A couple of weeks ago, my friend and editor David Swindle published an open letter to me dividing the history of Disney animation into ten eras and encouraging me to explore the history of Disney through the same frame of mind. Here is the first in a series looking at the eras of Disney history.
As the United States slid into the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s, Disney’s output grew tremendously in quality and quantity. Walt and his team of animators and writers released plenty of entertaining product, but they also experimented, honing existing techniques and developing new ones. A struggling nation loved what it saw and couldn’t get enough.
Disney’s output during this time period reflects a uniquely American can-do spirit, one that helped this country survive the Great Depression in both determination and innovation. Here are ten great examples.
10. “The Golden Touch” (1935)
The 1935 cartoon “The Golden Touch” carries a special significance not because of any achievement but because of its failure – and because Walt himself directed it. The short, which tells the story of King Midas, has more of the feel of an episode of the Twilight Zone than a charming Disney animated cartoon.
Walt took control of “The Golden Touch” after a period in which he had criticized his directors repeatedly. He had not directed a cartoon in five years. The short, with only two characters, ran long on time and budget. The characters lack the appeal and much of the humor of typical Disney characters, and the story takes a dark turn with little of the typical Disney optimism at the end.
As a direct result of the failure of “The Golden Touch,” Walt learned to trust his talented directors, and he allowed them to continue to create, which of course allowed him to oversee the company that would change entertainment forever.
You’ve seen Thriller and heard all about Madonna, but what do you really know about the decade that ushered in the millennial generation? Think the era of scrunchies, boom boxes, pump sneakers and DeLoreans was just a fad? Think again. Some of the 1990s’ greatest pop culture trends were birthed in the millieu of Reaganomics, cable television, and a music video-loaded MTV.
15. Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon”
The ’80s was the decade of John Waters, the B-52s and all things camp coming to fruition. Decked out in eyeliner, lipstick and braids, Boy George popularized the aesthetic of this gay subculture with a poppy little tune about conflicted relationships. As for the music video, where better to set a gay guy’s love song in the ’80s than an 1870s riverboat called the “Chameleon” where a cheating gambler’s karma comes back to haunt him? Dude, it’s the ’80s: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” started here.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been dusting off the one of the West’s oldest thrill rides: the Iliad. I’ve looked at the best, the worst, and the bloodiest parts of what it means to be a hero in the legendary war stories of Homer. This week, I’d like to put it all together and see if I can’t find some of Homer’s heroism wrapped into the ideas that made this country, our country, what it is. In short, I’d like to make the case for why democracy is the government of heroes.
The Greeks invented democracy, but their bible was a poem about kings. To read the Iliad, you’d think the common man shouldn’t be trusted to tie his own shoelaces, let alone make complex political decisions. Homer composed the poem in the 700s BC, and it’s about a war between bronze-age monarchies. In it, kings are the god-appointed rulers of men. Everyone else is born to obey. That’s what the Athenians were reading when, for the first time in Western history, they handed the government over to the people. So where on earth did they get that idea?
See my previous years’ 9/11 reflections. 2012: “9/11 Rewrote Our Lives in Ways We Are Only Beginning to Comprehend“ and 2013: “On 9/11 and Benghazi’s Anniversary, We End Conservative Pessimism and Right-Wing Apocalypticism“
Last week, against my better judgment, I decided to do a PJTV show and argue some pretty kooky, outlandish positions. The subject in the video embedded above is speculating on the future of warfare in which robots might do the fighting for us. Scott Ott, Bill Whittle, and Glenn Reynolds took a more skeptical approach while I argued my overly optimistic, “Singularitarian” perspective, embracing Ray Kurzweil’s idea that in our lifetimes we’ll have robots with consciousness, be able to gradually merge our minds and bodies with intelligent machines, and eventually evolve into new hybrid species until we become pure energy (the Singularity).
See the film Transcendent Man for an idea of where I’m coming from:
In the meantime, on the road to getting there, I anticipate that in our lifetime wars will be fought between terrorist organizations and nation states primarily with drone assassins, rather than Phantom Menace robots or Terminator 2: Judgment Day-style exoskeletons running around.
