Those “Bull”headed Americans…

After the presentation on Thursday, I was inspired to ask my Ukrainian born mother if she too remembered encountering any pro-communist, anti-American cartoons while she was growing up. She seemed a little dazed by the question, as if she had never even considered before that there were such cartoons. Of course I forgot the name of the cartoon we watched in class and therefore had no hard evidence to present to her. However, I continued to press on. Did she really not remember any propaganda filled cartoons filled with innocent looking, communist dancing/singing happy go lucky creatures facing some horrible, gun blasting, cruel American soldier looking monsters? She affirmed that she did not.
Three possibilities occurred to me. A: My mother really never watched such cartoons. Considering that TV time was limited and my mother was a scholastic over achiever, this is definitely possible. B: My mother has Americanized herself to a point that she actually has forgotten certain memorable animated features of her youth – also possible. Or, C: Russian filmmakers/cartoonists were exceptionally gifted at hiding their true intentions and thus able to make the common public believe that they were in fact watching an innocent cartoon and not partaking in a political ploy to control the masses. For the benefit of this blog entry, I decided to go with C. A & B really don’t leave much to talk about.
Naturally, even my mother had to agree that there was strong political backlash against America during the Cold War years. There were military parades throughout the Soviet Union, sending a message out to the world of “Don’t mess. We got guns.” Stalin would regularly entertain passionate monologues spurring anti-American sentiments on the radio. Americans were usually perceived as ungrateful, uneducated, and ignorant. However, all this did not surprise me. I wanted the real dirty stuff – the cartoons!
In my quest for animated truth, I stumbled upon possibly the most blatantly anti-American media item I have ever encountered.

So for those of you who will not watch the full 10 minute cartoon, though I STRONGLY suggest you do since it’s really actually funny, this animated feature tells a most remarkable tale. The story itself is based on a poem by Sergei Mihalkov, a Russian author of children’s literature. Basically, an old rich American woman dies. Her intense greediness and impracticalness leads her to leave a million dollars to her bulldog. (Leona Helmsley anyone?!!!) This dog essentially buys his way into power and becomes a member of Congress. The moral of the story is that in America money can buy everything and government officials don’t require a very high intelligence.
So after my initial crack up at the cartoon, I began to ponder if people took this stuff seriously. Ok, sometimes I too feel certain Congressmen aren’t the brightest of people. After all, my favorite quote is Mark Twain’s “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” But deep down I have respect for the system. However, Russians during the cold war era probably did not. Thus, cartoons such as this one must have left them with a very odd impression of Americans. While back home, we were thinking communists were anti-family, anti-business, etc…, they were thinking we were rich, lazy, and mentally handicapped. We thought we were fighting dangerous villains and they thought they were arguing with developmentally challenged Westerners. No wonder nobody won!

P.S. Before I end off, I would like to let you all know that I found the cartoon we watched in class and showed it to my mother. She had in fact never watched it. Moreover, the dark people we thought were Americans she actually identified as Germans. America was depicted in one scene but very briefly.

One thought on “Those “Bull”headed Americans…

  1. You raise some interesting questions here, especially in this line:

    “Russian filmmakers/cartoonists were exceptionally gifted at hiding their true intentions and thus able to make the common public believe that they were in fact watching an innocent cartoon and not partaking in a political ploy to control the masses.”

    I’d argue that all media is ideological in some way though some are more subtle about it. While this cartoon presents an outright critique of capitalism — it is by no means subtle. American cartoons from roughly the same period sometimes were as forthright aboiut their politics as this one is. Others, most of them I would say, present an idea about life in America that is very friendly to the sort of stuff we saw in the Make Mine Freedom cartoon, but do so much more subtly. While Bugs Bunny cartoons, for example, foreground slapstick and vaudeville style humor, their themes and setting often speak to American priorities and the supposed triumph of the American way of life. Here’s a wartime example that is ideologically subtle in some ways, but not in others.

    And they did look German to me as well but I took that to be a conflation of American and German military imagery to suggest something like “We defeated a foreign power before and we’;ll do it again.” The rocket in the scene we watched made me think that the cartoon was made after the war, but I could be wrong. If it was made prior to the end of WWII, then those soldiers are definitely German.

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