather stereotypically, with 005 and 008's designs aging very badly (008 in particular, who has a blackface design). The manga, however, was one of the earliest portrayals of a multi-cultural superhero team. All of the characters are likable, no matter which country they were from. They quickly grow to be True Companions and have respect for each other's cultures. And while the portrayal of the native characters didn't age very well, the stories still draw attention to how Native Americans and the people of Africa suffer from social injustices and should have their way of life respected. In the Vietnam War arc (not present in the anime), the people of Vietnam are shown as being simple farmers who have no desire for war and are miserable. Additionally, Francoise/003 gets criticism for being The Chick and not having offensive powers, but she still was shown as being brave, proactive, and able to use her super-senses to help the team during battle. She was also clearly displeased with Stay in the Kitchen jokes made at her expense and was willing to help the team despite being a pacifist and disliking fighting.
  • Lots of people complain about Honey Kisaragi from Cutey Honey being a huge Ms. Fanservice, but she was and still is a very brave Action Girl; one created in The '70s, too, who became iconic enough to inspire the anime action girls and magical girls that would follow.
  • Destiny of the Shrine Maiden has a nonsensical plot rife with unfortunate implications about the main character falling in love with a Psycho Lesbian who raped her. But back when it was released, yuri anime almost universally gave its characters tragic endings or shied away from making their relationship explicitly romantic, whereas Destiny of the Shrine Maiden made it clear that its female main characters were in love with each other and gave them a happy ending together (of sorts). However, the rape and overall poor handling of its yuri relationship mean that it has not aged well at all.
  • Devilman: The part where Ryo/Satan claims to love Akira due to his female side doesn't age very well with today's audience due to the homophobic undertones. However, for a manga that came in the 70s, the fact that the author let a man explicitly proclaiming his love for another man, regardless of the reason, should be given some credits. It also helps that aside from that particular instance, the love Ryo has for Akira is played seriously in the manga and is the only thing that humanizes the otherwise evil Satan.
  • Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin has been called sexist by modern viewers because Cross is the only major female character and retires from the action late in the series due to becoming pregnant. That said, Cross was consistently depicted as an equal fighter to all the male dogs and even when she became pregnant she pulled off some incredible things like swimming from one Japanese island to another. And in the manga? She kept fighting even while she was pregnant! As she's from the mid-1980s, she was one of the first action girls in Shonen Jump history!
  • While Ranma ½ has become a symbol of the LGBT community because of Ranma's ability to change genders, the story itself is much more problematic by today's standards; the reason Akane was forced through an arranged marriage with Ranma in the first place was that her tomboyishness (which was framed negatively by the story) drove off every other potential male suitor she had. Also, Ranma had to re-learn much of his martial arts training following his curse because turning into a girl made him physically weaker.
  • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Battle Tendency, from the late 1980s, has received some criticism from modern viewers for how one of the central protagonists, Lisa Lisa, doesn't get to do much and her skills are more of an Informed Ability. For the time period the manga ran during, however, Lisa Lisa was actually too ambitious for Hirohiko Araki. Shonen Manga during the late '80s was very much driven by macho men protagonists like Fist of the North Star with very few female characters being present, and those that were there tended to be supporting characters. Lisa Lisa not only trained Joseph, she actively fought and was a huge threat to the Big Bad of the arc, enough to where the Big Bad Kars cheats his duel with her to knock her out, and it framed as the Darkest Hour of the arc. In fact, Araki admits he wishes he had gotten to do more with Lisa, as his publishers made him reduce her screentime to focus on Joseph to avoid any potential backlash Araki might get over it.
  • YuYu Hakusho often is the target of criticism by modern viewers who watch it now instead of when it came out for some out of date views on things like Homosexuality, Transgenderism, and other more modern social topics, many of which are traits of the antagonists the heroes face and are often portrayed as weird or comical in nature. When the manga came out though, very few series were willing to even have these elements in their work because of more traditional views of Japan at the time and so the series seemed fairly ahead of its time by simply addressing their existence. Furthermore, the main villain of the Chapter Black arc, Sensui, was gay, but his sexuality was not portrayed as evil, wrong, or weird, but instead was a part of his character that was there, and he was a villain because his goals and beliefs were going to cause countless deaths. Part of this issue lies with the dub of the anime, as the dub came out during a time where these topics were seen as controversial and not allowed due to Moral Guardians at the time, so the dub had to downplay or alter these elements to avoid possible legal issues that could arise from having these elements.