I feel morally compelled at a serious personal level to call for and defend the development of weapons of overwhelming power and sophistication and then to call for their employment against all nation states and ideologies currently waging wars against any liberal democracy. Yes — an explicitly pro-war stance, counter to the sentiments of the idolized former Congressman and conspiracy theory peddler Ron Paul today. My reason goes to my very being: I’m in the same boat as three commenters who responded on Monday when we featured the new Prager University video, “Was It Wrong to Drop the Atom Bomb on Japan?.” War made us.
My father was stuck in the Philippines waiting on Operation Downfall to become reality. There’s a good chance he and his buddies would have been casualties, maybe KIA’s. Which means I wouldn’t be writing this comment.
I don’t regret being born and don’t regret that we dropped that bomb so my dad could come home. End of story.
No it was not wrong to drop the atom bomb on Japan. My father was flying B-29 missions and my father in law was in the infantry in the Pacific. Given the the anticipated casualties for invading Japan, if not for the bomb, I guess there’s a fair chance me or my wife and our kids would not exist.
and Robbins Mitchell:
Those who claim it was “immoral” or whatever for the US to nuke Japan are clearly unaware that Japan was also working on its own atomic bomb…named the “genzai bakudan”…they were receiving uranium oxide from the Germans and had a working reactor on the Korean peninsula….had we waited till fall to invade the home islands,that would likely have been long enough for them to perfect their own nukes and they would have most assuredly used them against the invasion force…which would have included my own father who was with a US Navy occupation team on Okinawa at the time
How many Atom Bomb families are there today who only got a chance to exist because President Harry S. Truman made the correct moral decision? A similar question could be asked regarding his role in supporting Israel’s creation. From “23 Books for Counterculture Conservatives, Tea Party Occultists, and Capitalist Wizards“:
I was in seventh grade, and it happened at lunch. I don’t know what we were eating — chicken nuggets, most likely.
I wasn’t aware of it right away, but already there were whispers: something happened in New York City, at the Twin Towers. Was it an accident? Or was it a malevolent act?
We’d find out later. My English teacher told us that planes had struck both lead towers of the World Trade Center. Another had hit the Pentagon. Strangely, I didn’t think anyone had died. I assumed the buildings were damaged and that they would later be repaired.
At the end of the day we were called down to an assembly and we were told that the whole thing was an accident. They gave us the usual spiel: talk to your parents; we’re here if you need us; it’s okay to cry.
I went home and turned on the news and stayed glued to it. They kept replaying the crash and the carnage: the explosions, the screaming. I was horrified.
This, of course, was no accident.
Obviously, I knew that what took place was a terrorist attack. But I couldn’t decipher the motivations.
And this led to something funny, perhaps darkly so: I recognized immediately that the Twin Towers were the two tallest buildings in New York City. So instead of viewing the attack as a Huntington-esque “clash of civilizations,” I assumed al-Qaeda wanted to destroy large buildings.
Our middle school was, I thought, the tallest building in town. Were we next?
13. She has discovered a close kinship with George Costanza.
Sure, she may come off all serious in her videos, but Lana Del Rey has a seriously good sense of humor. According to Rolling Stone, Lana Del Rey ”has a George Costanza-like plan for the future.”
“I’m really specific about why I’m doing something or writing something,” she says. “But it always kind of gets translated in the opposite fashion. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve learned that everything I’m going to do is going to have the opposite reaction of what I meant. So I should do the opposite if I want a good reaction.” She’s surprised to learn that George tried this approach in an episode of Seinfeld. “Oh really? That’s awesome. Me and George Costanza! Oh my God!”
Your mother probably told you — many times — to eat your peas. That’s because, while they don’t taste that great, peas are good for you.
Governments don’t eat. They devour, perhaps, but they don’t eat. Still, like eating peas, there are things that government needs to do but doesn’t want to do. At the top of the list is accounting.
In his new book, The Reckoning, Professor Jacob Soll of the University of Southern California reviews the history of accounting and shows how the rise of double-entry bookkeeping has made people wealthy throughout the centuries. He also explains why government doesn’t much care for applying those same accounting principles to itself.
“Those societies that have succeeded are not only those rich in accounting and commercial culture but also the ones that have worked to build a sound moral and cultural framework to manage the fact that humans have a regular habit of ignoring, falsifying, and failing in accounting,” he writes. “This book examines why a lesson so simple has so rarely been learned.”
But what he ends up showing is it’s not so much that the lesson hasn’t been learned. It’s that the lesson has all too frequently been ignored.
Mounting evidence suggests Neanderthals were not the brutes they were characterised as decades ago.
