Blind find little to laugh at in myopic Magoo

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Cartoonists may be the last to get the message and they will not much like it. In Nineties America, funny is not funny when it is politically incorrect. None in the industry is exempt, up to and including the Disney Company.

There were squeals of shock last month when a cartoonist for the Arizona Republic offered his version of perhaps the most famous news picture from the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, that of a fireman in the rubble bearing a tiny infant killed in the blast.

So upsetting to some was the drawing, published to coincide with the death penalty sentence against Timothy McVeigh, that the editor was moved the next day to publish an apology.

Meant as a jab against against capital punishment, it labelled the fireman "death penalty fanatics" and had the child pleading, "Please, no more killing". The fireman was replying: "Oh, stop your whining".

Now Disney is getting the same lesson. It is under fierce attack for its planned release next Christmas of a feature film starring actor Leslie Nielsen playing the long-retired cartoon character, Mr Magoo.

Mr Magoo is the perfect vehicle, you might think, forNielsen. First introduced to Americans in the post-war years, Magoo was famously bungling and hopelessly myopic. Comic to most of us; offensive to blind people.

Thus this week, the National Federation of the Blind has demanded that Disney suspend production of the film. It is also asking its 50,000 members to consider forgoing Disney products until the company complies.

"The Disney people have dragged Mr Magoo back from richly-deserved obscurity in the hope that Americans will think it's funny to watch an ill-tempered and incompetent blind man stumble into things and misunderstand his surroundings," said Marc Maurer, president of the organisation.

Disney, which recently also got hit by calls for a boycott by the Southern Baptist Church because of its alleged promotion of homosexuality, shows no sign of acquiescing to the demand, saying the film "does not in any way make fun or demean blind people".

Even Mr Magoo would not have to squint to see other instances of political correctness invading the cartoon world. This week came news that a character in the nationally syndicated Beetle Bailey strip, a lecherous army officer named General Amos Halftrack, will shortly be depicted attending "sensitivity training". Thus, it is hoped, the general will overcome his urge to gawp at the bosom of his secretary, a Miss Buxley. The cartoon's creator, Mort Walker, 73, agreed to the storyline, which aptly reflects the anguish over gender confusions in the real US Army, after seeing that newspapers were dropping his cartoon because of the general.

All this is going on in a country that stays up late at night to watch re-runs of Benny Hill as he cavorts across lawns in pursuit of perky nurses.