Sunday, May 16, 2010

Animated Soviet Propaganda: The Millionaire (1963)

This is a classic piece of Soviet animated propaganda.

Long before Leona Helmsley actually did leave her fortune to a dog, this cartoon follows the fortune of a dog whose millionaire owner leaves him all her wealth. He then leads the life of a rich capitalist, eventually using his money to become a senator.

Of course, for the Soviets, the difference between a bulldog and a capitalist is essentially nil, which is the less than subtle point to this exercise.

I'll talk about this again during this series, but I have to wonder about the efficacy of this propaganda. It assumes that the Soviet population actually doesn't want to live the high life of the capitalist. And I don't think that's true. Certainly the, how shall we say, less that subtle conspicuous consumption of the post-Soviet Russian elite suggests that the USSR didn't exactly kill materialism.

So it shows this capitalist dog riding around in a big Cadillac, drinking fine drinks, eating meat at every meal, seeing showgirls at clubs, etc. Are you telling me that the Soviet audiences in 1963 didn't want that as well? I have an awful lot of trouble buying that assumption. And how much meat was the average Soviet eating in 1963? Did they look at the dog with anger or with jealousy?

I consistently find these images of American capitalists missing their mark. Of course, I'm not the target audience, but who doesn't want to live the good life? The Soviets apparently assumed that their people didn't (never mind the obvious point that the same people approving this propaganda were also driving big cars, eating great food, and living in luxurious dachas on the Black Sea).

Another theme I want to discuss in these cartoons is that of music. It's very interesting how music and nationalism run together in these cartoons, particularly jazz. Here we see the jazz at the club represent the corruption and self-indulgence of the capitalist classes. As we'll see throughout these cartoons, the Soviets often used jazz to signify the evils of America.  Ironically, they also frequently discussed how poorly the U.S. treated African-Americans, completely missing or ignoring the fact that jazz was African-American music and was part of a long tradition of developing music in part to deal with or fight against racist oppression. We'll touch on this more later.

Finally, the dog drunk is pretty awesome, particularly when he pees on the policeman's leg while the cop salutes him. Second most awesome moment is when the dog and the capitalists are smoking cigars; the first image you see is just the tips of the cigars which look like missiles.