But art, a high expression of abstract thought, was long considered to be the exclusive preserve of our own species.
The scattered candidates for artistic expression by Neanderthals have not met with universal acceptance.
However, the geometric pattern identified in Gibraltar, on the southern tip of Europe, was uncovered beneath undisturbed sediments that have also yielded Neanderthal tools.
Details of the discovery by an international team of researchers has been published in the journal PNAS.
There is now ample evidence that Neanderthal intellectual abilities may have been underestimated. Recent finds suggest they intentionally buried their dead, adorned themselves with feathers, painted their bodies with black and red pigments, and consumed a more varied diet than had previously been supposed.
One of the study’s authors, Prof Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, said the latest find “brings the Neanderthals closer to us, yet again”.
I get the feeling we made the Neanderthals out to be such brutes to A) Make us feel better about ourselves, and B) Make us feel less bad about having wiped them out.
Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in James Jay Carafano’s ongoing series exploring war films: The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War, 10 War Movies Guaranteed to Make You Cry, America’s First Wars in 10 Movies.
“We must settle this question now,” Abraham Lincoln warned in 1861. Four years later, Honest Abe declared America had secured “a new birth of freedom.” But it came at dreadful cost. Over 600,000 soldiers died. And civilians, North and South, endured destruction, privation and misery.
Hollywood has had a long relationship with the Civil War. The 10 movies discussed below* present that terrible struggle quite differently, yet together they underscore the sad truism that “freedom isn’t free.”
10. The Battle (1911)
American moviemakers’ obsession with the Civil War predates Hollywood. D. W. Griffith filmed this 19 minute action-romance feature in his studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. While many silent classic films from that period—like The Battle of Gettysburg (1913)—are lost, several film archives still hold copies of The Battle. It’s also available on DVD along with several other films the pioneering Griffith made about the Civil War era, including The Birth of a Nation (1915), in which he infamously glorifies the founding of the Ku Klux Klan.
These days, everyone’s remembering the riveting beauty and power of Lauren Bacall, who created some of Hollywood’s most ruthlessly desirable women (remember Young Man with a Horn?) In my list last week, I commemorated Rome’s studliest heroes — a who’s who of men of valor from the ancient world. But now it’s ladies’ night: the women of Greek and Roman myth and history knew better than anyone how to seduce, deceive, and sometimes outright slaughter their way to unassailable wealth and power. To pay tribute to some of Bacall’s more insidious roles, here are 10 of classical history’s deadliest femmes fatales, listed — in descending order this time — along with the emasculated puddles of broken manhood they left behind.
Before Ancient Rome was a titanic empire, it was a collection of huts, a tribe of outlaws, and a few unshakable ideals — courage, virtue, and duty. The defense of those ideals inspired some of the greatest war stories and acts of heroism ever written down. Here are the 10 most badass heroes, ranked in ascending order, from Rome’s legendary history and historical legends.
The legendary founder who gave his name to Rome also carved out the city’s place in blisteringly hostile territory. Etruscans to the North, Samnites to the East, and Latins to the South: Italy was no safe place for a little village made of mud and bricks to stake its claim. Romulus led his ragtag team of rejects and outlaws against the peninsula’s fiercest tribal armies, saving Rome from being annexed or enslaved. But he had an erratic, unheroic temper that kept him from making it higher on this list — legend has it he murdered his brother in a violent rage.
(Livy 1; Dionysius, Roman Antiquities 1-2)
10. If guys didn’t look like heroin-addicted street dwellers…
Before committing suicide, musician Kurt Cobain copyrighted the grunge look that came to define Gen-X/millennial crossovers in the ’90s. A reaction to the preppie style made famous by ’80s yuppies, grunge involved a level of disheveled that transcended even the dirtiest of ’60s hippie looks. Grunge trademarks included wrinkled, untucked clothing complemented by greasy, knotted hair and an expression best defined as heroin chic. The style depicted an “I don’t care” attitude that took punk’s anti-authoritarian attitude to a darker, more disengaged level. Grunge became the look of resigned defeat among American males.
11. Wonder Woman
Her fresh, All-American face premiered on comic book stands during World War II, making her the greatest enemy of the Axis powers. Daughters of original readers would go on to be inspired by Lynda Carter’s televisual portrayal of the superheroine in the 1970s. The Wonder Woman arsenal includes a dual-function tiara with bracelets to match and the awesome Lasso of Truth. Before there was Lara Croft or a chick named Buffy, Wonder Woman proved that strength could be sexy and gave Captain America a run for his patriotism with her flag-bearing style.
