Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux’s abstract for the panel “Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes” at SLSA 2015 in Houston:
“White Hand, Black Box: The Manicule from Mickey to Mario to Mac OS”
Stephanie Boluk, UC Davis, and Patrick LeMieux, UC Davis
Whereas the manicule, a pointing finger directing a reader’s attention, has been used for a millennium in chirographic and print texts, in the context of twentieth century animation and twenty-first century computing the medieval pointer has been recontextualized as the hand of the animator to a graphic user interface (GUI) element. After the popularization of the talkie in the late twenties, in Steamboat Willie (1928), the first ever “Merry Melody” released by Disney, Mickey Mouse adopts gloves and the lilting voice of Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer (1927). This process sanitizes a genre of racist comedy for mainstream consumption. Although Mickey’s gloves are easily deemed merely a contrivance of the technical limitations related to articulating fingers in early animation, Bimbo and Betty, Oswald and Ortensia, Foxy and Roxy, and, of course, Mickey and Minnie are anthropomorphic animals that whitewashed their relation to racist caricatures inspired by blackface minstrelsy. This history was further obfuscated as “Mickey’s manicules” eventually found themselves as elements within the contemporary operating systems like Mac OS and as GUI’s within videogames like Mario Paint in the eighties and nineties. From the metaleptic manicule of classic animations to the metonymic manicule in the GUI, this paper ultimately performs a close reading of the figure of “Master Hand” in Super Smash Bros. (1998) in order to argue that the white hand allegorizes the ways in which “user friendly” design has black boxed the racialized history of computation.