ANIMATING CULTURE by Eric Smoodin

ANIMATING CULTURE

Hollywood Cartoons from the Sound Era
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A crisply written academic investigation of the politics of the Hollywood cartoon from roughly 1930 to 1960. Smoodin (English/American University) uses ``politics'' in the fashionably extended sense to cover such diverse topics as the construction of female sexuality in Betty Boop; the place of cartoon shorts in the design of entertainment programs that also included newsreels, live short subjects, and feature films; the use, for a military audience, of cartoon heroes like Private Snafu ``to make any one person's discontent seem aberrant, and to create consensus about U.S. goals during wartime''; the mass media's noncoverage of the 1941 strike at the Disney studio; and the FBI's championing of Walt Disney as an emissary for America even as it was investigating him for possible un-American activities. At times, the range of topics gives the book an air of a miscellany of essays, but its central premise is clear: Cartoons do not simply reflect popular social taste or impose an ideological consensus on their audience but operate within a constantly changing series of social, economic, and political frames. Despite a few comically abrupt descents into academic jargon (``The shift in production...from Betty Boop to Gabby demonstrates the epistemological shift throughout the 30s and early 40s in discourses about the body''), Smoodin generally deploys the insights of recent textual and political film theory without sinking into incoherence. Only his chapter on the politics of programming--in which there turns out to be a political agenda behind every possible relation, including no relation, between cartoon shorts and the features they introduce-- is disappointing. Persuasive support for Smoodin's claim that cartoons--precisely because they are so anonymous and interchangeable compared to the potential masterworks of the Hollywood studios--offer an unrivaled field to study the shifting fields of force in the entertainment industry. (Thirty b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: June 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8135-1948-9
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Rutgers Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1993