13. Bess Myerson
Recognizing a woman who appears to have parlayed her Miss America recognition into a minor-league acting gig may not seem logical, until you realize that Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, paved an uphill path for diversity in the pageant circuit. She was told by one Miss America exec that she ought to change her name to something “more gentile” and refused. Pageant sponsors refused to hire her as a spokeswoman and certain sites with racial restrictions refused to have her visit as Miss America. This was of no consequence to Miss Myerson, who was the first Miss America to win an academic scholarship. The racism she confronted was motivation for a lifetime’s work with organizations like the ADL, NAACP, and Urban League. She would go on to co-found The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and make boundless contributions to the city’s art community. Along with becoming a television personality, Myerson received several presidential appointments in the 1960s and ’70s and would receive two honorary doctorates.
1. Citroën SM
In 1961, Citroën began development on a vehicle called “Project S.” By 1968, Citroën had acquired Maserati and, subsequently, all of their high-performance technology. French and Italian forces combined, resulting in the Citroën SM which contained a Maserati V6 and a Citroën suspension. The SM’s speed, power, dynamic styling, and ingenious technical features were extremely innovative for the time. The SM even set a land speed record in 1987 at the Bonneville Salt Flats!
The SM might not have been wildly popular, but it definitely deserves a place on this list.
10. Sullivan and Son
This working class comedy executive-produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley is fraught with all the non-PC ethnic and sexual humor you’d hear in a working class, Irish-Korean, middle-American bar like the one in the show. Created by Korean American actor/comedian Steve Byrne and Cheers writer Rob Long, the TBS sitcom reminds you that some jokes are still OK to crack. The stellar cast features Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) and comic genius Brian Doyle-Murray, along with Christine Ebersole and Owen Benjamin, who portray the drop-dead hysterical mother-son dependent duo Carol and Owen Walsh.
From 1929 through 1939 the Walt Disney studio released 75 short cartoons in the Silly Symphony series. Starting in March I began watching and featuring them all at PJ Lifestyle to learn more about the culture, history, and technology of the period. It’s really neat to see how the series evolved from beginning to end as Disney utilized it as a kind of experimental laboratory for testing new ideas that would later make it into the feature films. Fantasia – which has become one of my absolute favorite films in recent years, I’ll often have it on in the background while writing — can be understood as the ultimate Silly Symphony. So many of the themes and techniques developed over the decade would find their greatest expression there (a subject that I’ll write about more soon.)
I’ve scheduled the last two Silly Symphony cartoons for tomorrow and Friday. Now that I’ve seen them all I’ll be organizing them into a few lists and collections to highlight the good, the bad, the ugly, and the fascinating. And starting on Monday the PJ Lifestyle Cartoon at Noon feature will take a break from Disney and turn to another company and its standard bearer: Fleischer studios and Betty Boop.
But to start, so others can start to see the fascinating pattern of advancement over the decade, here’s a collection of the 7 Silly Symphony cartoons that won Oscars, along with some remarks on each.
This list is an amalgamation of the winning-est, most iconic, and most talented Formula One drivers to ever live. I purposefully left off drivers who are currently active because their history is still being written.
10. Mario Andretti
Mr. Andretti is an icon in the United States’ race world—and rightfully so. With wins in NASCAR, IndyCar, the World Sportscar Championship, and Formula One, Andretti is one of the most successful Americans in his sport.
Andretti moved from Italy to the United States when he was 15 years old. Having already been bitten by the racing bug while in Italy, Mario and his brother Aldo continued racing on dirt tracks near their home in Pennsylvania. Andretti came to F1 in 1968 and held the pole at his debut race, the 1968 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. He was active in F1 for fifteen years, eventually winning the 1978 championship. Out of 128 starts, he had 12 wins and 18 poles.
We’ve all heard of the horrors of Cop Rock and Manimal, but after receiving a reader tip on one of their worst TV shows of all time, I did some digging and uncovered these utterly classic samples of bad television that would make great material for Joel McHale or the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
10. Bucky and Pepito (1959)
Produced by Sam Singer, “The Ed Wood of Animation,” Bucky and Pepito was a typical story of an “ambitious” white cowboy and his “lazy” (literally, they sing about it in the theme song) Mexican buddy trolling the old west on a zero budget. According to Toonopedia, “Cartoon historian Harry McCracken once said the pair ‘set a standard for awfulness that no contemporary TV cartoon has managed to surpass. They were great at what they did, which was being bad.’” Thanks to Bucky and Pepito, cartoonists have debated creating a Sam Singer Award for truly bad animation.
