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Cartoons For Victory! (2006)

by on 2010/11/28

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

~Noam Chomsky

When Hacker Renders declared GeekvsGoth’s November theme “war,” I was more than a little concerned. My film collection lacks  a certain (ok… any) gravitas, tilting more toward Count Duckula, Hammer Horror, Pee-Wee Herman and Conan, listing away from weighty films about warfare.

Then when my (admittedly ridiculous) suggestion of Dragon Wars (2007) was rejected as a proposed selection, I really began to panic.   

So imagine my relief when I happened upon Cartoons for Victory!,  a collection of rare, salvaged WWII propaganda and wartime education cartoons from U.S., Czechoslovakia and Germany.

I thought it would be easy slogging through a few vintage cartoons, as I’m very likely the world’s most squeamish and sensitive goth when in comes to real-life violence.

Easy slogging, indeed …how very wrong I was.  As I began viewing the 142 minutes of  wartime propaganda, it was initially easy to laugh off the ham-handed efforts to demonize the U.S. in the German shorts, the Japanese  and Germans in the U.S. pieces. My ironic distance quickly disappeared and was replaced by twisting discomfort which remained my constant companion. As the collection wore on I felt as though I was wading through a very dark and sludgy swamp of human hatred …hatred hidden behind cute cartoon bears, pig-faced men and stop-action wooden toys.

The first short of the collection, entitled Bury the Axis , is a stop-action piece on the life of Adolf Hitler, portrayed by a puppet that’s half Phantom of the Opera, half fruit bat. The hideous Hitler puppet is joined by his fellow Axis leaders, Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito, in equally comic-horror puppet form. These puppets play it up Three Stooges-style with a missile until their buffoonish antics are stopped dead by the detonation.

Cap’n Cub depicts an adorable, all-American bear cub in a flight helmet, flying a bright yellow fighter plane. It starts innocuously enough, until the cute bear yells out foul-sounding, anti-Japanese racial slur and grabs a machine gun to shoot an evil mustachioed monkey (with an enormous overbite) out of the sky. Urk.

Czechoslovakia contributed The Spring Man and the SS a piece about a fed-up chimney sweep who terrorizes Hitler and the SS by jumping around with springs on his feet and a black sock on his head. In a mixture of live action and animation, the short film depicts a cowering and paranoid Hitler listening through floors with a chamberpot, arresting an elderly man for having a bird that whistles “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and another man for slipping on banana peels in a fashion that makes him appear to be dancing like a Russian.

Revolution in Toyland (1946), another Czech offering, shows a mob of wooden toys attacking an officious, cruel-hearted Gestapo officer, binding him with cuckoo clock chains and shooting his pants full of smoldering holes with caps.

The Hook series of cartoons were purpose-built to sell American war bonds. Hook, a pig-faced petty officer aboard an aircraft carrier, tells his son a heroic story of how he used bushels of actual war bonds to pulverize Japanese fighter planes.

Miss_Tree, my favourite pre-teen intellectual, was horrified when she wandered into the room to see Bugs Bunny dancing in black face, a piece from Warner Bros. hawking war bonds. “Not Bugs Bunny too!” She demanded I turn the “awful, offensive” cartoons off.

While I’d like to think that we are more sophisticated viewers today, with refined sensibilities that would not be swayed by anything so blunt-force as these propaganda films, I know better. Our propaganda today comes in more insidious, subtle forms but we are influenced, shaped and driven by propaganda nonetheless. Miss_Tree does however give me some hope.

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143 minutes

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