  • General Blue in the Red Ribbon arc in Dragon Ball was a rather cringe-worthy gay stereotype; he was also by far the most competent, dangerous, and lethal of all the officers of the Red Ribbon Army, almost killing Goku three times. While he was worse in the anime, those scenes were filler created by Toei with no input from Toriyama.

    Films — Animation 
  • Sleeping Beauty:
    • Sleeping Beauty has a rather flat love storyline between the prince and princess. They just meet in the forest and fall in love in a matter of seconds because they met "once upon a dream". But at the time, the previous two Disney Princesses (Snow White and Cinderella) had even less developed love interests — they functioned simply to marry the princess and whisk her away to a better life. Aurora meeting her prince and getting to talk to him properly was fairly progressive for Disney at the time. It was also the first time a Disney Prince functioned as an actual character — Philip (note: the first prince with a name) has to fight for his happy ending instead of just showing up at the end. Also worth noting is that Aurora doesn't just immediately swoon into the guy's arms. She makes arrangements to get to know him properly later — not in the forest, but her home with her 'aunts' present.
    • Speaking of Sleeping Beauty, it can be argued that neither Aurora nor the prince is the main protagonist. That honor goes to the three good fairies who are portrayed as competent women and prove necessary help for the Prince. The antagonist is also female meaning that most of the film is driven by women which is rather feminist for the time.
  • The crows in Dumbo are often accused of acting like stereotypical black people, and their leader is even named Jim Crow in the script. But on the other hand, their antics portray them as being incredibly clever, and they prove to be some of the nicer characters in the film when they teach Dumbo how to fly. In fact, they are the only characters, other than his mother and Timothy, who treat Dumbo well. Also, most of them (except for their leader) were voiced by African American singers.
  • Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is routinely criticized for its lack of depth in the romance. But when the film was made, it was an improvement over the original fairy tale, where the prince only comes in as a Deus ex Machina at the end. At least here the prince appears much earlier in the story and has some reason to look for Snow White. He was meant to have a larger role in the film (being tormented by the Queen) but the Disney animators weren't good at drawing a convincing human male yet.
  • Disney's Cinderella is often panned by people nowadays because people believe its title and the main character is a passive and submissive heroine who does nothing except wait for a man to rescue her, and who didn't directly rebel against her stepfamily's abuses. However, this is mostly a misconception, and her character was considered progressive compared to her contemporaries. Cinderella didn't wait for people to rescue her to the degree most people commonly believe. Cinderella's patience and dreams are what gave her determination to fight for the happiness and freedom that her stepfamily denied her, taking advantage of opportunities to do so despite her stepfamily's wishes and openly expressing her contempt for them. Also, Cinderella never once mentions waiting or praying for a man or prince to come to rescue her. In fact, she doesn't know she's dancing with the Prince at the ball until told later. Again, Cinderella makes the most of opportunities and takes risks to earn her happiness and freedom, including winning over the Prince, the only person that Cinderella has had a happy interaction with since her father died. To quote Walt Disney himself:
    Walt Disney: "She believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn't come along, she went over to the palace and got him."
  • The portrayal of the Native Americans in Peter Pan. Despite being very offensive ("What made the red man red?") by today's standards, in The '50s, it was actually one of the more positive portrayals of Native Americans, depicting them not only trouncing the Lost Boys in combat but also having Tiger Lily refusing to betray Peter's hideout. It's seen as an Old Shame by Disney, with contemporaries saying they would not have done it like that if they were making the movie today. However, part of this is due to the source material - which was arguably even more offensive. Reasons like this are why other adaptations try to handle the "Natives" better. Peter and the Starcatchers replaces them with a much less anachronistic Polynesian tribe who were former slaves of the British (justifying the fact they can communicate with the Lost Boys and hate the English).