1. Ferrari 250 GTO
I admitted in my Ferrari post that this is one of my favorite cars of all time. I mean, just look at it!
This GT car was produced in two distinctly styled bodies from 1962 to 1964. The ’62 and ’63 GTOs were Sergio Scaglietti designed and produced and came to be known as “series I.” In 1964, a limited number of GTOs were produced by Scaglietti, but fitted with a body designed by Pininfarina. This styling was subsequently known as “series II.” In all, thirty-six GTOs were produced.
This car is not simply famous for its Ferrari good looks or small production numbers, but for its dominance on the track. The 250 GTO had several successes: winning the GT category at Le Mans in 1962 and 1963, winning the Nurburgring 1000 km in 1963 and 1964, and taking the Tour de France in 1963 and 1964 (just to name a few).
To many car collectors, the 250 GTO has become akin to the “Holy Grail.” In 2012, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that was specifically built for Stirling Moss reportedly sold for $35 million.
1. Ford Mustang
Where does one even start when talking about the Ford Mustang? This car has become the embodiment of America’s love affair with speed and muscle. This iconic Ford instigated the creation of the “pony car” classification of automobiles and prompted competing car manufacturers to crank out America’s other favorite muscle cars. For Ford, the Mustang was (and continues to be) a smash hit.
The first Mustang debuted at the New York World’s Fair in April of 1964. It was originally equipped with a 260-cubic-inch (4.3L) V8 but was quickly upgraded to a 289-cubic-inch (4.7L) V8 in its first year. By 1968, the Mustang was outfitted with a 302-cubic-inch (4.9L) V8. The following year, Ford released several performance packages for the Mustang including the Boss 302, Mach 1, and Boss 429. The speed and power had arrived.
1. Helene (de Rothschild) van Zuylen
Ms. Van Zuylen is a name that many people probably find unfamiliar. It is a shame because this adventurous French socialite is credited as being the first woman to compete in an international motor race.
Helene’s husband, Baron Etienne van Zuylen, was the president of the Automobile Club of France, and thus responsible for organizing the 1898 Paris-Amsterdam-Paris Trail, a 889-mile city-to-city race. Helene participated (and finished) The Trail, becoming the first woman to ever compete in an international race.
John Phillip Sousa on 33 1/3 blasts from the Hi-Fi — yes, you heard right, “Hi-Fi” — conducted by my flag-waving Grandfather, proudly standing at attention at 8 o’clock in the morning in the doorway of his open garage, wondering why it took us so long to get there. We may have been at the shore, but Memorial Day was not about a barbecue on the beach.
My grandparents lived down the street from my Great Uncle and Aunt. My Grandfather idolized my Great Uncle (his brother), naming his only son after his brother who had spent World War II as a gunner on a Navy ship in the Pacific. Having broken his back before the war, my Grandfather wasn’t able to get into the military during the conflict. Instead, he busied himself crafting knives to send to his buddies overseas (yes, they censored letters, but allowed knives to be carried through V-Mail) with the instructions “leave them in the enemy’s guts and I’ll make you a new one when you get home.”
My grandfather also played a key role in the war effort, one that goes overlooked when we take the time to honor the troops on Memorial Day. Recruited by the FBI in 1940, my grandfather and his father played a key role in the creation of the Iowa Ordinance Plant, the largest shell and bomb loading facility in operation during the war.
In the autumn of 1940, when a fairly isolationist population still dismissed the idea of entering into Europe’s conflict, my grandfather was pulled out of his job as a tool and die maker by two fairly typical FBI mugs. They strapped secret plans for a military facility, designed by Day & Zimmermann, Co., to his body and handed him a train ticket and a gun with the instructions, “Don’t be afraid to use it.” At the age of 23, my grandfather was the perfect cover: “If anyone asks, you’re on your way out west to go to college.” His job was simple: Escort his father, recruited by the government for his skills as a tool and die maker, to San Francisco to convene with a number of highly skilled Americans engaged to prepare America for war.