Dig communism, daddy-o

From the libertarian blog Hit and Run comes this 1948 anti-communist cartoon from Hanna Barbera John Sutherland.

I don’t actually disagree with this too much. Yeah, I know, all the cool kids think capitalism, like, totally sucks. Note the surly dude exercising his property rights and mouthing off to the cops, though. (“Where’s ya warrant, flatfoot?”) Without property rights, you don’t get to mouth off to anyone. Hipster types always seem to assume that capitalism turns everyone into the cast of a 1950s sitcom, but in truth it just as often turns people into hipsters. As some hiphop guy said, you can’t own it ’till you manufacture it. Academics always seem either to fret that hiphoppers are too “materialistic,” or else they assume that all that blingin’ is some sort of ironic stance towards capitalism. (See here for more on that whole “ironic distance” thing.) But maybe hiphoppers are just quicker than academics to figure out that if property = power, and you don’t have any power, maybe you want to get some property.

Anyway, what’s most interesting to me is that the metaphorical figure of the communist, the guy selling his ideological snake oil, is a 1948-vintage zoot-suited hipster — the oversize bow tie, the skinny moustache, the sharky smile pulled into a V, the drape suitcoat and pegged pants, and, of course, the yellow wide-brimmed flat-top hat. Compare this guy to Prince Chawmin’, the zoot-suited hipster in Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves. (This is basically the most racist cartoon ever, which is probably why you’ve never seen it before. It would take approximately forever to work through the problematic depiction of race in this cartoon, so I’ll just tell you to go read Daniel Goldmark’s book on cartoon music, which includes a good discussion of “Coal Black.”)

Why would anyone choose the hipster to embody communism? Maybe because, in 1948, no-one had any idea what a hipster was. In 1948, people are beginning to understand that the hipster represents some new sort of challenge to an unselfconscious American boosterism — a new turd in the postwar triumphalist punchbowl, if you will — but no-one yet has the conceptual vocabulary to understand what that challenge is. Now, what’s novel about hipness is that it isn’t an ideology at all, but a stance — a way of styling your clothes, hair, gesture, speech, and music with the aim of creating an aesthetic distinction between you, the discrete observing critical outsider, and the square world you find yourself living in. It’s not just fashion, and it’s not just politics: it’s a stance within which fashion becomes political. The following decade, the 1950s, would school  everyone in this distinction. For now, in 1948, the hipster comes off as basically a communist with better dress sense.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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2 Responses to Dig communism, daddy-o

  1. Edmonston Alston says:

    I’ve seen ever single Warner Bros. cartoon, many of them multiply, and “Coal Black” has what is probably the single best score of any of them. Carl Stalling outdid himself.
    Though I am awfully fond of the score for “Rhapsody in Rivets” too.

  2. joeo says:

    That cartoon is by John Sutherland productions rather than Hana-Barbera.
    This site has a bunch of them:
    http://www.bibi.org/box/archives/2006/06/john_sutherland_productio.html

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