Bamford Popeye Watch – Celebrating Sexism?

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Bamford Popeye Watch money shot

As a free speech guy, as the founder of The Truth About Cars, Guns and Watches, I’m no fan of cancel culture. Putting the kibosh on Dr. Seuss, for example, is insane. His book The Sneetches was a crusade against anti-semitism and racism. But there are creations that cross the line. Pepe Le Pew is, indeed, a poster boy for sexual harassment. Just as the Bamford Popeye Watch is an inadvertent celebration of sexism . . .

In her 1990 essay Is Popeye Sexist? writer, historian, professor and yes activist Barbara Ransby nailed it.

The 40-year-old Popeye cartoon series, still a staple of children’s prime time viewing, is probably the most sexist and misogynist of the lot. The cartoon’s central theme is the struggle between two macho male figures, Popeye and Brutus. What do they struggle over? Olive Oyl, the passive, mindless, screeching “love interest” of the cartoon’ s protagonist, Popeye.

Olive is the prize for which the two male characters compete. Some scenes show Popeye and Brutus literally playing tug of war with Olive’s body. Other equally violent scenes show Olive being inadvertently tossed around and knocked down as she becomes caught up in the brawl between her two “suitors.”

Other cartoons offer similarly negative images of women as cute, coy animals being pursued by love-struck male characters or as helpless victims of some evildoer, waiting to be rescued and swept away by some masculine Anglo superhero.

Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with being physically strong or, in some cases, violent. A caveat that applies to both men and women. But violence was the answer to all of Popeye’s predicaments, which almost always involved “winning” Olive Oyl through a display of naked aggression.

Need I mention the cartoon series’ underlying [admittedly pro-vegetable] pro-drug message? Or the depiction of the Japanese in the WWII wartime short above? Probably not.

caseback cartoon watch

As for the 40mm Popeye Watch featuring the cartoon character, it’s Mr. Bamford’s second go.

This time out, Mr. Bamford’s hawking a $2k GMT timepiece running off a pedestrian if perfectly practical Sellita SW330-2 movement (ETA 2893-2 clone). The London-based re-packager’s limiting production to 50 pieces – which the endlessly obsequious watch press is busy lauding as a “heap [of] fun.”

Bamford Popeye Watch packaging

I’m not a big Bamford guy, but I have no reason to believe he’s sexist. The modder’s love of Snoopy (“It brings you back to happiness”) has blinded him to the fact that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

While we don’t want to throw Swee’Pea out with the bathwater, we need to be careful about celebrating cultural icons that represent unacceptable values – avoiding the temptation to ignore positive attributes in the name of a relatively minor, forgivable flaw (given context).

Even a cursory look at Popeye The Sailor Man’s cartoons reveals a character built entirely on society’s objectification/disrespect for women (albeit in the name of prizing women). As such, it’s time to let Popeye fade into the mists of time, rather than inviting him to keep time on gentlemen’s wrists.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Bugs Bunny did some anti-Japanese stuff back in the day, too. Of course, this was around the time of WW2, sooooo…..

    Funny, though… I watched Popeye every day after school… dubbed in Spanish (growing up in Venezuela). I never fought over a girl or used one in a tug-of-war. 🙂

    Similarly, we watched the Three Stooges every single day (also dubbed in Spanish, “Los Tres Chiflados”“Hola, Mo!” … Never poked anyone in the eyes with my fingers extended into a “Y.” Also never grabbed anyone by their nostrils, using a crowbar.

    Even as a child, I could tell reality from fantasy / art.

    • Now you’re making sense, which is completely unacceptable.

      Seriously though, what a complete crap of a post. The fact that you decided to publish something like that with a straight face says everything one needs to know about you and your site. You claim you are against cancel culture, but, like a useful idiot, still advocate cancelling Popeye. Yeah but no but yeah.

      Unsubbed.

      • I didn’t say cancel Popeye. I said see him in context and let him go. But I guess you’ve already gone.

        • I am forced to assume that you were either an apartment dweller or something equally isolated growing up. Pepe Le Pew is and always was an open joke about female skunks coming into heat between midwinter & spring & every male cat within a mile absolutely losing its mind due to the pheromone similarities. *Shared ignorance should never be a basis for righteousness*. ANYONE in skunk country is familiar with the huge uptick in both roadkill & unexplained overnight scentbombs of skunk scent usually centered on the first February thaw or warm spell; usually triggered by male cats approaching females in heat….

    • Did you see the decent from a rich country to a poor one in Venezuela? Sucks it’s happening here slowly. It’s funny how kids already know the difference between real life and a cartoon, but academics think that kids lake the ability to make distinctions. Oh well, Popeye is somewhat lame in general mostly because he’s in the Navy.

    • I’m with Racer88. I also grew up watching Popeye (the early Fleischer brothers films were my favorites and remain so today). But there was never any confusion on my part – even as a child – about the difference between fantasy/art and reality. Just as I watched the Three Stooges but never hit anyone in the head. Honestly, we need to get over ourselves. We also need to stop with the ideological purity routine. The world is a messy, imperfect place.

      • Road Runner was my all-time favorite. Talk about violent. Pushing poor Wile E. Coyote off of cliffs. Dropping anvils on each other. Using high explosives. Catapults. ACME kits. I loved it! But, I never considered dropping an anvil on anyone… as far as you know. 😉

        • Road Runner was a terrible example for children as it showed an educated and industrious super genius perpetually being foiled by a literal bird brain. Luckily I saw past this anti-academic propaganda, but think of how many chose to pursue a life of running around aimlessly and unintelligibly eating birdseed instead of blueprinting out mechanisms and projectiles.

          Popeye did fail at getting me to like spinach though, that’s for sure.

          • Road Runner was a terrible example for children as it showed an educated and industrious super genius perpetually being foiled by a literal bird brain.

            I’m in my office, literally laughing out loud.

  2. Invicta sold Popeye models, UNDONE does, and Vario is planning to. Almost all feature the character’s habitual use of tobacco!

  3. Pretty much every country’s war propaganda plays on ethnic stereotypes. Who can forget the old Hello Kitty cartoons encouraging young Japanese men to crash their planes into the dog-faced American outsiders.

    What really stands out about the American war cartoons, compared to modern perceptions, is the mockery of the quality of goods made in Japan and Germany. That led to some unfortunate complacency in the US manufacturing sector.

  4. You find it sexist? So? You don’t have to like it. Don’t buy it. Don’t watch it. Don’t make your own preferences and biases everybody’s issue. How much terrible consequence is this watch having? Yes, none. This is just more bandwagon jumping virtue signaling bullshit. No wonder the US is totally falling to pieces, you guys have no idea what to actually fight (hint: where’s your middle class going?). Buy Chinese made good, shop at Walmart, eat processed food, and be online expressing your “outrage” at, what …. popeye sexism in a watch? #idiots

  5. I’m very curious if the paper comic Popeye was more literary in terms of characters, plot, nuance, all that. I do recall seeing a few old Popeye cartoons as a youth in the early 80’s and even then they came off as a thing from another time, and very much the crass and dumb stuff that Mr. Rogers would properly bemoan as being terrible to pump at children, or humans at all really.

    In reality, Popeye has pretty much faded into obscurity on his own. Does anyone even remember the Robin Williams movie? That was the last time the character had national attention, and that was forty years ago.

    That said, if someone could revitalize Underdog and Mighty Mouse, I would greatly approve.

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