Friday, January 9

It Ain't Vendell Villkie

The other night after finishing up homework with the kid, we settled into different activities. He jumped into one of the video games he got for Christmas and I opened up my laptop to listen to music and catch up on all the different streams of whatever that are out there.

Eventually I clicked over to YouTube, and among the listed suggestions for me to watch was an old Bugs Bunny cartoon (one of my favorite things in the world). So of course I clicked on it -- and the next thing you know I was off into a veritable wabbit hole of golden era clips.

The weird thing though -- whether it's due to copyright infringement or whatever, there's not actually a ton of Looney Tunes stuff on there. Enough to keep you busy for longer than you should be (which is probably true of most anything on YouTube) -- but if you're looking for something specific, like Rabbit of Seville or one of the Roadrunner shorts, you're likely not to find it, or even worse -- only have the option to watch a version of it that someone used their phone to record it playing on their TV, so that they could turn around and post it to the web.

And if I can take a moment to address those people? -- HOLY SHIT DO YOU SUCK.

There is literally nothing worse in the information age than trying to find video proof of a song or an old show or a movie quote or whatever and having to see someone's wobbly-armed flip-phone footage of their living room that may or may not also include a barely audible flickering capture of them pressing play on their DVR.


Anywho -- I'm watching all these old cartoon clips, when I come across a particular one from 1943 called Fifth Column Mouse.


If you don't watch a lot of these sort of WWII-era cartoons, you might be surprised by how direct the satire is. For those of you who might not be up on the historical angle here -- the gray mouse/rat is essentially playing out the story of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who essentially gave part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler as part of a treaty that supposedly would protect Western Europe from Axis invasion (and we all know how that turned out).

But as I was watching the clip, it was almost impossible not be reminded of the terrifying situation playing out right now in Paris with the terrorist attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead and a world shocked with horror.

For all my affection for these classic cartoons, there's really no way to ignore the fact that the clip above (and scores of others just like it) were pretty much played as propaganda to the audiences that saw them, complete with patriotic calls to duty and stereotypical if not racist depictions of the villains  in the story.

Fifth Column Mouse wasn't a banned cartoon.

This isn't some secret treasure I dug up. It's public domain. It was the kind of thing that played on Saturday morning reruns when I was a kid.

In a lot of ways for an older generation, this might have been their Charlie Hebdo, or even just their Daily Show. It's the sort of thing that set the table for the political and cultural satire we see around us all day in newspapers, TV, the movies, and the Internet.

As Americans, this is kind of who we are. We project a lot through our commentary and our comedy. This is part of how we communicate our opinions about things.

So to see that same kind of spirit gunned down, to see jokes and satire -- no matter how sharply edged -- lead to violence and bloodshed is a difficult and frankly terrifying thing to process.

And look -- I'm certainly no expert on French secularism or the particular strain of Muslim extremism involved in the reaction. I can't speak to all the details and I don't know enough about the particulars to understand how offensive the images in those magazines might have been.
But c'mon people -- learn to take a joke already. 
It's strange to frame it all, considering that another recent incident -- the marketing of a Seth Rogan movie (of all things) centered around a fictionalized assassination attempt of real-life North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- seemed to raise similar fears over how those who were offended by it might use violence to express their anger, an incident that ended with more or less a whimper, with the threats appearing to be all but empty, and the movie itself apparently being a stinker.

And yet here, on a different side of the world the outcome was far too real.

I don't want to live in a world like that. Even if history tells us that there's always been a shadow of risk for those who would use their creativity and voice to speak out against governments, religions, or even specific groups or people -- you'd think we'd be past it. That somehow a cartoon, regardless of its message, could just be a cartoon.

Which is why there has to be a response. There has to be songs. There have to be paintings, sculptures, blog posts, poems, comic books, editorials, and cartoons. There has to be a cat and a mouse warning us of the dangers of inaction in the face of aggression.

There has to be this duck.





[Now Playing:  Derrick Hodge - "Dances with Ancestors" ]


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