The good news is we’ve made a lot of progress since February! And that’s about all I have to say for that.
Month: May 2015
Possibly The Most Fleischer-iest Fleischer Cartoon Of Them All
Betty Boop’s boyfriend Bimbo appeared in a good number of cartoons. But he hasn’t got many of historical significance that aren’t really Betty Boop cartoons. Of course he is a much less important character, and many of the cartoons he’s in are … well, let’s say appreciated by historians more than watched for the fun of it. But he did appear in one cartoon that’s unmistakably great, one of the all-time best. Betty Boop does too. But she isn’t the protagonist.
I speak of Bimbo’s Initiation.
Fleischer cartoons are renowned for being surreal, for whimsy, for raucous strangeness, for dream-logic gags strung together. Bimbo’s Initiation could have single-handedly given it this reputation. The plot plays to the strengths of the Flesicher studios, though. The story has Bimbo accidentally stumble into a mysterious group wanting him to be a member, and when he tries to escape he races through a string of nightmare and dream-logic images.
But this cartoon has a strong narrative thread. It is not sloppy in the slightest. Pay attention to the length of the scenes. While the setting keeps changing as Bimbo flees, the scenes are nearly continuous. There are few cuts, and most of the cuts that appear are just close-ups on the same action. Note especially the long sequence after the swimming pool, when Bimbo is swallowed by a door. It starts at about 4:45 in. For about a full minute we follow Bimbo running through multiple scenes, in changing directions, and from changing viewpoints. There are cuts at 5:25 and 5:35, but just to zoom in and out on Bimbo.
Long shots are always impressive on-screen. Long shots in which complicated action happens, especially when the line of action changes repeatedly, are all the more so. This is a tightly constructed, well-plotted cartoon. It deserves its high esteem.
Working Out The World
My love and I were reminiscing things we did in elementary school for reasons we couldn’t figure. I don’t mean stuff like declaring someone who was busy with not playing kickball “The Kissing Bandit”. I mean stuff that doesn’t make sense, like the time my class got taken to the Garden State Arts Center and was taught how to clap with our hands curled. I guess we did other stuff there too, but the cupped hands was the lesson that stuck.
But the thing we shared was the class exercise thing about telling everyone else what our parents did for a living. I realize now I don’t know what the project was supposed to prove. That we could ask our parents what they did for a living, I guess. Maybe be able to tell our peers that our parents are shift supervisors. As skills I suppose that’s up there with cursive and being able to name vice-presidents who resigned, since you can test it. I don’t know how the teacher’s supposed to know if the kid was right, though.
But adult jobs are baffling concepts for a kid, anyway. What do adults need supervision for? They’re adults. Kids need supervision, because if you tell a kid, “stand right here, by the school bus stop, for five minutes and don’t wander away”, there’s an excellent chance before you even get to the second comma they’ve wandered off and got a beehive stuck in a nostril. All a kid knows is that their parents go months without unintentionally ingesting beehives, or they would know if they asked their parents.
For that matter, what’s a job to a kid? It’s just a place adults go to become tired and unhappy somehow. There are maybe five adult jobs a kid understands. There’s being an astronaut, there’s fighting stuff (fires, supervillains, crime, wrestlers [other]), there’s being a nurse, there’s being a teacher, and there’s driving a snowplow. Everything else is a bit shaky. For example, when I was a kid all I quite grasped about my father’s job was that he worked in a chemical factory in the parts that normally didn’t explode. He had to go in for eight or sometimes sixteen-hours shifts and I understood that most of the time things didn’t explode. But that leaves a gap in the imagination about just how he filled his working days. Come in, check that things hadn’t exploded, sure, and then it’s four hours, 56 minutes until lunch.
A kid might understand what someone in a service job does, because they could see a person bringing them food or taking clothes to clean or so. It’s why someone would be hired that’s the mystery, because getting that service means giving someone else money. Money’s hard stuff to come by, what with birthday cards arriving only for a one- or two-week stretch of the year, and maybe a bonus at Christmas if they’re lucky. The tooth fairy can help cover a little capital shortage, but that’s too erratic stuff for a real economy.
But non-service jobs are harder to understand. What is an office job anymore except fiddling with a computer? And a computer job is a matter of pressing buttons so that electrons will go into different places than they otherwise might have. A bad day at that sort of job is one where the electrons have come back for later review. On a good day the electrons all go somewhere you don’t have to think about them again. But the electrons aren’t getting anything out of this. They’re not happy, or sad, or anything at all based on where they’re sent. And they’re not the one getting paid for it anyway. They’d be fine if we just left them alone. All we do by getting involved in their fates is make ourselves unhappy but paid, and we get tired along the way.
The jobs might be leaving us alone soon anyway. Capitalism interprets a salary as a constant drain of capital, and does its level best to eliminate that. For service jobs this means doing less service, making the customers unhappy and making the remaining staff tired and unhappy. For office jobs this means never getting electrons to where they’re supposed to be, because otherwise you’d be an obvious mark for layoffs.
I know my father eventually moved to a job as an ISO 9000 consultant. In that role he ordered companies to put together a list of every word they had ever used for everything they had ever done. Then they put that into a cross-referenced volume of every document every word had ever appeared in. By the time that was done, the company might qualify for a certificate. Or my father had to explain what they had to do again, using different words and Happy Meal toys to get the point across. As a kid, I’d have been better off if he just told me he taught companies how to clap. Sometimes he probably did.
Cheese, Spam, Poetry
I’ve only ever committed a few acts of poetry. Mostly they’ve been things written part-jokingly. This way I could run them in the unread left-wing student newspaper back at college in the “Ebb and Flow” literary section but could fall back in a bit of cowardice and claim I meant it for the Humor section (“about herring…”) instead. But my spammers are not so inhibited. Here’s one of their recent masterpieces:
Now I am ready to do my breakfast,
once having my breakfast coming yet
again to read additional news.
But maybe I’m just a sucker for any suggestion that events that are about to happen already happened and might just be happening again if I don’t miss them.