  • Speaking of Native Americans, Pocahontas, which was released in 1995, is also a good example. As pointed out here, despite the glaring inaccuracies and stereotyped Native characters, the central protagonist is still Pocahontas — who's a Native American female, voiced by Irene Bedard, a Native American actress. She also has personal motivations and life goals that don't involve getting married, and she doesn't end up as a Trophy Wife for the British John Smith. Considering the lack of representation Native Americans still suffer from in Western mainstream films — especially with the whitewashing controversy over Tiger Lily in Pan — that is saying something. While the Unshaved Mouse didn't like the film, he did admit it was at least good that Disney attempted to do a better depiction of Native Americans than they have done before this movie's production.
  • Aladdin was seen at a time when there wasn’t much Middle-Eastern representation in Western media and was praised for portraying them as regular people and not mindless barbarians. Sadly, these days, it takes way too many liberties with a region that continues to be marginalized to this day, and, outside of Aladdin and Jasmine, typically get portrayed as ugly people with stereotypical Middle-Eastern features and accents. The fact that all of the voice actors are white only adds fuel to the fire.

    Music 
  • People who bash Al Jolson for performing in blackface may not realize that he actually helped a lot of real Black people make it big in the music business, giving performers such as Cab Calloway their big breaks. When filming a duet with Calloway, Jolson demanded that they be given equal treatment on the set. When reading in a newspaper that songwriters Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle had been kicked out of a restaurant because of their race, he personally invited them out to dinner despite having never met them, saying he'd punch the nose of anyone who had a problem with it. Jolson was also known as the only white man who was allowed into the all-black nightclubs in Harlem.
  • George Formby wrote and performed a series of songs about a Chinese immigrant named Mister Wu. Although they did play heavily upon the stereotypical British image of the Chinese, they also portrayed the protagonist in what for The '30s was a fairly positive light. Formby had a dim view of racism throughout his life, as evidenced during his tour of South Africa in which he refused to play to segregated audiences and criticized local racist views.
    • Mr. Wu originated as a character in an anti-racism play, and was most famously portrayed by Lon Chaney in a silent film co-starring Anna May Wong. He was a tragic figure, a loving father who was tradition-bound to kill his cherished daughter for having romance with an English boy. Chaney dressed and made up with extreme care.
  • The first stanza of Germany's national anthem sounds ultra-nationalist today, with a line that translates as "Germany above everything in the world..." Yet it was written before All the Little Germanies had even united, so looking past regional conflicts toward a common German identity was pretty ahead of its time.
  • "Lola" by The Kinks uses a few transphobic stereotypes, like the Unsettling Gender Reveal when the narrator possibly calls Lola a man via Ambiguous Syntax. Nonetheless, it was a pretty positive portrayal for 1970, characterizing Lola as attractive and implying that the narrator accepts her identity even after The Reveal.
  • Joni Mitchell created a character called Art Nouveau, who is Afro-American. She dressed and made up as realistically as possible to play him on several occasions. (That's him on the cover of Don Juan's Reckless Daughter.) It was Blackface, but at the time she was considered audacious for doing it, not racist. In fact, Art had his origins in her devotion to jazz, and Charles Mingus asked her to collaborate with him on what would be his final album after she invented Art.
  • "Baby, It's Cold Outside" generates controversy today that would have baffled its original 1940s audience. Modern listeners often think the lyrics portray date rape, with the man refusing to accept the woman's constant barrage of refusals until he finally breaks her down enough to do something against her will. The line in which she remarks, "What's in this drink?" is also seen as sounding like she's being drugged, However, when the song was written (by a man specifically to perform with his wife at cocktail parties) societal pressures were very different. A Man Is Always Eager and All Women Are Prudes were fully enforced, so courtship was a delicate game of manners where women were expected to put up a token resistance for propriety's sake, while the man's job was to pursue. The song is supposed to portray a romantic couple playing out this dance of evasion and persuasion until the woman feels that propriety has been met and she can allow herself to "give in." Her line about the drink was a common excuse among sexually active women at the time, blaming the alcohol for "weakening their resolve" to maintain purity when they in fact knew exactly what they wanted. To audiences of the time, the undertone of the story was both fairly risque and liberating.
  • The song "Mamma är lik sin mamma" ("Mum is like her mom") by Siw Malmkvist was about how it's the woman's job to clean the house, do the laundry and perform all the household chores. Back when the song was released in 1968, it was considered to be a pretty progressive song because it came out around the same time the Second Wave of Feminism was in full swing when such "Stay in the Kitchen" stereotypes were viewed as offensive. Nowadays, however, it's bashed by many for the fact that it also makes use of offensive male stereotypes (claiming the man of the house gives no help whatsoever — "And this is called emancipation", Siw comments dryly).
