April 14, 2006

When Cartoons--And Publishers--Were Unafraid

Slapstick Politics' submission for a new Cowardly Central logo:

Michelle Malkin has an excellent roundup of the blogosphere's reaction to the South Park episodes.

In the first of the two-part parts, a single character opposes the plan to bury everyone's head in the sand, and stands for free speech:
"Freedom of speech is at stake here, don't you all see? If anything, we should all make cartoons of Mohammed and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want. Look people, it's been really easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades, we haven't had to risk anything to defend it. One of those times is right now. And if we aren't willing to risk what we have now, then we just believe in free speech, but won't defend it."
There was a time when cartoons--and their publishers--were unafraid to believe in free speech and defend it. Artists like David Low of England's Evening Standard, who lampooned Adolf Hitler so often and with such penetrating skill that he earned himself a stern warning from the British Foreign Secretary for disturbing the "sensitive" Anglo-German relationship of the 1930s, and a spot on the Gestapo's most-wanted-dead list (more cartoons here):

"Cause Precedes Effect"--European leaders march to Hitler's tune.

Hitler: "The scum of the Earth, I believe?"/Stalin: "The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?"

Hitler marching on the "Spineless Leaders of Democracy" as pursues his rearmament and annexation plans.

Dr. Seuss levelled his cartoon artillery at Hitler, American isolationists, and appeasers as well. Hitler's overblown rhetoric and raving ideology provide the perfect fodder for Seuss' talent, and the "not our problem" isolationists are duly criticized for turning away from the clear and present danger that the totalitarian regimes represented. Appeasers, well, they get the "treatment" as well (more Dr. Seuss here):

"The Dictator"

"The Isolationist"

"The Appeaser"

Disney's anti-Nazi cartoon "Der Fuehrer's Face"--winner of the Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 1943 (my, how times have changed!)--made good use of the humorous and catchy tune that gave the film its name, and filled the totalitarian world of the Nazi regime ("Nutzi Land") with the ubiquitous swastika and Hitler salute. Hirohito, Mussolini, and Göring make cameo appearances as they march to Donald Duck's house (resembling Hitler) to awake him for work producing shells for the "Fatherland". As Donald Duck completes his work under the oppressive control of the regime, where life is regulated and thought manipulated, and just about to lose all sense of self, he awakes to a miniature Statue of Liberty, and embraces it while giving thanks for being a citizen of the United States. The repressive ideology of Nazism was made to look as ridiculous as possible, and deservedly so:

Click here to watch the video--content NSFW. Warning--The cartoon reflects its era, and some might be put off by Hirohito's appearance (glasses, oversized teeth, green skin) and Göring's "effeminacy". With all of the Hitler salutes, swastikas, and having Donald Duck in Nazi uniform, it was pulled from circulation after the war, and this cartoon was only rereleased in 2004.

Hirohito, Mussolini, and Göring join the band.

Donald Duck is forced make shells, and give the Hitler salute.

Donald Duck embraces the Statue of Liberty, and give thanks for being a citizen of the good ol' US of A!

Unlike the recent Muslim riots made in response to the Danish cartoons, the works of Low, Dr. Seuss and Disney were not only created but published and widely distributed at the height of the war. While scores were killed and embassies were torched, the Muslim's tantrum pales in comparison to the carnage being wrought by WWII. Yet even admonitions by government officials and death threats (in the case of Low) were not enough to stop the publishing of these "offensive" cartoons. Millions subscribed to the totalitarian ideologies, and many millions more opposed these assaults on freedom.

Following in Low and Dr. Seuss' footsteps, South Park exposes the threat to freedom of speech from those who oppose it (the Islamists) and those who would succomb to hypocrisy and fear to avoid confrontation (Cowardly Central). Brilliant and vulgar, using the bully pulpit their success has brought them, Matt Stone and Trey Parker launch a salvo for free speech. Either everything is subject to scrutiny, and if necessary, ridicule--or nothing is. South Park makes this point effectively, and should be commended. Comedy Central should be ashamed--as it appears they would have rejected Low and Dr. Seuss had they been around seven decades ago.


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