Also, I see in my notes the phrase “time cheese”. I do not remember at this point if it was a spam or funny search term, or if it was notes from a dream, or if I had ambitions of writing something particular about it. All I know is the idea is there, and some cheese-eating organism might be attempting to disrupt the normal flow of time from past to future. I’ll let you know if any cheese is had for breakfast in the past.
(Those were the actual section names for the creative-writing/photography section and the humor section, though the humor section’s name changed with each new editor. So now you know exactly how earnest a newspaper The Rutgers Review was in my day. When I finally was made editor of the humor section I named it “Humor”, because I felt like trying to be funny about the section name encouraged the reader to challenge whether this was in fact funny even before our blistering jokes about the campus bus system or the broken computers in the Roost. So now you know exactly what kind of person I am. Also I never actually got anything into “about herring…”, though I did better under other editors.)
Caption This: From The Adventures Of Scotty In The 24th Century
“Um, Scotty … there’s a handle. A handle. Just turn the … it’s … you have to put your hand out and … you just … ”
Or, well, a 24th century replica of the 23rd century, while he’s in the 24th century because … oh, look, it just makes sense if you see the episode, OK? Meanwhile if you have an idea what to do with this picture please share it! We’ve just got till the year 2369 or something to do something for the poor guy.
From The Dawn Of Talkartooning
I mentioned last week Noah’s Lark, one of the Fleischer Talkartoon series. This one didn’t feature Betty Boop, or even Boop-related characters like Bimbo or Koko the Clown. It’s a stand-alone in a series created to be sound cartoons. Let me share it with you.
The cartoon’s primitive, stylistically. The cartoon is in black-and-white, without grey shades, the way the Fleischers’ silent cartoons would be done. The synchronization of sound is shaky. For much of their 1930s work the Fleischers recorded sound after animating the cartoon. In the Popeye series particularly this encouraged the voice actors to mumble improvisations around the plot. Apparently this early on the voice actors didn’t feel confident enough to do that.
The way the cartoon diverts from jokes about Noah’s Ark at sea over to an amusement park may seem baffling. I suspect it would have been less confusing to audiences when it was released, the 25th of October, 1929. Noah’s Arks would have been familiar to audiences as one of that decade’s popular amusement park attractions. These were built as rocking wooden ark structures. Patrons walk through a series of dark-ride stunts, like shaking floorboards or moving-prop animals and pirates attacking, flimsy-looking paths over lava pits, that sort of thing. You can see how spooky haunted-house attractions and the tale of Noah’s Ark go together to … well, I don’t know why it worked. But it did, and they were popular in the 1920s.
Sadly the only Noah’s Ark that I’m aware of still existing is the one at Kennywood, in Pittsburgh. It’s worth the visit. That was originally built in 1936 and might be the last one ever built. I don’t see why; the ride idea is weird but reliable enough. The cartoon possibly referencing it is similarly weird but reliable.
Robert Benchley: Movie Boners
I tend to think of picking out continuity errors in movies as a modern practice. It feels like the habit of nerdly-minded individuals who love knowing how movies are made, and love catching movie-makers in the process of getting something wrong. But in this classic piece, from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, Robert Benchley teaches the uniformly unsettling rule of history: the ancients were not so different from us. Besides being a magnificent piece, this essay would lead to another wonderful follow-up.
One of the most popular pastimes among movie fans is picking out mistakes in the details of a picture. It is a good game, because it takes your mind off the picture.
For example (Fr. par example) in the picture called One Night Alone — for a Change, the Prince enters the door of the poolroom in the full regalia of an officer in the Hussars. As we pick him up coming in the door, in the next shot, he has on chaps and a sombrero. Somewhere on the threshold he must have changed. This is just sheer carelessness on the part of the director.
In We Need a New Title for This, we have seen Jim, when he came to the farm, fall in love with Elsie, although what Elsie does not know is that Jim is really a character from another picture. The old Squire, however, knows all about it and is holding it over Jim, threatening to expose him and have him sent back to the other picture, which is an independent, costing only a hundred thousand dollars.
Now, when Jim tells Elsie that he loves her (and, before this, we have already been told that Elsie has been in New York, working as secretary to a chorus girl who was just about to get the star’s part on the opening night) he says that he is a full-blooded Indian, because he knows that Elsie likes Indians. So far, so good.
But in a later sequence, when they strike oil in Elsie’s father (in a previous shot we have seen Elsie’s father and have learned that he has given an option on himself to a big oil company which is competing with the old Squire, but what the old Squire does not know is that his house is afire) and when Elsie comes to Jim to tell him that she can’t marry him, the clock in the sitting room says ten-thirty. When she leaves it says ten-twenty. That would make her interview minus ten minutes long.
In Throw Me Away! the street car conductor is seen haggling with the Morelli gang over the disposition of the body of Artie (“Muskrat”) Weeler. In the next shot we see Artie haggling with the street-car conductor over the disposition of the bodies of the Morelli gang. This is sloppy cutting.
In Dr. Tanner Can’t Eat there is a scene laid in Budapest. There is no such place as Budapest.
What the general public does not know is that these mistakes in detail come from the practice of “block-booking” in the moving picture industry. In “block-booking” a girl, known as the “script-girl,” holds the book of the picture and is supposed to check up, at the beginning of each “take”` (or “baby-broad”), to see that the actors are the same ones as those in the previous “take.”
The confusion comes when the “script-girl” goes out to lunch and goes back to the wrong “set.” Thus, we might have one scene in The Little Minister where everybody was dressed in the costumes of The Scarlet Empress, only The Little Minister and The Scarlet Empress were made on different “lots” and at different times.
It might happen, even at that.
Statistics Saturday: The Hardest Things To Understand In Old Movies
Betty Boop: So Where Did Bimbo Come From?
(Also, I reached 17,000 views the past day! Hooray!)
Fearless Fred was Betty Boop’s second or maybe third boyfriend. What about her first? That would be Bimbo the cartoon dog. At least mostly he’s a dog. There are a few cartoons where what looks like the same character is a cat. They weren’t so tightly bound to character models in 1930.