  • Lionel Ritchie's video for his Signature Song "Hello" was pretty progressive for its day, in featuring a blind art student as gifted, desirable, independent, and completely confident in herself. Unfortunately, the role of Ritchie's own character, an Art teacher crushing on her and ultimately expressing his feelings while she's still taking his class, hasn't aged so well. It comes across as creepy and unprofessional rather than romantic, given that he's in a position of authority over her.
  • The Charity Motivation Song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" has come under fire for its stereotypical description of Africa and White Man's Burden overtones but it was released in 1984. This is long before The Internet and 24-Hour News Networks so the vast majority of the general public in The West simply were not aware of the realities of the subtler socioeconomic and geopolitical landscape of the continent at the time. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure have gone on record to state that the song and subsequent Live Aid concerts were an emotional appeal to raise awareness of and try and galvanise the public and western governments into doing something major and effective about the critical famine and refugee crisis in Ethopia at the time, and that it should be viewed in the context of trying to do this in the middle of the The '80s with its "Me! Me! Me!" attitudes - the song was trying to be evocative and emotional rather than accurate and academic. It's fair to say that the most vitriolic critics of the song and concert haven't done anything as remotely high profile and effective for a good cause.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician, Mandrake's Bash Brother is Lothar, an African Prince of a federation of jungle tribes and "the strongest man alive". While this may seem stereotypical, Lothar was portrayed with great respect and dignity compared to almost any other Black characters at the time. note 
  • In Rupert Bear, the Chinese Conjurer and Tiger Lily are very stereotypical, but also depicted as likable and good characters rather than Yellow Peril villains. They are also drawn as people that human beings could believably look like, rather than the extreme ethnic caricatures seen in other strips of their era.
  • For Better or for Worse was in many ways ahead of its time — however, a few things (i.e., John's casual sexism towards his female coworkers or Elly, the only gay Lawrence becoming a florist) come off as rather dated today.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Until the 1960s, promotions had Black wrestlers battling other Black wrestlers; a notable exception was Bobo Brazil frequently battling The Sheik, an assimilated Arab from Brazil's hometown of Detroit who was generally considered white. Interestingly, you could probably argue this one either way. Either the Black-on-Black matches were fair for their day in that Black wrestlers were allowed to compete at all, Or they were covertly even more fair because they avoided race riots breaking out, during which the black minority in the crowds would inevitably get the short end of the stick — not to mention avoiding the possibility of the white wrestler winning every time just to satisfy white audiences' egos.
  • American Indian wrestlers mostly had savage gimmicks in the 1920s and 1930s, during the early days of gimmick characters — ergo, to promote "cowboy and Indian" angles. One retrospective, "The Idiot's Guide To Professional Wrestling" (penned by Captain Lou Albano), suggested that as a promotional tool, the wrestler should set up a teepee at city hall (or courthouse, high school, etc.), enticing people to call the local newspaper and send a reporter over to see "what the disturbance was about." The Indian wrestler would be in character and make a scene, thereby giving the promoter the free publicity he was seeking. Later on, as Native Americans were granted civil rights, these characters were always heroes, even though they continued to be portrayed by white athletes who could "pass" for Indian or (in the case of Tatanka) men of mixed race who looked more white than anything else.
  • When purist fans talk about pro wrestling history, they tend to overlook (or more likely ignore) GLOW completely, with the González sisters, The Crush Gals, and the Thunder Queens being looked upon today with disdain. In fact, if a female wrestler in the 1980s was nationally known, she was probably working for GLOW. And despite the organization proving that women could carry a show (even if a was just a camp show), there were no other successful attempts to broadcast women's wrestling until TNA's Knockouts Knockdown, about 30 years after GLOW ended.
  • The female wrestler Sable is less-than-fondly remembered nowadays. She had no training, was in the ring to provide Fanservice, and had it written into her contract that she couldn't be bumped by anyone. Despite this, she was a woman who gained popularity and warranted a star push in her own right — she wasn't just a valet to man. She codified the Smurfette Breakout in wrestling and resurrected the women's division single-handedly. What's more, Sable was presented as a woman who would stand up for herself and fight for what she believed in, even if she might have had trouble doing so outside of Kayfabe (which was of course irrelevant). In the PG Era when many Divas are forced to go through Chickification or behave like a Distressed Damsel, this is significant.
