The Classic Cartoon Short & Embedded Social Commentary
Brief analysis of two mid-1950's Popeye short films and their core messages to youth of the day.
Using the cartoon medium to deliver social, political and even personal commentary to the youth-of-the-day is not recent.
Looking at two "classic" animated short films, (in this case two Popeye The Sailor cartoons, from the same period), one reinforces the gender supremacy politics of the day, while the other -a year later- reinforces core parenting values, typical of the 1950's.
Film ‘A’ -
"POPEYE FOR PRESIDENT" (1956)
On Election Day, in a small town, two political candidates (Popeye and Bluto) learn that all of the town's votes -except for just one- have been cast. It is revealed that candidate Popeye and Candidate Bluto are exactly tied. The one vote that still remains to be cast is that of Olive Oyle, and the local news reports that her vote will be the "deciding vote" in the election.
Upon hearing this, Popeye and Bluto each rush out to woo Ms. Oyle for her deciding vote. With the crucial, deciding vote hanging in the balance, each candidate works towards outdoing the other.
When Bluto becomes fed-up at continually being bested by Popeye, he kidnaps Olive Oyle in an attempt to force her to cast the crucial' deciding vote (for him. Popeye and his spinach save the day -yet again- by rescuing the frail, helpless Olive Oyle from Bluto's clutches, and in doing so keeps the election "fair".
This concept of the one critical citizen holding the all-important deciding vote was most recently attempted in 2008’s Kevin Costner film ‘Swing Vote’. Because I believe that I am allergic to Kevin Costner (hives usually break out), I did not actually see that particular film.
The premise is intended as pure escapism; “what if” entertainment relate-able to all disenfranchised voters who watch elections from the sidelines often shaking their heads in dissent, akin to “man, if only my vote really made a difference.”
What makes this cartoon interesting is the controlling slant placed upon Bluto, who is portrayed as a traditional bully/thug who will intimidate Olive Oyle into “voting for him” by his kidnapping and subsequent coercive intimidation of her. As such, this is delivered as just mindless, era-typical good guy vs. bad guy with a feeble female thrown in who is either too dumb to make her own decisions, or who needs protecting. Welcome to 1956.
In contrast, the other Popeye film selected, this comedic short delivers no redeeming message and plays upon gender-centric stereotyping.
Film ‘B’ -
"PATRIOTIC POPEYE" (1957)
Popeye -the safe and responsible uncle to a pair of rowdy deceitful nephews- is alarmed to discover how irresponsible the two boys are being by goofing around with dangerous, high-power fireworks.
After their uncle secures the fireworks, he attempts to redirect them to much "safer" activities –like baseball. Popeye soon realizes the nephews are quietly undermining him, by secretly scheming to seek out the now forbidden explosives. Of course, the mischievous boys end up acquiring them, against Uncle Popeye’s well-intending wishes. When actual imperilment befalls the boys, Popeye –apparently through the miracle of anabolic-infused spinach power- saves the day by reinforcing the merits of listening to elders, as well as putting safety first.
What makes this cartoon in most notable contrast with the first Popeye film, is that Patriotic Popeye is message-based, attempting to relay universal core parenting values: listen to your parents, respect elders, play it safe, minimize risk in all you do.
Considering the character’s long lifespan dating back to 1929, it is interesting that both of these shorts were released a year apart, 1956 and then 1957. Makes me wonder if the later, the ‘responsible’ and ‘value-based’ cartoon, was put out in response to the whimsical and irresponsible nature portrayed in the first film.