That point adds a bit of challenge to what I mean to do this week. I’d wanted to show the first Bimbo cartoon, to match the first Fearless Fred and the many firsts I found for Betty Boop. But it isn’t quite clear which one that is. Wikipedia, and the Betty Boop wiki I consult, suggest the credit goes to the Talkartoon Hot Dog, released the 29th of March, 1930. It also credits this as the first Fleischer cartoon to use grey tones, rather than illustrate everything in stark black-and-white. Noah’s Lark and Radio Riot, two of the earlier Talkartoons, are certainly black-and-white pieces. Marriage Wows I haven’t been able to see; the cartoon isn’t lost but only the UCLA film library has a print anyone knows about. Trusting that Marriage Wows hasn’t got Bimbo or greys, then, here it is:
So here’s my difficulty: who in this cartoon is Bimbo? The protagonist doesn’t look very much like the Bimbo we’d see four cartoons later, in Dizzy Dishes. The first police officer looks more like the standard-model Bimbo, except for being large and authoritative and an antagonist and all that. But I can believe Bimbo changing body shape and color more easily than I can believe his changing his plot function. It’s easier to see Bimbo as the guy who plays a non sequitur banjo for two and a half minutes than as effective authority. Still, it raises fine questions about identity that I’m just not the person to answer.
Making Myself Not Understood
I was at Taco Bell, which is a tiny bit interesting because until about two years ago I’d never eaten at one. It isn’t like I have anything particular against Taco Bell, even though their corporate overlords used to have the supervillain-corporate name of Tricon Global, and now have the faintly-Orwellian menace name of Yum! Brands, Inc. I just never got around to it before. I probably should have. I sincerely like their extruded burritos. But I’ve always liked extruded things.
What I want to get at is that besides the seven-extruded burrito and a cheese quesadilla I ordered a pop. I did this because I was thirsty and this was Michigan. One thing I’ve known since childhood about the midwest was that “soda” was called “pop” there. This I heard before the 90s, when everybody got on the Internet and started discussing how they call the same things by different names and how other places than home pronounce words wrong. (That was all anyone talked about online all 1997.) When I moved to Michigan, I found this “pop” thing was true. But the guy working the register didn’t understand me. I said a regular pop, and please, and still didn’t get my point across. So I gave up and said “soda” and that was fine.
Thing is, this keeps happening to me. Or at least around me. I ask for pop from people who should be used to people asking for pop, and they don’t know what to make of that. I’d understand confusion if I asked for pop from someone that would be unusual, such as in New Jersey, at a furniture store, from the guy the building code office sent to check on a crack in a load-bearing pillow. I couldn’t complain much if the guy chose to slug me. But why is this confusing?
I have to figure the problem is my accent. I come from New Jersey, and I’m not more defensive about that than average, and I must just say words like “pop” in ways they don’t understand. I don’t have a very strong New Jersey accent. I routinely surprise people when they hear where I’m from. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” is the sort of thing I get. “I’d have guessed you were from … ” and then they’re not able to pin down just where they were thinking I was from, and they knock over a pyramid of soda cans and run away in the confusion.
I know what people expect from a New Jersey accent. It’s a bit loud and fast, with touches of 1940s Movie Brooklyn in it. College football is unpronounced. The average sentence will have something that has to get beeped out. Instead of clearly pronouncing the “-ing” at the end of words, speakers punch something. Maybe a person, maybe a tree, maybe the shoreline, maybe the abstract concept of justice, maybe a vending machine. Just something that’s available. The New Jersey accent is a crossing of the basic Atlantic Midlands dialect with swerving across four lanes of heavy traffic to cut someone off. I haven’t got a strong accent, because I’m too shy to punch an extruded burrito in a Taco Bell in Michigan. Most of my accent expresses itself in referring to Bruce Springsteen as if we were on a first-name basis, taking a surprising amount of guff for talking about people in queues being “on line”, and in getting into tiresome arguments about how people in other states are forced to pump their own gas. Also I expect to be able to order pork roll, although not at Taco Bell. I like to think my natural speech is a good bit rhotic, but I have no idea what that means. I might just want to be rhotic for the attention.
Except that doesn’t make sense because I hate drawing attention to myself. I feel like I’m taking too much of the cashier’s attention just by ordering my food. Going back around and explaining that by a pop I mean a soda, which is how he would have said pop is just horrible. I want to curl up in a ball underneath the plastic packs of chili sauce and go unnoticed, except they’d probably catch me when I snuck off to the bathroom. Except what would I have to go to the bathroom for if I can’t get a pop to drink?
Finding the Fun: Caffeine Edition
I was hanging out online, since that’s easier than interacting with people, and the conversation turned to caffeine. One person piped up with this:
Fun fact, Red Bull actually has less caffiene than a regular cup of coffee.
While I was getting ready to have a reaction to that — don’t tell me you could respond to that without some warm-up first — someone else laid this on the group:
Fun fact: the lethal amount of caffeine is equal to 10,000 cups of coffee … at once.
OK, so, even if either or both of those are facts, this is fun? What kind of crowd am I moving in?
This is why I mostly drink coffee only when I misunderstood the question.
Caption This: Discovering How Aliens See Us
“So, is it true your people learned everything about humans from watching the Sid and Marty Krofft Supershow?”
(And as before, I’m interested what you kind folks make of this scene.)
In Which I Am Doomed, Doomed I Tell You
I don’t figure this week’s big piece is going to be another massive composition based on what I happen to be reading. This is because I’m reading Mathematics Without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation by Michael Harris. I had thought it was a mathematician’s memoir and thoughts about explaining mathematics to people who aren’t necessarily students. I realized by page fourteen that this is some completely different kind of book, because there it laid this on me:
Be assured that this is not a series of clippings from my autobiography. “When the studies of a philosopher, and especially of a mathematician, have been described, his discoveries recorded, and his writings considered, his history has been written. There is little else to say of such a man: his private life is generally uninteresting and unvaried.” 20 Too true! I can’t even begin to imagine what might make for an interesting private life. The “I” of this chapter’s title [ How I Acquired Charisma ] is not the hateful “I” of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées but rather the hypothetical “I” of a Weberian ideal type. “Type of what?” Maybe we’ll know by the end of this book.
