Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Age Of Extreme Conservatism pt 2 - Cartoons Today

Conservative VS Liberal Cartoons Of The Past:

Disney's studio was extremely conservative in its content. Their characters and attitudes were wholesome and generic, never veering into the territory of the specific individual - because conservatives naturally distrust anybody that has a unique personality. Disney himself admitted it many times. He distrusted anybody that stood out from the crowd. On the other hand, the studio liberally experimented in the advancement of skills. They believed in "quality" - which in the 1930s partly meant extreme inhuman otherworldly phenomenal ability. Nobody before the mid 60s ever expected there would be a time when famous people would be average. We all took it for granted that if you were on TV, or in the movies, on radio, sold records, were a politician that you must be some amazingly gifted accomplished person. Whether you were a liberal or a conservative, you shouldn't be rich and famous unless you could do something that hardly anyone else can do.

Bill and Joe - Typical Conservatives From The "Great Generation"

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were extreme conservatives from the "great generation". They believed in skill, gloss, professionalism and - not breaking the mold. That was the general conception of a "conservative" before hippies arrived and destroyed everything good about both camps.

Bill and Joe took a couple years of mild experimentation (and politicking with management against more imaginative directors) with some different characters before they hit upon their one success - Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry is about as uninspired a cartoon series as was ever created. It's pure generic cartoon thinking of the time. What is a cartoon? Uh...it's where a cat chases a mouse and there is lots of hurt and noise and mayhem. It's hard to be more basic than that, so Bill and Joe didn't fix something that wasn't broken for 15 or 16 years. For that whole period they didn't even try to create new characters. As long as Tom and Jerry was popular and still winning awards, why waste brain cells thinking up something new that might fail? Now I like Bill and Joe as people and I admire their skill and professionalism and even their basic cartoony instincts, but where we depart is in this: I can't even imagine having to draw the same small handful of characters doing the same things for decades. I would go insane. Don't creative people want to create? In other words do new things? Apparently not all of them do.

WB Cartoons Much More Liberal Creativity - More inventive

Meanwhile over at Warner Bros, a lot of liberal creativity was going on - and the inventions and explorations being pioneered dragged the rest of the more conservative studios along with it. Obviously Clampett was the most "liberal" of the whole group and he himself dragged along a lot of the rest of the Looney Tunes group of cartoonists that in general were more imaginative than rest of the studios in the late 30s and throughout the 40s. Chuck was sort of half and half - he was cautious in his content yet liberal in his techniques. Friz was the most conservative of the bunch and reluctantly, half-heartedly followed behind the trends that Clampett, Avery and Jones set - grumbling about it the whole time.

Disney Animators Baffled By Looney Tunes

I've heard stories that the Disney animators would screen all the cartoons that every other studio was making just to see if they had any competition. I can just imagine them being dumbfounded when the latest rebellious individualistic new Warner Bros. or Tex Avery MGM cartoons came out. Can you see Frank and Ollie watching "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" or "Uncle Tom's Cabana"? I know that even 50 years after those cartoons changed everything and were still popular, Frank and Ollie were still dumbfounded.

I went to a celebration and screening of classic cartoons in the 80s in L.A. and a lot of old timers were there. When Disney cartoons were run, there was polite silence throughout the packed audience. When they played Chuck Jones' "Pest In The House" the whole audience erupted in laughter and hysteria. They also ran a classic Tex Avery (I forget which one) and the same thing happened.

During an intermission, Frank and Ollie came onstage to be interviewed (by Leonard Maltin?). They right away admitted their astonishment that the Jones and Avery cartoons were received with such joy and hysteria - and then they explained it away. I'll try to paraphrase (if you were at this show and remember more details, please comment). It was something like "Well yes those cartoons certainly had energy and they got a lot of laughs. I remember when we first screened such brash cartoons at Disney's that we were worried that maybe our own cartoons would be too sedate and old-fashioned by comparison, but then when we saw the same cartoons played in the midwest where most decent Americans live, nobody understood the jokes. So these are good for sophisticated urban crowds on the coasts, but our more conservative wholesome cartoons were much more popular overall." Now that's conservatism. Warner Bros. characters cartoons have outlasted Disney's popularity by decades, Frank and Ollie witnessed it with their very own eyes, and still had the audacity to deny it.

Old Conservativism Different than Modern Conservatism

Boy do I miss the old kind of conservative - because at least they had a tendency to preserve some of the good things that the previous generations of liberals pioneered.