  • Paige had hardly any character depth when she first arrived in NXT. With the Red Baron "The Anti Diva" and a different look from most other wrestlers, she reeked of Real Women Never Wear Dresses. However, she still attained notoriety in her own right, proving that fans could get behind divas if they were presented to be more than Ms. Fanservice.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Thunderbirds: Lady Penelope tends to get a fair amount of bashing today for showing glaring sexist stereotypes. This included demonstrating a few Eek, a Mouse!! moments and being a bad driver at first, as well as exhibiting feminine stereotypes (like wearing high heels) in a swamp during a rural field mission in "The Imposters." At the same time, however, she was one of the first action girls on UK TV, with her regularly getting involved in the Tracy Brother's adventures. She usually remained calm in the face of danger, was an independent and competent female who didn't take crap from anyone, and had a man working for her named Parker (justified, though, since he was her butler). Many creators of action girls in modern-day UK TV cite Penelope as an influence.

    Radio 
  • The famous Superman radio miniseries "The Clan of the Fiery Cross" gets quite a lot of well-deserved praise today for being one of the first works of mainstream American pop culture to portray the Ku Klux Klan (or a thinly-veiled expy of them) as villains, explicitly calling out their racism and xenophobia as "un-American" and inviting ordinary Americans to harass and disrupt them by any possible means. By today's standards, though, it might seem a bit odd that the family Superman defends from the Klansmen are not rural or working-class African-Americans (the most frequent target of the Klan, by far), but heavily Americanized middle-class Chinese-Americans. And the story takes pains to show them as educated, well-to-do business owners who speak flawless English, as if they would have been too hard to sympathize with if they hadn't been the absolute image of respectable white-bread American values. As progressive as the story was, it was still a product of the 1940s; it was daring enough to take on the Klan, but not quite daring enough to show Superman siding with Black Americans.
  • The Shadow: While the pulps often reflected the stereotypes of its day, it was a policy of long-time editor John Nanovic to constantly chip away at these elements in the magazine's stories. The Shadow would be notable for having African-American, Jewish, and Chinese-American characters who were useful and often crucial parts of The Shadow's team. Nanovic also instituted two important rules. First, outside of plot-relevant needs, the main villain had to be a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant — "Fu-Manchu"-style villains or other ethnic Big Bads were, by and large, out (though Shiwan Khan was a major exception to this rule). Second, he dogged series author Walter B. Gibson to drop the "Asian Speekee Engrish" Chinese characters, encouraging him to introduce Dr. Roy Tam (who spoke perfect English) and to soften the dialect of other Chinese characters.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Cyberpunk: One of the splatbooks has a journalist interview various edge runners at a bar. The bartender casually mentions that his girlfriend, who works behind the bar, was born a man, but that he doesn't mind since he only knew her after she transitioned. Today, the second part of this would come across as fairly transphobic, and the first as not only rude but outright hostile, given how likely trans people are to be victims of hate crimes and violence. However, in 1992 when this was written, this was pretty much peak woke, and the author quite likely intended the interview object's acceptance of transgenderism to be a sign of how far society had moved on.

    Video Games 
  • Tomb Raider's protagonist Lara Croft has been seen by some as obvious fanservice for adolescent male fantasies, given her generous proportions, which is not helped when the developers admitted that she was a woman was so gamers wouldn't have to look at a guy's ass all day. However, at the time Lara was a pretty big step forward for women in gaming, given that they were normally cast in lead roles as Damsel in Distress types even in action or fighting games. Having a female character that not only had a strong personality but didn't have a male character coming to her rescue at any time was something few games had tried in the past and none saw the same mass-market success.note  If nothing else, the series proved that gamers, at the time largely stereotyped as violence-addicted immature adolescent males, were mature enough to at least tolerate playing a female character. Indeed, later analysis revealed that an estimated 40% of players of the first Tomb Raider game were female themselves — an unimaginable proportion for the genre at the time.