That wasn’t even the end of this paragraph! And I haven’t dared look to the endnotes to see what the 20 is.
I realized this was going to be a more challenging read when a couple pages before that the book laid “apodictically” on me, but since my love is a professional philosopher I was warned about words like “apodictic” existing and meaning something. But this … this ….
I may not make it through the book alive, I’m sorry. That’s all.
Comics, Plus Other Comics
On my other blog is another roundup of mathematically-themed comic strips. It features one of the handful of anecdotes worth sharing from my time working retail. It doesn’t rate inclusion on any blogs about how awful customers are, mind.
So folks who hang around here have something to read, I’d like to bring up a couple of comic strips I like and suggest people try reading. It’s easy to despair about the state of syndicated newspaper comics. There are always reasons to not.
First, Agnes, by Tony Cochran. It’s a well-written strip in the wise-child genre, focusing on Agnes, her grandmother, and her best friend Trout. This makes it one of the too-rare kind of comic for which the lead characters are all strong girls or women. I’m drawn to the writing, though: Cochran doesn’t just make Agnes an imaginative and weird girl. Cochran brings great craft to the writing. A line such as “you look like the mammal version of a parfait” is not just funny but brings to mind how many ways a joke like this could be written that wouldn’t be so well-constructed (“you look like a human candy cane”, for example).
Next, Understanding Chaos, by Gustavo Rodriguez. It’s set in the suburbs and divides time between the kids and their families and the animals and their lives. It’s funny, often surreal; but I’m particularly taken by the art. The drawings are evocative, but the compositions and the coloring are great. A comic strip about worms playing band in the flower-pot of a plant that’s actually an extraterrestrial scout would be funny enough. To do that in an illustration worth studying is accomplishment.
Statistics Saturday: An Incomplete List Of People Who Were All Alive At The Same Time
- Adolphe Sax
- Albert Einstein
- Alexander Woollcott
- Thomas Henry Huxley
- “Typhoid” Mary Mallon
- Francis X Bushman
- Alfred Nobel
- Arthur Schesinger Sr
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Casey Jones
- Chester W Nimitz
- Oscar Wilde
- Conrad Hilton
- Dwight David Eisenhower
- Walt Whitman
- Edward Everett Horton
- Edwin Hubble
- Elihu Root
- Adolphe Menjou
- Erle Stanley Gardner
- Susan B Anthony
- T E Lawrence
- Ford Madox Ford
- Franz Kafka
- Garret A Hobert
- Jules Verne
- Avery Brundage
- Georg Cantor
- Grover Cleveland Alexander
- Samuel Gompers
- Gustav Klimt
- Harpo Marx
- Helena Blavatsky
- Henry “Hap” Arnold
- Herman Melville
- Ho Chi Minh
- Joel Chandler Harris
- Horatio Alger Jr
- Willis O’Brien
- Alexandre Dumas, fils
- Irving Berlin
- Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom
- Jay Gould
- Paul Reuter
- Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II
- Lady Olave Baden-Powell
- John Maynard Keynes
- Otto von Bismarck
- Louis Vuitton
- L Frank Baum
- Frank Morgan
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
- Matthew Brady
- Mohandas Gandhi
- George Washington Ferris, Jr
- Maurice Chevalier
- Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia
- P T Barnum
- Neville Chamberlain
- Louis Pasteur
- Raymond Chandler
- Robert Benchley
- Robert Louis Stevenson
- Rutherford B Hayes
- Thomas Edison
- Upton Sinclair
- Walter Gropius
- William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody
- Vincent van Gogh
- Winsor McCay
Betty Boop: Goodbye, Freddie, nice knowing you
I decided to look at another Fearless Fred Betty Boop cartoon this week. I might do one more, at the risk of exhausting his catalogue. This week’s is also Freddy’s last outing, No! No! A Thousand Times No!, originally released the 24th of May, 1935. How could I resist something so close to its 80th anniversary?
As with his debut, She Wronged Him Right, this is a story set in the frame of a theater. It’s not the same theater as in that cartoon, nor in Betty Boop’s Prize Show. So the Fleischers might be recycling general ideas, but not swiping old animation for new cartoons yet.
The cartoon is enjoyable but also confusing. The animation is merry, the story strong and funny. The framing of the stage allows for neat optical illusions and ingenious tricks to suggest how the show might be done on an actual stage. But why have the stage?
The plot is fairly strong and linear. There’s room for a few of the classic Fleischer-y flights of fancy, though, such as the Dick Dastardly-esque villain’s morphing into a wolf, and topping that by putting on a sheep costume. So why did the Fleischers bother with the framing? Why not just declare in the title that it was set in the era of the Spoof Melodrama? There’s some fun in the convention that all this is happening on stage, but several of the jokes, like the inset shots of the diamond ring or the plate of pearl-carrying oysters, would not be visible on stage. They only make sense as inset shots on screen.
I wonder if the Fleischers supposed that Betty Boop was necessarily a contemporary character who couldn’t be tossed into an arbitrary background. Popeye and, to the best of my knowledge, Koko the Clown similarly were almost always set in a contemporary world. If they were to go to medieval times there would be some explicit in-cartoon reason for the diversion. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves is explicitly set in the contemporary world, and the Popeye cartoon Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp is framed as a screenplay.
Yet this cartoon was released almost a year after Poor Cinderella, in which Betty explicitly plays a character and successfully so. Perhaps, having experimented with the Spoof Victorian Melodrama and this framing device before, they felt the need to stick with it.
It’s a shame because at least part of the dullness of later Betty Boop cartoons is that they got too similar and too routine. Betty could have played a character in a strange setting, especially in fairy tale or spoofs. Why not do more like this?
Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already
The book isn’t stupid, to be exact. It’s Beggar Thy Neighbor: a History of Usury and Debt, by Charles R Geisst, who probably knows what he’s talking about overall. The book’s from a university library. It doesn’t have a jacket. These are all marks of book respectability. But then I run into a line like this — and it’s exactly like this, in chapter 4 — and I’m thrown:
In 1853 the secretary of the Treasury estimated that around 60 percent of the bonds issued by Boston and Jersey City and 25 percent of those issued by New York City were held by foreigners.
It’s a straightforward sentence even if it’s rated “very hard to read” and is too short to judge what its readability is like anyway. Yet I’m wondering things I know I’ll never get answered. Here’s some.
- Obviously, the big one: Thomas Corwin or James Guthrie? I mean, c’mon, this wasn’t even a boring change of presidential administration like in 1857. This was a major change in the political status quo. Why, Corwin and Guthrie were born in completely different north-central Kentucky counties. So which one was estimating?
- Why was Corwin or Guthrie estimating this? Did it come up as part of the daily work of Treasury Secretary-ing? What work, then? I know he can’t have just finished the work of signing every new-issued dollar bill early that day and gone casting about for some way to fill an hour and forty minutes before he could duck out for home in good conscience. Maybe he was quarreling with the State Department. Perhaps he figured if he whipped out some snappy numbers about city bond holding by foreigners then it would help. Or was he just idly working it out, the way you might work out how much of Florida would sink beneath sea level if all the elephants of the world were to stand on Kissimmee? Was his curiosity professional, I mean?
- If he was working it out for a quarrel with the State Department (or whoever), did the numbers help his case any? It’d be a fine thing to work out foreign bond holding for Boston, Jersey City, and New York City and then find the answer made you look like the bigger fool. I guess it helped or we wouldn’t have heard the answer, unless someone on his staff leaked the numbers to make him look bad. Read any history of the United States in the 1850s and you get all this talk about the runup to the Civil War. Nobody mentions what assistant secretary of the Treasury might be trying to make Corwin or Guthrie look bad in a quarrel with the State Department about foreign-held municipal bonds.
- Why study Boston, Jersey City, and New York City? What made that the short list and not some other cities? Was the foreign-held municipal debt situation of Novi, Michigan too boring to consider? What did Milledgeville, Georgia, do to not rate consideration? Were Corwin and Guthrie even aware of Batesville, Arkansas? I don’t quarrel with looking into the municipal debt situation of Boston and New York City, since they’re interesting towns. But why does Jersey City make the list? I vaguely like the place, since I’m from New Jersey and we’re deeply invested in insisting Jersey City is the next Hoboken which is the next Brooklyn which is a good thing we swear. And Jersey City has a lot to recommend it. For example, its Pavonia neighborhood is indirectly named for peacocks, and how many neighborhoods can you say that about? Besides the Peacock District that I’m assuming exists in Kaatsheuvel, in North Brabant in the Netherlands, I’m guessing not many. Plus Jersey City has the Pulaski Skyway, not a single square foot of which isn’t terrifying in every way. But why would that bring the city’s bond situation to the Treasury Secretary’s attention? In 1853 the Pulaski Skyway was literally less than 150 years away from being built. That can’t have attracted their attention.
- Why worry about foreigners holding municipal bonds, anyway? Was the Treasury scared the foreigners would do something disreputable with them, such as lick the bonds before redeeming them? But then why not have the finance department just open overseas mail while wearing gloves?
Also, the book is not at all clear that quotes from around 1820 from the New-York Daily Times are not from the New York Times we know today. There were like six New York Timeses between the 1820s one and the modern one. I’m comically impotently enraged by all this.
And the book goes on for hundreds more pages. How can I finish? (I finished reading it on Monday.)
Caption This: From the first season of Star Trek Enterprise
What really enraged the Andorians was the relentless Vulcan campaign of photobombing.
(I’m interested what other folks might make of this, especially given that lovely woodwork in the Vulcan Space Monastery.)
Franklin P Adams: Sporadic Fiction
[ It’s been too long since I’ve posted a poem from Franklin P Adams. Let me fix that. From Tobogganing on Parnassus here’s a piece complaining about the way magazines of the early 20th century treated fiction. It’s a treatment completely, wholly, utterly alien to people searching for content on the Internet. ]
Why not a poem as they treat
The stories in the magazines?
“Eustacia’s lips were very sweet.
He stooped to” — and here intervenes
A line — italics — telling one
Where one may learn the things that he,
The noble hero, had begun.
(Continuation on page 3.)
Page 3 —- oh, here it is — no, here —
“Kiss them. Eustacia hung her head;
Whereat he said, ‘Eustacia dear’ —
And sweetly low Eustacia said:”
(Continued on page 17.)
Here, just between the corset ad.
And that of Smithers’ Canderine.
(Eustacia sweet, you drive me mad.)
“No, no, not that! But let me tell
You why I scorn your ardent kiss —
Not that I do not love you well;”
No, Archibald, the reason’s this:
(Continued on page 24.)
Turn, turn my leaves, and let me learn
Eustacia’s fate; I pine for more;
Oh, turn and turn and turn and turn!
“Because— and yet I ought not say
The wherefore of my sudden whim.”
Here Archibald looked at Eusta-
Cia, and Eustacia looked at him.
“Because,” continued she, “my head — ”
I never knew Eustacia’s fate,
I never knew what ‘Stack said.
(Continued on page 58.)
Maybe I Could Be A Generalist, Though?
Like most of us I’m looking for the sort of job where people give me money for no clear reason. So I have a couple web sites that send me their comic attempts at locating jobs and I think in seven years of having them set up none has ever sent me anything remotely plausible. But today I hit a grand new one. It’s for a “Specialist Sputtering Engineer”, in Singapore.
I never realized sputtering was the sort of thing needing engineering. I thought it just came from trying to get your point across with more exasperation and less time than you really need. Alas, I know I’m not qualified. I sputter only very rarely. If they needed a stammering engineer I’d be set. I don’t mean to brag but I can stammer even before I’ve really woken up for the day.
