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Shirley’s Appeal to Grown Men

Charles Lamont’s last “Baby Burlesk” short, “Kid ‘in’ Africa,” is a parody of the 1933 movie Tarzan the Fearless featuring Shirley Temple as the damsel in distress.  Shirley is on a quest to civilize barbaric cannibals in Africa.  Aiding her are a group of non-cannibal Africans (black children without face paint).  Once the cannibals (black children with face paint) attack Shirley’s party, she is taken captive and almost eaten when the brave (white) hero of the jungle known as Diaperzan comes to the rescue.  The cannibals flee at the sight of Diaperzan and his mighty elephant companion, allowing Diaperzan and the damsel in distress to wed and work together to civilize the savage continent of Africa.  This scene alludes to the main plot of Tarzan the Fearless, which is a brave (white) man saving a beautiful (white) woman from a savage death by the hands of her (black) tormenters.  The “Baby Burlesk” image of civilized Africa is basically a city made of wood, dirt, and trees.  The short concludes with Shirley, the former damsel in distress, bossing around her mighty husband.

Shirley is depicted as desirable in “Kid ‘in’ Africa” not only because of her provocative clothing (diaper shorts that show off her legs), but because of the cannibals’ way of preparing her as a meal.  Instead of being hauled off into the bushes to be immediately devoured, which is what seemingly happens to her African guides, she is cooked slowly while the chef calls his buddy from afar to join him in devouring a rare meal, a beautiful golden haired girl.  This idea of getting the most out of a rare thing has sexual connotations in the eyes of mature viewers.  A grown man would watch “Kid ‘in’ Africa” and agree with the cannibal’s way of attempting to savor Shirley because of what he would do if he came upon a beautiful woman; build a sexual relationship without scaring the girl off for good.  While his daughter laughs at Diaperzan riding the elephant, he might chuckle and say to himself, “That’s what I would do if I were a cannibal.”  “Kid ‘in’ Africa” alludes to men’s natural desire to find and cling to a fantasy girl, a desire that obviously only exists in the adult audience.