Sunday, March 25, 2012

Three Wartime Cartoons

So I've been mentioning periodically that during the war, Disney put out US propaganda for the government. A few people have asked just what I mean by propaganda. Is it just generally patriotic cartoons? Beating up Hitler? Subliminal messages? So I decided to take a look at three of these wartime toons and see if they fill me with patriotic fervor. Given my hatred of propaganda, jingoism, and unwarranted exceptionalist attitudes, probably not. Links to the shorts are provided.


I miss crazy driving costumes. Let's get those back.
VICTORY VEHICLES - In this cartoon, Goofy shows us various ways people are trying out new vehicles to get around the gas and rubber shortages. The first half is just a lot of wacky machines, and the second half passionately advocates for the more common everyday use of the pogo stick. It’s funny enough, but the “here’s some crazy cars/here’s some jokes about pogo sticks” setup makes the short feel draggy at just 7 minutes. There’s also a weird thing where the characters aren’t Goofy per se, but a variety of different people, all of whom are portrayed by Goofy. He gets only one line, and all the others are voiced by the narrator. Though since this was produced when Disney and Pinto Colvig were feuding (as he had gone to work for the hated Fleischers), and the new voice actor gave him a ludicrous old cowboy voice, that’s just as well.

Ha ha! Those Nazis would actually ration coffee! Can you imagine?
DER FUEHRER’S FACE - Donald Duck dreams he lives in Nazi Germany, where he learns how horrible it is to live in a land of strict rationing and constant propaganda. This is not what you would call a very self-aware cartoon. At the end, Donald wakes up in his American flag pajamas and kisses the statue of Liberty while shouting “I sure am glad to be a citizen of the United States of America! So it’s not a subtle cartoon, either. The title comes from a Spike Jones song that is used in the opening of the short, but it’s hard to take the lyrics’ mockery of the Nazi’s “Master Race” policies seriously, as they are sing by a yellow-skinned, bucktoothed Japanese guy, a swarthy, thick-lipped Italian guy, and just for fun, a swishy gay guy. (Or as I call them, Steleotype, Stereotype-a, and Thtereotype.) The cartoon closes with just a lingering shot of Hitler‘s face, which feels uncomfortably like Two Minutes’ Hate. Except 1984 wouldn’t be written for another four years. Wait, that makes it even worse.

FUN FACT - When the “funny” Japanese guy shows up, recall that when this cartoon was made, the government had George Takei and Pat Morita in internment camps. And they grew up to be cultural icons at least on par with Donald Duck.

Man, Shining Time Station got weird since I stopped watching.
EDUCATION FOR DEATH - Well, here we get some real old-time propaganda. Rather than using an established character like the others, it follows a young German boy named Hans through his life in Nazi Germany. From his parents proving their ethnic background so they are allowed to conceive through his education with Nazi propaganda to his conscription into the German army. There’s some more blatant hypocrisy here. A large chunk of the short is given to how horrible it is that Nazis use old fairy tales as propaganda, e.g. taking Sleeping Beauty and calling the witch Democracy, the princess Germany, and the prince Hitler. Okay, got it? Using old fairy tales to manipulate people with governmental propaganda is bad. Kind of hard to make that point, though, when you portray Germany as a “hilarious” fat woman who’s always eating, and Hitler as a drooling lunatic who LITERALLY grows devil horns at one point.

Ohhhh, dammit, Disney! You’re putting me in the position of defending the Nazi party! I hate them, but you know what? I hate them for their ACTUAL eugenics policies, not your claim that they’ll kill the kleinen kinder Klaus just because he gets the flu. I hate them because of their genocidal campaigns, which are reduced in the film to the burning of philosophy books and the ransacking of a Christian church. (Shown using visuals based on Rosenberg’s weird pseudomystical Reich Church ideas, which when divorced from their context, seem to imply that the Nazis meant to destroy Christianity. That’s some A+ fearmongering.)

See folks? Barely even human!

But the ultimate achievement is the ending. Klaus is shown growing into an adult and joining the army. He is then shown with blinkers and a muzzle as the announcer tells us that he is completely devoted to the party, seeing and hearing nothing but what they permit. The cartoon literally turns him into a faceless being identical to every other, completely dehumanizing him and all the other soldiers. AND IT’S NOT EVEN POSSIBLE. The Nazis only held power for 11 years! There is not a single German soldier who was born under their rule; they were all old enough to remember a pre-Nazi time. And while the Nazi cultural takeover was legendarily effective, it did not turn their citizens into faceless marching robots. The entire point of this cartoon was to make them seem less human so we wouldn’t feel bad killing them. AND THAT IS JUST WHAT THE NAZIS DID. Ohhhhh dangit I am so angry right now.

NEXT WEEK: Cinderella! Won’t that be nice.

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