So if you know anyone looking for a world-class stammering engineer — freelance or fulltime — please let me know care of the address. Any address will do. I don’t know that I can qualify for a specialist stammering engineer right off the bat. But there’s probably some online certification I could get for it if I knew there was demand.
Some Giant Kids Tromping Around, Plus Mathematics Comics
I don’t mean to brag but over on my mathematics blog I’ve recently had two roundups of mathematically themed comic strips. The “Hatless Aliens” Edition let me reveal that Einstein’s paper introducing “E = mc2” doesn’t actually contain the equation “E = mc2”, so please go over there to read about that. The “Trapezoid” Edition let me introduce someone to Percy Crosby’s classic comic strip Skippy, which I also count as a public service.
To give folks who stick around here something to read, though, might I offer a pair of installments from Winsor McCay’s classic comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland? The backstory is a little involved and hard to summarize since, well, it’s dreamland, but in the installment from September 29, 1907, Nemo and company are sneaking around, best as giants can, Manhattan. In the installment from October 6, well, the sneaking has really advanced to knocking the city over. These things happen.
But it all shows off McCay’s style: incredibly gorgeous artwork drawn with stunning precision — in the second strip look at how consistent the city buildings are between panels 1, 2, and 5, even though it wouldn’t make any difference if they were to vary — and with the loose dreamy narrative that the title of the strip implies. It’s not the kind of comic strip that I could imagine running in the newspapers today. Partly that’s because weekly narrative strips are, except for Prince Valiant, dead; partly that’s because this sort of whimsy is a very hard thing to create or to sustain.
I feel I should say something about Impie, but I don’t know what. The character was picked up earlier along Nemo and Flip’s adventures and I don’t know what I can say.
Statistics Saturday: Nations Of Australia And Antarctica Ordered By Length
- 1. India (Antarctic)
- 1. (tie) India (Australian)
- 3. Australia
- 4. The Ice Republic (Australian)
Now I have to think of other things to list. Hm. This could be trouble.
Betty Boop: So who’s this Freddy character anyway?
Last week’s Betty Boop cartoon, Betty Boop’s Life Guard, raised the musical question of “Where’s Freddy?” They put the question in a song that lasted only about two minutes on-screen but which can last in the head for as much as eight years straight. Sorry about that. But at least as good a question is “Who’s this Freddy person again, exactly?”
Freddy, or Fearless Fred, is Betty Boop’s second boyfriend, for a half-dozen cartoons in 1934 and 1935. It’s repeatedly claimed he was created because under the enforced Production Code Betty Boop couldn’t be dating Bimbo — a dog — once she was finally established as human. I suspect that’s not a complete answer, though. If the Fleischers just wanted Betty Boop to pair up with a human, why not Koko the Clown? He was unmistakably human, and had been on screen for fifteen years, and even canoodled a bit with Betty now and then. Or why not humanize Bimbo? Why add a new character?
My suspicion is that Freddy reflects the discovery of personality. Cartoon characters didn’t lack personality before the early 1930s, but they did tend to be less distinct. Bimbo is faintly pleasant, kind of playful, a little mischievous, easily intimidated: what you’d get from a talented high school theater class producing their very own Little Tramp sketch. You see almost the same personality as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, as Bosko and then Foxy over at Warner Brothers. The biggest difference is in how much the characters seem like blackface jokes.
Soon, though, cartoon characters with personality started taking over. Betty Boop was a forerunner. Goofy appears in 1932; Popeye and his cast in 1933. Donald Duck would appear in 1934. They’re characters of a different order from Bimbo or even Koko. I believe that Fearless Freddy was an attempt to give Betty Boop, and the studio, a credible male lead who has character. And to support this I’d like to show the first cartoon with Fearless Freddy, She Wronged Him Right, which debuted the 5th of January, 1934.
His introductory cartoon is a theatrical performance. Fearless Freddy, Betty Boop, and Heeza Rat play out some versions of themselves. Two of his other appearances, Betty Boop’s Prize Show and No! No! A Thousand Times No!, his final appearance, would use the same framing device. The plot is the grand Spoof Victorian Melodrama of the sort we all thought was done to perfection by Dudley Do-Right. Perhaps it was; but the Spoof Victorian Melodrama was also being done very well in the 1930s, and in the silent movie era, and for that matter by the Victorians themselves.
At some point you have to wonder if the Victorian Melodrama was ever played straight. You wonder more once you learn that silent movie melodrama villains never tied women to railroad tracks. If you see one, it’s from a spoof. This cartoon is part of a curious genre that seems to exist only as a parody. There’s something weird here.
But you can see why a figure like Bimbo just won’t cut it for a Spoof Victorian Melodrama, and why even Koko wouldn’t do. The role has to be cast by someone who looks the part even as he looks ridiculous. Fearless Fred, helplessly dragged behind a horse, can make the best of his plight by declaring “I think I’ll go this way” and make sense. If Bimbo made the same declaration it would sound like the cartoon was nervous about nobody saying anything for too long.
The stage-set framing adds some weirdness to the look of the cartoon. Sets slide in and out, and people walk on the sets within a fixed proscenium. It’s more fun to watch than it probably would have been without the stage convention. Betty Boop’s Prize Show and No! No! A Thousand Times No! have even more fun with using stage mechanics to suggest complicated lines of motion and that’s a fun, dizzying, hypnotic illusion.
Outside his roles as a stage character Fearless Fred would play a lifeguard, a soldier (against an army of giant mosquitoes), and a traffic cop. They’re not far off the Spoof Victorian Melodrama hero-role and he’s affably not-quite-ept in them all. While he’s not as strong a character as (say) Wimpy, or even Gabby (from the Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels and some spinoff cartoons), he’s a good step forward. He doesn’t steal a scene from Betty Boop, but it’s at least thinkable that he might.
