Friday, December 28, 2007

Swing Social, 1940



I was sitting on the couch with my daughters watching Chilly Willy shorts on YouTube this week when I stumbled across Swing Social. My jaw dropped straight into my lap. The first time around, I felt a bit guilty to be enjoying it so much. This could never be produced today. Heads would roll. Careers would be ruined.

The second time around, I began seeing the remarkable details and the political sophistication of the jokes. Uncle Tom's Cabin, for instance, being purchased with an FHA loan. Baby FDR saying, "My friends, my friends, as I said before, I hate war." This was, remember, 1940.

The third time around, I'm thinking, this isn't white people making fun of Black culture, although there may be a bit of that in there as well. This is also Black culture appreciating itself. The Voodoo Drummer segment, the third of the four songs, with its dancing baby black bass back-up singers (tomma-tomma-tay-tay!), blows my tiny little mind every time I see it. The segue into the devil song seems to be about Christianity as an overlay over much older folk traditions. The artistry throughout is stunningly rich. The early 40s seem to be a high water mark in the world of animation.

So this week, I combine my cultural offering with a new poll. How should we regard Swing Social from our sophisticated vantage point of twenty-first century political correctness? Is this a racist piece of trash better left to decay in the vaults of MGM, a sensitive homage to the morays of early twentieth century Black America, or something in between, of enduring cultural value? As always, make your opinion known at top right. This time, you can choose more than one option.

This weeks poll, having missed the big day, drew even more scant attention than usual, proving that to be possible. Still, it is typically informative. The video is of enduring value, and may or may not simultaneously be racist AND sensitive to early 20th century Black culture.

4 comments:

Isn't it Ironic? said...

I'd be interested in your commentary on "The Homeless Flea" also from MGM in 1940.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZLvzz-eOwA&feature=related

I think it brings up a lot of interesting comments.

cartoon goon said...

I love old cartoons! I love the art of them. I love the fact that they can be enjoyed in many ways. I love that they were used to share many messages. Some early cartoons from the 30's were very racy.

Tim Harris said...

I watched Homeless Flea during the same jag and found it dull in comparison.

Dr. Wes Browning said...

To explain my vote: Enduring value, yes, 1) as a historical document and
2) the music has interest.

Racist and offensive content: Not in the context of the times. It's actually rather enlightened for 1940. I would guess though that it was not only produced by White people but that White people retained creative control. If that's true it would stand as a symbol of racism.

Sensitive to Black culture: I would say it's appreciative of aspects of Black culture. It's like Seinfeld saying, "If I like the race, I can't be racist." Not really the same thing as sensitive.