Pre-University Paper, 2014
17 Pages, Grade: 1+
1. My fascination for historical Disney cartoons
2. US-American World War 2 propaganda
2.1. General definition of the term ‘propaganda’
2.2. Common forms of US-American war-time propaganda, (governmental) propagandists, and their overall messages and goals
3. Disney’s contribution to the war effort
3.1. The studios during wartime
3.2. Walt Disney’s propaganda ideas
4. Cartoon analysis
4.1. Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
4.1.2. Shots, stylistic devices/figures, tone, and the effect on the viewer
4.1.3. Historical background, events, personalities, and figures
4.2. Reason and Emotion (1943)
4.2.2. Shots stylistic devices/figures, tone, and the effect on the viewer
4.2.3. Historical background, events, personalities, and figures
6. Was it justified to “misuse” family cartoons as propaganda material ?
7. Recapping the results
For many people, certain characters and figures from movies and series watched in the early years of life still occupy a big, dearly-remembered part of their childhood memories. As for me, Donald, Mickey, and Goofy ought to be called friends and heroes of my personal youth- if not even the ones of, at least, two previous generations. Consequently, (although it might sound naïve) I was personally stunned and befuddled when I first learned about Disney’s World War 2 propaganda cartoons which were produced between 1942 and 1945 for the US Government. After having watched some of them on YouTube, I felt like they simply contradicted my childhood experiences, even appearing unreal and fake to me. Yet, further research brought to light their authenticity and revealed a huge range of elements essential to the war effort, which were covered by those cartoons.
When I was to decide for a topic to be dealt with in my ‘Facharbeit’, the decision was clear: Including my interest in the history and pop culture of the United States of America, Disney’s World War 2 cartoons offer a great potential to be researched intensively as one can find a lot of background knowledge, regarding the history of the Disney studios and the general historical context. Also, there is a broad mass of cartoons to be analyzed and looked at closely. Questioning the justification for family cartoons to be used as propaganda material, I further have a firm opinion. However, in order not to go beyond the scope, I must, unfortunately, leave out several relevant and interesting aspects to the topic and do not make any claims for completeness.
In the following, I would like to elucidate my approach towards the issue: To begin with, I focus on general, historical facts about the US-American World War 2 propaganda and Disney’s contribution to the war effort, giving basic background information, in order to understand and interpret two war-time cartoons which perfectly exemplify the convincing way most propaganda cartoons worked and appealed to the citizens. Being two of the most popular shorts during World War 2 (one of them even honored with an Oscar) and rather focusing on entertainment, instead of war instructions, both Der Fuehrer’s Face and Reason and Emotion are great fun to watch and very suitable for a detailed interpretation. Eventually, I comment on the general justification of those cartoons and sum up my results.
In general, propaganda can be described as the “attempt to shape or manipulate people’s beliefs or actions by means of information (true or false), arguments, or symbols”. Hereby, “religious, political, cultural, or commercial messages” are often promoted, using a variety of media, such as print, radio, television, or movies. Although a persistent misconception says propaganda is used by totalitarian regimes only, actually, all governments make use of this persuasive tool which –as broadly assumed- does not simply happen honestly, but involves the “concealment […] of the truth” or, at least, a “cynical disregard” for it.
One can further distinguish between white and black propaganda: Whereas white propaganda attempts to make the own state policies appear glorious and suitable, black propaganda is to misrepresent the government’s enemies.
With regard to Disney’s shorts, propagandists have always seen a great way to manipulate their target group by movies because of their ability to speak visually, unite a group and appeal to its individual members, and trigger an emotional reaction, which might further lead to action. Common strategies of movie propaganda comprise “simplification, the prejudicial construction of racial difference, repetition, [and] unanimity”.
Next to Disney’s war-time cartoons, a vast amount of media was used for propaganda purposes by officials seated in the US Government during World War 2: Especially, mass media were made use of to appeal to the citizens, such as motion pictures, the radio, newspapers, newsreels, and others. Hereby, US-American propagandists leaned on techniques of the advertising industry, including “repetition, catchy slogans, [and] celebrity endorsements”.
The main coordinator of propaganda was the Office of War Information (OWI). Established by President Roosevelt in 1942, it followed a “strategy of truth”, confiding in the critical mind of every mature, well-informed citizen, yet, clearly pointing out the right way to go, namely the support of the war effort. Besides, various more (subordinate) propaganda agencies evolved. Also, the governmental Departments, such as State, War, Navy, and Treasury, owned public information offices.
American propagandists’ messages and goals centered around two main ideas: The “fight between democracy and dictatorship”, endorsing patriotism for the homeland, and, later on, the fruits of a possible victory, were promoted by the media. According to the US Government, those goals could only be reached by internationalism, the cooperation with allies, pursuing common goals and having common enemies. On the one hand, stressing the importance of a commitment to the war effort to preserve America’s future, and on the other hand, revealing the means of the oppressive, freedom-denying dictatorships abroad, governmental propagandists often cleverly combined black and white propaganda. In order to gain more support, one also “reassured cultural beliefs”, such as the value of family, making the citizens dream of a “restoration of the old social order” and a prosperous life after the war. Certain information campaigns, dealing with “morale, recruiting, conservation, rationing, manpower, and food”, further made an appeal to the citizens to deliver their part to the war effort in daily life, for instance, by growing Victory Gardens or by buying war bonds.
My Kansan host grandmother, Gladys Reimer, did experience some war-time propaganda herself. Being in the age of 7 when Pearl Harbor happened in December 1941, a fair amount of posters was hung up in Junior High which related to the Japanese threat and justified the internment camps where American Japanese were taken to, in order to prevent them from cooperating with the aggressors (see Illus. 1. in appendix).
However, Mennonites –as Gladys and her family- were hardly manipulated and impressed by the propaganda machinery as they did not support the war anyways. Whereas others even dropped out of high school to join the military during wartime, Mennonites refused to salute to the flag. Apparently, they disliked the idea that their children were being snatched up by the US Government to do alternative service, instead of staying around to help on the farm. Due to the family’s attitude, Gladys and her siblings were bullied by other kids on the playground and the family sawmill was burned up.
 Wright (Ed.), A Dictionary of World History
 Kuhn, Westwell, A Dictonary of Film Studies
 Wright (Ed.) A Dictionary of World History
 Cf. McLean, McMillan, The Concise Dictionary of Politics
 Cf. Kuhn, Westwell, A Dictionary of Film Studies
 Brewer, Why America fights: patriotism and war propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq, p. 98
 Ebd., p. 88
 Ebd., p. 88
 Ebd, p. 89
 Ebd., p. 89
 Ebd., p. 98
 Reimer, personal correspondence
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