It Turns Out I’m Unreadable
I’m not saying my brother was trying to sabotage me. I would understand if he were, considering the times when we were young and I dropped a heavy glass cake pan on his head. But I’m pretty sure he can’t remember that, or much else from before 1994, so I’m supposing this was all coincidence. But he mentioned me in a tweet that mentioned this web service that tests how readable writing is. It reports the grade level of your writing and counts adverbs and passive voices and all that. It’s got to be reliable because it highlights stuff in different colors and it’s got a beta version of a new system dated 2013 and all that.
I poked around some to figure if I could make anything funny out of the tweet. There’s nothing amusing to be drawn from it at all, alas. But I submitted some of my writing to the service. My guess was that I wrote somewhere around a high-school reading level. And I’d have some fancy paragraphs of college-level text. It turns out my writing normally comes in at about grade level 26. It also has the occasional paragraph so complicated that the web service runs away screaming and jumps off Editors Leap, onto a pile of sharpened blue markers and misplaced apostrophes. The reason that last bit was funny is that editors used to use blue markers to highlight misplaced apostrophes. This was before editors got replaced with spelling checkers and little green squiggles underneath sentences containing the word “were”. That’s “were” as in “used to be”, not “were” as in “wolf”. Very few werewolves are detected by automated grammar systems, which is why you should not use them during full moons.
I was stunned. Gobsmacked, you might say, if the spell checker knows that word. I admit I’ve used overly complicated grammar in the past. That was mostly when I was on a student newspaper, and would annoy the copy editors by crafting sentences that read fine, but were about 1600 words long and turned into complicated gibberish if you tried breaking them up into shorter ones. I had good reason for doing this: we didn’t have much staff, so we had to annoy the people who were doing the tedious but necessary work. In hindsight maybe this is why we didn’t have much staff. Or readership. But I assumed I was done with that and just wrote like normal people do except that it’s not on a cell phone.
I did try diagramming some of my sentences, because I’m in the last age cohort that ever learned how to diagram sentences. One that I thought was a clear and punchy bit of text turned out to have the same structure as the caffeine molecule. Yeah, I was stunned too. Like you, I would have guessed theobromine. But I never imagined I could be so rococo. It’s not like I try to write the way, say, 18th-century people did, when everything read like a subleasing arrangement between two people who didn’t like each other, or themselves, and who didn’t want to make an arrangement anybody could decipher. It just happens.
So now I’m trying to check my text against this automated editor. I hope I can get the reading level down to any grade level that actually exists. It’s hard. Right now the service says 26 of the previous 29 sentences were hard to read, 14 of them were very hard to read, and four of them require they send someone over to crush my wrist underneath a rusted-out satellite TV dish. I gave them my brother’s address.
The service doesn’t like adverbs. It routinely gives me advice like that I have three adverbs and for a text of this length should aim for zero or fewer. The beta version is even stricter: it counts me at four adverbs and wants me to keep it to negative six adverbs or fewer, eliminating adverbs I encounter on the street if need be.
So I’m trying to write to the approval of a web service created by people I don’t know to enforce rules of grammar I might even agree with if I knew what they were. I trust that it must be measuring something reliably since its word count doesn’t agree with my text editor’s, and the beta version’s word count doesn’t agree with either. I don’t know why it’s impossible to get two programs to agree on how many words are in a thing, but at least I know I have to eliminate twelve uses of the passive voice before someone drops a cake pan on my head.
Aw, man, grade 18? Again?
Statistics April, Concluded
Yesterday’s mutterings about my suspiciously absent audience is enough of that. May started with my blog at 16,472 views total, which isn’t bad at all. The most-read posts of April make for an interesting bunch, to my eye, because … well, here:
- Statistics Saturday: Nations of Europe Ordered By Length, which was popular because people like lists of countries, and some folks were wondering just what I was getting at with all this.
- Betty Boop: Musical Justice, again not a surprise to me because it’s a weird and rare bit of Betty Boop arcana. This was one of her two live-action appearances.
- When We All Stopped Watching Deep Space Nine, a Caption This! item featuring that first-season episode where gamers from the Gamma Quadrant invaded the show. That inspired the question of “Allamaraine, is this worth the trouble of watching?” Fans of the show say yes, it got a lot better after this. Maybe so. Every time I tried watching it was a time-travel nonsense or a Ferengi Comedy Episode and I don’t need either of those in my life, thank you.
- Power Challenge Of The Week, drawing on everyone’s giddy delight at insulting Brutalist architecture.
- Betty Boop: Dizzy Dishes, another unsurprisingly popular piece because it’s got what’s always credited as the debut of Betty Boop. Betty Boop is more complicated than that, but what interesting thing isn’t?
- Betty Boop: Sally Swing, the debut of Betty Boop’s final redesign and the oddly stunted experiment at creating a new Betty for the swing era.
What most intrigues me is that the Betty Boop pieces are never popular the day they come out. The WordPress statistics are pretty clear about that. The number of page views on days when those are posted is lower than that of the day before or after. But they’re fun to write, and they clearly endure. It probably helps that each links logically to others, so they invite archive-binging. My normal major pieces for the week, where I report what I just read and what silly things it makes me think of, don’t.
Well. Now the other popular part, listing countries. The United States as ever sent me the most number of page views, at 585. Canada came in second at 34, the United Kingdom third at 27, and Germany fourth at 22.
A single reader each came from Algeria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway, the Palestinian Territories, Poland, and South Africa. The repeats from March were Finland and Italy; Italy’s on a three-month streak. India was listed as sending me only two readers, which can’t be right, considering how much I’ve been doing to publicize it the last couple Statistics Saturdays. The “European Union” was also listed as sending me two readers. I don’t know what this designation means, since countries within the European Union are separately listed.
I did, finally, have some interesting search terms the past month. Here’s some:
- dear penelope, i have been so tied up with work during the last week that i have not had a chance to get near a desk to write to you.
- math comic strip clipart
- funny pea soup cartoon
- funny boss yelling at employees for productivity
- spiderman newspaper boss
- yard sale statistics
- corny jokes about the milky way
- reverberating voice cartoon
- the king of jazz delbert cobain
- math jokes on binomial
- j. wellington wimpy character
I can understand why some of them would draw people here, but “crazy.bolle.com”? And I confess knowing nothing of Delbert Cobain. The most of what I know about yard sales is that if you are holding one, you should double what you think fair prices on all the things you’re selling, and then cancel the yard sale. You’ll be happier that way.
