Monday, May 17, 2010

Animated Soviet Propaganda: Someone Else's Voice (1949)

Someone Else's Voice, from 1949, builds upon yesterday's discussion of the Soviets and music. In this tale, the little peasant birds are singing their traditional songs. So pretty, so Russian. But along comes a magpie from a long time abroad. While abroad, the magpie has learned foreign ways and bringing foreign music into the motherland.

This foreign music, of course, is jazz. The magpie makes fun of the traditional bird music, calling it old-hat and talking about how foreign birds sing so much better. The magpie then puts on a performance of modern music. The magpie squawks and squawks. Some of the stupider birds like it. But the good peasant birds reject this noise as cultural imperialism. They attack the magpie and kick it out of the forest in a stand against foreign intervention.

The idea that the Soviets respected local musical traditions is absurd. A hallmark of totalitarian socialism is to marshal art for state purposes. These cartoons are a prime example. It wasn't much different than music. The Soviets can claim they based their appeal in Russian peasant traditions, but first, the USSR was much more than Russia and as any Ukrainian can tell you, Stalin didn't exactly foster their contributions to Soviet culture. Second, they didn't respect those peasant traditions to begin with when they challenged the goals of the Soviet state. We can start with collectivization and go from there.

A word on the animation. I'll talk about this in upcoming days, but Someone Else's Voice uses far more traditional animation techniques than many Soviet cartoons. One of the fascinating things about Soviet art is how artists managed to remain ultra-modern, pushing the envelope in any number of artistic genres, while working in a Stalinist and post-Stalinist state. Someone Else's Voice doesn't really do this--this animation would make any American cartoon viewer in 1949 comfortable--but many others do.

Also, the idea that the Soviets promoted a bucolic environment is completely absurd. The least believable thing about this cartoon is that birds could even survive in much of the USSR. Where's the massively polluting factories, hillsides of dead trees, eroded landscapes, and dead seas?