  • If you beat Metroid in under three hours, it was revealed that Samus Is a Girl... by showing her in a leotard, or a bikini if it was beaten in less than one hour. This was big at the time, however, as she was one of the first playable human female main characters. Plus, due to technical limitations — such as the NES' resolution, which made it somewhat difficult to draw anything identifiably — there were very few ways to convey this idea.
  • Ms. Pac-Man is sometimes criticized in modern times for her Tertiary Sexual Characteristics, given that the only traits distinguishing her from Pac-Man were her lipstick and the bow on her head. Graphical limitations of the era meant that there weren't many other options to distinguish her, however — and she was plenty revolutionary for being one of the first female video game protagonists at the time. Her game ended up being the best-selling arcade game of all time in the United States, proving that video games with female protagonists could not only sell but be supremely popular with the general public.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy IV tends to get criticized for its use of Damsel in Distress in the case of Rosa. She has to be saved early in the game after getting a form of heatstroke, she gets kidnapped by the Big Bad, and she gets left behind during battle by Cecil (along with Rydia) out of fear for them being hurt. While by today's standards these would never be acceptable (coming across as Stay in the Kitchen thinking), the game came out during a period where games finally began putting more effort into telling their stories — thus it was considered fine, even nuanced at the time. Cecil's attempts to protect Rosa (his love interest) and Rydia (the girl he accidentally dragged into the game's events) by having them stay behind was a flaw of his that they both called him out on. He eventually realized he was being rude to them by attempting to do so. Both characters were also more complex than typical female characters in RPGs, with Rosa being a Morality Chain to Cecil and being just as devoted to protecting him as he was to her. For the time she came out in, Rosa was significantly more advanced than most other healer love interest characters in the genre.
    • For its time, Final Fantasy VI was progressive for not only having female leads in Terra and Celes, but having them be hard-hitting warrior-types equipped with shields, swords, and armor in an era where female RPG characters were all but guaranteed to be Squishy Wizards who used staves or rods. Especially in the US, which didn't get any of the Final Fantasies that allowed class changing and thus only had Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, both of which exclusively relegated women to physically weak spellcaster roles. Nowadays Setzer's introduction sequence, with him planning to kidnap an actress to make her his bride and everyone considering him a Lovable Rogue for it, is more than a little creepy.
    • Barret from Final Fantasy VII is often criticized by modern gamers/journalists (especially with the announcement of the game's remake) as being a borderline racist stereotype of the Scary Black Man trope. While it's undeniable he fits the description and comes across as stereotypical, Barret was perhaps the best-written Black character in the gaming industry back in 1997 — or at the very least the best one written from a Japanese gaming company. While he does play the trope fairly straight, he has enough Hidden Depths to have a character arc, and becomes a Parental Substitute for his deceased best friend's (light-skinned) daughter. This stands out heavily considering Barret is from a JRPG, a genre that often avoids using Black characters and usually relegates them to minor characters at best. It's worth noting that despite being stereotypical by modern standards, Barret remains an incredibly popular character.
  • By today's standards, Mother 3's Magypsies have a rather unfortunate name and look uncomfortably like stereotypical Drag Queen caricatures. Yet they, as the Big Good of the setting, are with one exception unflinchingly heroic characters, treating others with kindness and offering Lucas and friends nothing but encouragement and support along their journey. While other characters (mostly sheltered townsfolk NPCs) tend to consider them somewhat eccentric, the actual heroes treat their gender identities with respect. Back in 2006, having positive transgender/nonbinary representation of any kind, especially in Japanese media, was almost unheard of.note 
  • The Sims and The Sims 2 can be a jarring reminder that the portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way since the 2000s. The original game disallows same-sex marriage entirely, and The Sims 2 has a separate "joined union" option for same-sex couples which is deliberately distanced from the terminology used around opposite-sex marriage. It's easy to forget that when the first game released in 2000, the fact that it was even designed to permit same-sex romances between characters at all was a pretty big deal; and acknowledging same-sex couples with legally recognised in-game partnerships was similarly progressive in 2004 when the sequel came out.

