Today, something a little different: history in animated form. In other words, I woke up this morning with a lot to do and not very much energy, so I’m doing something short and sweet. Today I’m going to talk a little about some historical cartoons.
Now, of course in the larger scheme of things we’ve got longer works like Disney’s Pocahontas, where the early history of America is … um … approximately represented. That might be unfair. I haven’t actually seen it! Maybe there were more talking raccoons around in those days than I know about.
So contemporary cartoons are an interesting way of looking at modern history. Take this wartime effort, in which Donald Duck has an evil personality who is a Nazi pimp.
Is this, in fact, the origin of Scrooge McDuck as a character?
But that’s not the prize of today’s post. No, that honour goes to nineteen fifty-whatever’s Hysterical History, which I’m told was actually made by Paramount’s animation studio, then rebranded under the Harvey logo:
Look at that off-brand rabbit. Jesus.
Anyway, here it is:
Now, this being a 1950s (or whenever) account of American history, it’s deeply fucked up, and like all such representations, nowhere is it more fucked up than its depiction of the
Native Americans Injuns.
When asked to do something, that fat guy at the bottom (who is meant to be Powhatan) says “ugh-kay.” My hand to God. And Pocahontas talks in caveman baby talk.
And lest you think the makers of the cartoon just hate Native Americans, don’t worry — there’s also women.
That’s — I’m not really sure what that is. Something seems to have happened to her nose. When Pocahontas appears, the joke, by the way, is that she’s so fat that John Smith would rather be burned alive than marry her. Comedy platinum.
In all honesty, my objection to this thing isn’t as a historian or even as an outraged possessor of a shred of common decency, but as a (sort of) humorist. There was this thing in the 50s where repeating stale old vaudeville gags was like … was like the Groucho glasses of comedy. You know how you put on some Groucho glasses and that’s our signifier for “I am wearing a disguise” even though they don’t conceal your appearance at all? It’s the same principle: you throw in some pratfalls, a fat joke, a dig at the IRS (are kids really that familiar with the IRS?) and so on, and what you get is a structure that looks like comedy without being at all funny. I’m not sure why it is that way — maybe adults don’t expect to laugh at things intended for kids, so they can’t tell the difference between things that aren’t funny to adults and things that aren’t funny to kids?
This prompts some thought about history education, which I may address tomorrow.