Forcing Conservatives To Break Habits

In hard times, conservatives are sometimes forced to be creative. When the cartoon studios collapsed in the mid 50s, Bill and Joe - after making the same 2 characters in cartoons for the last 15 years, were all of a sudden on the street. The times had changed and so had the conditions of production. There was no more big-budget slow moving theatrical cartoon production where you could spend decades polishing up the same tired old ideas. Now the only way to survive was to get into television and pump out tons of product for bargain basement prices. You couldn't just make one set of characters and expect to survive (not till the 90s).

So now Bill and Joe scrambled and were forced to find new ideas and characters. Being the pragmatic conservatives that they were, they jumped at the task and created more characters in a year than they had in their whole previous career. They also had no choice but to change drawing styles to keep up with the market. Now they had to write dialogue - they had never had to do this for Tom and Jerry. This resulted in way more interesting characters than a generic silent cat and mouse. Not as interesting as the best Looney Tunes characters, but quite an advance for Bill and Joe. They never had to create characters with personality before. So how did they do it all at once?

Conservatives Copy Successful Liberal Inventions

They basically copied a bunch of other more creative people's ideas and characters. Huckleberry Hound is the voice and personality of Tex Avery's southern wolf - but he has Droopy's design. The Flinstones are the Honeymooners living in cave times. Quick Draw McGraw is a watered down Red Skelton. Yogi's voice and outfit is patterned after Norton from the Honeymooners. Etc.

What made their cartoons seem fresh and unique were the individual star talents that created the style. Ed Benedict's character designs (after Joe had told him nobody liked that "UPA" crap) were striking and appealing and modern. Daws Butler's beautiful voice and rhythms and versatility gave the voice patterns he mimicked from already established radio and TV stars a new sound. A sound so appealing that it made you think the characters were actually brand new.

The other innovations in the first HB cartoons came from the fact that they were being churned out so fast, that Bill and Joe had to use a ton of cartoonists, painters and other talents that all had different styles and personalities. The haphazard mixing and matching of all these talents - unsupervised by the conservatives who wished they had the time to force everyone into a formula - created a freshness and collection of a lot of lucky accidents. The first 3 years of Bill and Joe's new life showed much raw promise for a very creative future - had they not been so conservative that they couldn't pick up on the lucky accidents.

Formula Sets In

As soon as they became established and successful and began to get a studio in system in place, they got more control over the whole effort and everything became a complete depressing formula. These cheaper formulaic cartoons allowed them to survive for decades, but they also ruined their chances for respect from their peers. With every year, the cartoons got less imaginative, less cartoony, less fun - but the networks would still buy 'em like that so - why fix something that ain't broken? Most of them got cancelled after the first year, and yet the networks would buy the latest batch of Godawful cartoons. There was no incentive to do anything even professional - let alone creative. Had they been more liberal thinkers, they could have taken the lucky accidents that happened in the first couple years of their TV careers (gifts from God!) and built upon then - while throwing out the parts that were boring or didn't work. Instead, being extreme conservatives, they threw out the fresh lucky innovations and built upon the formula.

Hippies Deliver The Final Blow To Any Kind Of Creativity

Once the hippies came along, Bill and Joe - like everyone else - threw out even the good part of the formula - and any pretense at all of skill and professionalism. Scooby Doo was born and a whole new age of the worst, ugliest, unimaginative and amateurish cartoons burst through the dam and we've never recovered.
The worst things about 70s cartoons still influence even the most expensive "quality" feature animation today. People much more conservative and less creative than Bill and Joe jumped on the bandwagon and took over the whole business. Filmation, Dic, Nelvana eventually influenced Disney in turn, then led straight to Dreamworks, the uber-conservative animation studio.

Bill and Joe Reap Their Sour Seed

The sad thing about this is that in their old age, both Bill and Joe admitted to me that they hated their later cartoons and really didn't enjoy the creative reputation they had earned as the guys who ruined cartoons. I felt for them, but they sure asked for it.

Modern Conservatism Doesn't Even Value Skill Or Preservation Of Tradition

Today's conservative animation leaders are very different than not only liberal creators like Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Tex Avery but even their conservative counterparts of the past - Bill, Joe and Walt.

Today's conservatism fears and distrust everything, not just NEW ideas, but even just barely honest HUMAN ideas. The moguls have zero respect for anyone creative - whether they are liberally creative or conservatively creative. They are so afraid of individual initiative and talent that they have to use closed distribution systems to keep out any competition.

Today's creative leaders may label themselves "liberals", may have voted for Obama, but the last thing they want is anything to shake up their safe system. "Change" and "Individuality" are curse words for this new type of ultra conservative thinking yet poltically affiliated liberal.