    Western Animation 
  • Lloyd in Space: The episode "Neither Boy Nor Girl" is about an alien kid named Zoit whose species chooses to be a boy or girl when they turn thirteen. It defines gender through stereotypically gendered activities like enjoying sappy movies and belching contests, and the ending implies that boys must develop crushes on girls and vice versa. However, it addresses the concept of androgyny and choosing one's gender years before transgender issues started to get more traction in the media, and Zoit calls their classmates out for trying to influence their choice.
  • The Looney Tunes shorts contain several examples.
    • Bosko, the first Looney Tunes star, was a black boy drawn in such a simple style that he resembled Oswald the Lucky Rabbit with human ears and a bowler hat. At the very start he spoke in a Southern drawl. But to their credit, the creators saw their error and tried to backtrack. Soon Bosko was shown running businesses, fighting as a musketeer alongside white musketeers, and defending his girlfriend from white bad guys. Alas, the drawing style still causes uninitiated modern viewers to presume the worst.
      • Whenever Warner Bros references Bosko in modern times (such as when he appeared on Tiny Toon Adventures), he is always explicitly identified as just a general purpose "inkblot" Cartoon Creature along the lines of the Animaniacs heroes.
    • Speedy Gonzales has been the subject of criticism for his stereotypical Mexican qualities, but a lot of Hispanics remember him as a resourceful Latino hero on television. Although some of the support cast mice are shown in an unflattering light, their behavior makes sense given that many of them are in party mode. The often-maligned Slowpoke Rodriguez is portrayed as the opposite version of Speedy, seeming to be more crafty than he lets on.
    • The Merrie Melodies cartoon "Clean Pastures" features good-natured spoofs of famous black jazz musicians, and the story suggests that certain types of black music are better than others. Its title is a takeoff on the play/film Green Pastures, which has an all-black cast and is definitely fair for its day.
  • The Silent Era Felix the Cat cartoon "Uncle Tom's Crabbin'". While the blackface designs and Deep South slavery setting would turn heads today, it's surprising in that it clearly shows Felix on the side of a sympathetically portrayed Uncle Tom against Simon Legree (with Tom's race and plight distinctly not being played for laughs). Felix even helps Tom against Legree, and the two come out on top in the end.
  • Jonny Quest (the original 1960s version of which first aired in prime time) deserves a listing here. While the character of Hadji has some clearly stereotypical characteristics ("Sim sim salabim", anyone?), he was the first dark-skinned character to be a regular in a 1960s kids' show, was always treated as Jonny's equal (as well as his best friend and adopted brother), and had tricks that amazed or confused the adults featured.
    • The 1990's version downplayed a lot of the unfortunate baggage on Hadji, presenting his philosophizing as a way for him to subtly snark at his more adventurous adoptive brother and the hotheaded Jessie Bannon. Making Hadji the computer expert helped solidify this idea. Unfortunately, ten years later, Bollywood Nerd would become its own trope.
    • Also given the realistic art style of the show, mostly avoiding Engrish, and generally being competent, none of the non-white characters were racist caricatures, at least by '60s standards. They weren't always pretty, but they were far better than portrayals from earlier decades.
    • The show has some blatant stereotypes by modern standards, including an almost complete absence of any Black people except for a second's worth of angry African natives from the episode "Pursuit of the Po-Ho" in the opening credits. This episode proved the exception; in it, Dr. Quest quietly chides another scientist for calling a Po-Ho ritual "barbaric". He says that while it may seem barbaric according to their standards, it's not barbaric by the Po-Ho's standards.
  • Referenced in the Justice League episode "Legends." Green Lantern and the others have been transported to a world with 1950s era heroes, one of whom calls the Black John Stewart "a credit to your people," which he genuinely means as an enlightened compliment. It would have been seen as such during that time period.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The episode "Simpson And Delilah" featured a character named Karl who kisses Homer and pats him on the butt, but whose sexuality is not officially confirmed. Nowadays, Karl would be derided as an example of queerbaiting, since Matt Groening never made any official statement on the issue. However, Karl is depicted as an incredibly loyal, helpful, and self-sacrificing assistant to Homer, and his kiss isn't done for a cheap joke, but is taken as a sign of how much Karl cares for Homer. Which is pretty remarkable considering the episode aired in 1990, when Ambiguously Gay characters had yet to gain recognition in any American media, animation or otherwise.
