In the grim mid-morning hours of a Saturday in June, a dozen dedicated scholars in varying degrees of chemical disrepair met to attempt important work: deconstructing funny cartoons.
Cartoon practitioner/Rocket 88 baker Emily Gable greased the wheels of our investigation by providing an ample spread of lovingly-crafted blueberry donut holes. Blackberry yogurt in shortcake cups was available to soothe hungover tummies and a vast vat of coffee was offered to quiet the mind.
Aimee Brown led our investigation with a series of animated shorts teasing out the distinctions between cityfolk and country bumpkins. Refined hounds in monocles and wedding wear escorted their backwoods kin through the glossy smorgasbord of sensory delights that is The City. Unlikeable hillperson Snuffy Smith squared off with equally unlikeable, business savvy counterpart Barney Google. At least one academic present at the event overidentified with the champagne drunk faux pas of the Country Mouse in Silly Symphonies' "Country Cousin." And the legendary corrupting affects of urban life on a simple couple in love were played out in the grotesque and tidy melodrama of the Tex Avery-directed Warner Brother short "The Hick Chick."
Although this portion of the program was beset by some internet connectivity issues, buffering periods facilitated longer periods for productive discussion.
Economics is common sense made difficult. To decode its finer points, I turned to cartoons.
My first selection "We're in the Money" featured Warner Brothers' most feckless protagonist, Bosko, a humanimal of indeterminate taxonomy. It also reflected one of my favorite cartoon tropes: Night in the Store. "We're in the Money" dares to dream that when the doors are locked and the lights are out, objects in a department store can truly live. Disembodied overcoats wiggle away aside empty, animate oxfords. Gems under glass spin and genuflect in the jewelry case's reflective light.
This cartoon, like most of its kind, is light on plot--the way I prefer my media. But it also alludes to issues of materiality. Objects have agency. Faces on coins plead to be spent. And the frantic title tune reminds the listener that the success of an economy is contingent on keeping currency "rolling along."
"Heir Conditioned" was one of three Warner Brothers shorts commissioned around 1955 by the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation to teach children about capitalism in the midst of the Cold War. This cartoon features some opportunistic trash cats eager to share Sylvester's newly inherited wealth. His economic advisor, Elmer Fudd, warns him against altruism and urges him to invest. After an unfun and didactic lesson, the trash cats get Stockholm Syndrome and refuse to accept Sylvester's handouts.
This set was rounded out with "Norman Normal," a bizarre late-period Warner Brothers' short of psychedelic nightmare capitalism. This existential tale of a salesman urged by his boss to take advantage of his client's drunken weakness at a kooky cinematic party doesn't seem to have been picked up as a recurring series. Perhaps 1968 TV execs passed on it due to confusion about the target demographic for animated psychological investigations.
Confusion about a cartoon's target audience was a theme which extended across the afternoon's offerings, most notably including "Po-Po-Tan," Bethy Squires' submission for this month's CRL.
This cartoon starts simply enough, when a young boy runs face first into a large pair of naked breasts.
Anime Review explains: "Beautiful sisters Ai, Mai, Mii, their android maid Mea and slippery pet ferret Unagi make an amazing journey together through time and space without ever leaving their beloved mansion behind! Following the clues of the strange dandelion-like “Popotan,” the girls are theoretically seeking the person who has the answers to their most personal questions, but they seem to have more than enough time to take side trips, meet new friends, visit hot springs and occasionally operate the X-mas shop they keep in the house along the way!"
The adult nature (upskirts, soft focus tits) of PoPoTan did seem to clash with the shrill child voices and sentimentality of the storyline.
"How am I supposed to jerk off to this?" posited Squires.
Few answers, more questions at this month's CRL.
Bring your theories and more topics for investigation to the table next time on Saturday, July 18 at 11AM at General Public Collective.