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Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
 
Last night, I was browsing the information superhighway, looking for a particular short cartoon that I remember making me laugh. While going through the list of titles on the host website, looking for some keywords to tip me off, one particular piece struck me. It was named "Disney's Hitler".

Being a Disney enthusiast, and a fan of all of the untrue things said about his life (no, he is not cryogenically frozen, despite what Penelope Cruz tells you in "Vanilla Sky"), I thought that it was some piece of propaganda about the rumors that Disney was connected to the Nazi party. Well, it turned out to be propaganda, but of a different sort.

The name of the cartoon is "Education for Death", and it is a ten-minute anti-Nazi cartoon that details the raising of a Hitler Youth from infant into an adult, where he joins the Nazi party. The boy is Hans, a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who is good at heart, until the Nazi regime breaks his kindness and turns him into a goose-stepping soldier who marches, almost literally, into his grave.

There are some of the typical Disney touches. In the middle of the cartoon is a funny but equally chilling section where Hitler, dressed as a screaming, scrawny knight saves "Germany" (who is represented by a Goering-looking woman with a viking hat, like a stereotypical opera singer) from "democracy" (represented by a scraggly witch). But for the most part, it is a detailed, well-researched and very serious look at how the Nazi regime was able to brainwash their youth into following Hitler.

Other moments abound that I think will forever stick in my memory. The choice to have the characters speak entirely in German, with an English translator telling us what they're saying. The line of boys heiling Hitler. The shadowy superman yelling at the kindly German mother trying to protect her sick child.

But one scene in particular struck me. The class of Hitler Youth had just been shown a cartoon on the chalkboard of a fox chasing down, cornering and eating a rabbit. When asked what they learned from the cartoon, Hans shows sympathy for the rabbit. He is given a dunce cap and shoved in the corner. And while the other boys yell about domination and making the enemy submit to your will, Hans watches them, eager to fit in. When the teacher turns back to him, he starts yelling, tears in his eyes, about how he hates the rabbit, and how the fox was right to eat him. I don't know who the animator or the voice actor was for that particular moment, but it is one of the saddest and most haunting pieces of animation I have ever seen.

The cartoon had a great emotional effect on me in 2005, so I can only imagine how people responded to it in 1943. In a time where most of the studios (including Disney) were putting out pro-war shorts that were meant to unite and inspire, for this one outing Disney decided to inform. To show an unflinching look at the Nazi propaganda machine while remaining understanding and sympathetic to the German people (Hans' parents, just trying to provide their son with a good life, are the only attractive adults in the entire film) while avoiding any sort of "rise up and buy bonds" patriotism was a bold move for the Disney animators.

It is also an indication as to the importance of art in society. I realized that there are several things that I have learned from movies, cartoons, TV shows and plays. Programs like "Schoolhouse Rock" and "Sesame Street" were some of the most effective learning tools that I and other people my age had growing up.

This reliance on the entertainment industry to educate me worked its way into my adulthood as well, I learned about the development of the German nuclear program from Michael Frayn, and the effects of United States nuclear bomb testing from Darcy Hogan. I learned about the massacres in Rwanda from Don Cheadle, and the encampment of Australian Aborigines from Kenneth Branagh. My interest in the Holocaust in junior high can be equally attributed to Art Spiegelman and Steven Spielberg.

So I have great respect for those artists that seek to enlighten the best way they know how. For those of us who don't actually like to read, we salute you.

Speaking of Darcy Hogan, I just want to say how exciting it is to be a part of "The Land Southward" (a new play by Ms. Hogan opening at Hunger Artists on April 1st...Shameless plug). Having seen each member of the cast in action during rehearsal, I can safely say that this is honestly one of the finest casts I've ever been a part of.

We have Abbie, who portrays the strong side of Liz without comprimising her vulnerability. Joyce's May is truly heartbreaking for those on and off-stage. Michael's instincts are almost always dead on for The Man, as are Jason's with the character of Joe. Erin, as Maggie, gets better and better every time I see her, and Cheryl's The Girl never ceases to crack me up. So please, please go see this show in April. Okay, shameless plug done.

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