    • When it first aired in 1997, the episode "Homer's Phobia" delivered what was considered a largely positive view of gay people, with the message that gays should be accepted as human beings. However, viewed today, that same episode can come across as offensive for its stereotypical depiction of gays (though the Aesop of "Gay folks are no better or worse than straight folks and don't always follow the camp or overly macho stereotype" is a good message that needs to be taken to heart).
      John: Well, Homer, I gained your respect — and all I had to do was save your life! As soon as every other gay person does that, you'll be all set.
    • "Homer the Heretic" was once praised for its sympathetic treatment of non-traditional spirituality, but it's now occasionally criticized for copping out on its message by having Homer go back to church at the end. For its time, though, it was remarkably open-minded in its frank discussion of organized religion, pointing out that adhering to religious rituals isn't necessarily for everyone, and that people can practice their spiritual beliefs in all sorts of ways. And like many Simpsons episodes, it was quite adamant about showing Springfield as a multi-cultural town of many different faiths, favorably depicting Krusty's Jewish faith and Apu's Hindu faith alongside the Protestant Christian Simpsons.
    • The character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon got a lot of flak in the late 2000s and throughout the 2010s due to being viewed as a blatant stereotype of Indians and Southern Asians in general, along with the fact that he's voiced by white actor Hank Azaria. However, during the show's run in the 90s, he was also the first if not the only depiction of a Southern Asian to appear on mainstream television in the U.S. Add to that is the fact that Apu wasn't overly defined by religion like most Hindu characters today, is shown to be capable of running a successful business, and is generally portrayed as a flawed but nice guy who gets along well with the other characters — impressive considering the complete Dysfunction Junction that is Springfield. The "problem with Apu" is that, as the show continued, his stereotypical traits were not toned down or removed — if anything, they got worse — which is what cemented his position as a racist caricature in today's society. Interestingly, while he has been criticized by Indian-Americans and South Asian Americans, Apu is well-liked in India itself.
  • The Betty Boop cartoon "Making Stars". Despite the blatant racial stereotyping and usage of the word "colorful", the fact that the Black American characters weren't in a segregated crowd was quite admirable for the 1930's, and the ending when all the babies drink from the same bottle could be interpreted as a diversity message.
  • Many British and Commonwealth cartoons, such as Rupert, have highly stereotypical depictions of foreign characters (panto accents, joke names, and theme park countries). What's often missed is that these are often only surface details, with the actual characters themselves being well-rounded and positively portrayed.
  • The Dick Tracy Show has three characters (Joe Jitsu, Go-Go Gomez, and Officer Heap O'Calorie) who were drawn (and acted) very stereotypically for the time period. However, while their portrayals can be extremely uncomfortable for modern viewers to watch, they are at least presented as intelligent and capable heroes within the show's universe.

    Other 
  • Disney's "It's A Small World" was and is an appeal to everyone's shared humanity. While the various stereotypical attributes (folk costume, etc.) of the animatronics in the ride haven't aged well (mostly because only the most traditional societies still wear such garb on an everyday basis), it's still The Theme Park Version (no pun intended) of the possibility of a world where we can live together in peace. It's worth noting that the same mold is used to create the dolls' faces regardless of ethnicity, thus completely avoiding Facial Profiling.
  • Barbie dolls often showed Barbie in professions generally not regarded as appropriately feminine at the time they were made. Later, the dolls faced criticism for promoting unhealthily skinny body shapes.
  • The Smothers Brothers sketch "Hiawatha" contains some fairly cringe-worthy jokes at the expense of Native American culture. However, it also contains Dick defending the Sioux "massacre" of Custer at the Little Bighorn, noting that it was a war and "Sitting Bull? Just doing his job." Given when the sketch was released, that was quite fair-minded.
  • Jim Davidson's stand-up routine in the seventies and eighties featured the infamous character Chalky White, a caricature of West-Indian males. While nowadays it's seen as a racist stereotype, Jim was always on Chalky's side, portraying him as a likeable, put-upon underdog.
  • This Vanity Fair cartoon shows whales celebrating the discovery of petroleum, since it means they will no longer be hunted for their blubber. By today's standards, of course, oil drilling is itself a major ecological hazard, but the cartoon deserves credit for acknowledging the plight of whales at a time when environmentalism barely existed.


Alternative Title(s): Shylock Was Comparatively Positive

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