Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hard Times: Prosperity Blues

With so many folks gettin' squeezed these days (animation especially) I thought today might be a good day to post one of the more overt cartoons dealing with the subject of the depression: Prosperity Blues (Columbia/Mintz 1932). The song "Smile Darn Ya Smile" was another hit penned by the writing team of De Sylva/Brown/Henderson and has made appearances in a number of cartoons from Harmon/Ising's "Smile Darn Ya Smile" ( Warner Bros. 1931) to it's baffling appearance in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (Touchstone, 1988).
"Prosperity Blues" is a bizarre mix of social commentary, Mintz style surrealism and blatant propaganda. As Krazy slaps happy faces on the depressed denizens it's hard not to recall the 'gloomies' from the 1935 Van Beuren cartoon "Sunshine Makers" and the chilling statement: "I don't want to be happy. I want to be sad". The animals (and even the trees!) of "Prosperity Blues" don't seem to have much choice in the matter either. It's interesting to note that after Krazy has changed everything for the better the last place he visits is Washington. Stark contrast to Walter Lantz's "Confidence" (1933) where Washington is depicted as the epicenter from which change will happen. Oh, and did I mention that "Prosperity Blues" is also really really weird? 

There's probably no starker depiction of the depression that I can think of in a cartoon than "Prosperity Blues".

Mice in change purses are always good!

Would you trust this guy to solve your problems?

Even inanimate objects must be happy.

"I don't want to be happy! I want to be sad!" 


Bob Flynn said...

Relevant, indeed! I love the idea of slapping smiles on everyone...complete propaganda. But, its pleasurable in its weirdness. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Excellent that you would spot the difference between a model in which the nation fixed itself, finishing with the federal state (“Washington”), and one in which the federal state (“Washington”) fixed the nation.

There were then (as to-day) competing views as to where the problem lay and hence where the solution lay. It would be interesting to see whether a cartoon could be found to match each of the major sorts of theory.

:: smo :: said...

"i don't want to be happy, i want to be sad" - indeed, poignant. forcing happiness seems to be a common thread of van beuren cartoons...and it's amazing! YOU'RE GOING TO BE HAPPY AND YOURE GOING TO $%#@& LOVE IT!!!

even if it makes your ribcage glow and turns your feet into wooden clogs.

again, crazy town delivers.

the crowd shots and background characters in this are amazing!!! i feel like every time i blink i miss a gag, this is a really great short! i really have to start buying up dvds of van beuren stuff somehow...and quit my current animation job and just make things like this.