Statistics Saturday for April Or Whatnot
I meant to get around to reviewing April’s readership around here sooner. I was busier than I wanted to be, as we all are. And I was trying to think about what the data meant, which is quite hard.
The startling thing to me is that my readership evaporated over April. In February my humor blog here had 1,046 views, and in March 1,053. In April that was down to a mere 808, the lowest since August of last year. The number of visitors collapsed too, from 505 in February and a close-enough 483 in March down to only 303 in April. And I don’t know what happened. It’s possible that people shifted from reading my stuff on pages to reading through RSS feeds or through the WordPress reader, since those readers don’t show up as views or visitors to my page. But … really, one-fifth of the page views and two-fifths of the readers? That’s weird.
(This does, by the way, match up with an increase in the average number of views per visitor. In April I recorded 2.67 views per visitor, my highest since June 2014. March saw a mere 2.18 views per visitor and February 2.07. From the way the daily view counts look I suspect a couple folks found me the last week of April and went archive-binging, which I would like to encourage.)
I don’t think April just reflects a burst of rapid-onset unpopularity. Some of the other measures suggest that I still have near as many readers. The number of likes was only 402 in April, down from March’s 443, but still up from February’s 345. The number of comments was 108 in April, down from March’s 113, but still above February’s 99. That’s a tie, by any realistic measure.
So I’m left with a mystery of where did the page counts go? I looked to the weekly reader totals for any hint what might have happened. From the week starting February 16th through the week starting March 30 I had between 200 and 260 readers per week. The first and second weeks of April that dropped to 162 and then 156 readers, and the third week of April it only rose to 186. Mercifully for my ego the week starting April 27 I drew in 213 readers, which is back to what the boom times had, but that leaves early April a mystery.
I don’t think I was writing significantly different stuff in early April from what came before or after, and I felt good about reader engagement. Maybe everybody was just off for Easter. My mathematics blog wasn’t, but perhaps there were exams that week. I’d be curious what other writers experienced. But I am feeling a little stunned by the results and maybe need to lie down. And I admit this week doesn’t seem to be starting off very well either. It’s a terrible thing to feel this insecure this early in the month.
Maybe I need to accidentally troll the Kinks fandom again.
Robert Benchley: Keep A Log
In my occasional travels I have not taken the advice of Robert Benchley in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, but I should have. Also, while this whole essay is a buffet of funny meaningless syllables, the thing Benchley reports finding at Lurding — itself a great name — is one of my favorite nonsense phrases. Made-up funny words are difficult for the writer, and harder for the reader, but Benchley shows off his deft touch from East Mipford on.
Keep A Log
In planning that automobile trip upcountry this Summer don’t forget to consult those notes you made last year when going over the same route. They’re in that combination log-book and Japanese fan that you took along for just that purpose.
These notes, most of which were jotted down en route, seem to have been made with the wrong end of the pencil. They are part lead-markings and part wood-carvings. It would be fun to dig up that pencil today, just to take a look at it and see where the lead stopped and the wood began.
To make things harder you apparently made the notes while taking part in a hill-climbing contest, when the car was at an angle of forty-five degrees. They are the work of a man in rather desperate straits to keep himself in his seat, to say nothing of indulging in the luxury of writing. You couldn’t have been as drunk as that.
The first one, jotted down with great difficulty, was made opposite the name of the town, East Mipford, fifteen miles from your starting place. It says, as nearly as you can make it out, simply “East Mipford.” This would seem rather silly. Presumably you already knew the name of the town, as it was right there in the map in plain letters. Why jot it down again in that round, boyish hand of yours? Possibly you were just practicing handwriting. God knows you needed practice!
Anyway, there is “East Mipford” and, opposite it, “East Mipford,” so East Mipford it is. It’s a good thing to know, at any rate.
The next bit of puzzle work was jabbed into the paper at Orkington. Here you saw fit to write “No sporfut.” Either this was meant as a warning that, at Orkington, one can get no “sporfut” or that it is dangerous to “sporfut” in or around, Orkington. If you had some clearer idea of what “sporfut” was you would know better how to regulate your passage through Orkington this year. The lack of “sporfut” last year must have been quite a trial to you, otherwise you wouldn’t have made a note of it. Well, better luck this time!
At Animals’ Falls you had what was designated as “lunch,” which is pretty easy to figure out. After it, however is written “Gleever House—Central Hotel—Animals’ Falls Spa.” It must have been a pretty good “lunch” to have included all three restaurants, and, as you made no designation of which was best, the only thing to do is try them all again this time.
Perhaps you will remember, after ordering at the Gleever House, that it was the Central Hotel which was the best. Perhaps you meant that all three were rotten and that you should go on to the next town before eating. The only way to find out is to try.
From then on you are confronted by such notations as “fresh cob” at Turkville (which may mean “fresh cop” or good “fresh corn on the cob”), “Emily” at North Neswick (which may be where you left Emily off), and “steening chahl” at Lurding, which obviously means nothing. You arrived at your destination, according to the log, at “27 o’clock.”
That is the value of a log-book. It makes the second trip seem so much more exciting.
Robert Benchley: Hedgehogs Wanted
Reading the newspaper has always been a great source of inspiration for humorists. For example, in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandry And How They Grew Robert Benchley sees brilliance in an ordinary-looking advertisement. It’s a short but perfectly-crafted piece.
An advertisement in a London paper reads: “5,000 Hedgehogs Wanted.” Of course, it’s none of my business, especially as it is an Englishman that wants them, but I trust that I may speculate to myself without giving offense.
One hedgehog I could understand, or possibly two, to keep each other company. There is no accounting for taste in pets, and I suppose you could get as attached to a hedgehog as you could to a dog, if you went about it in the right way. I, personally, would prefer a dog, but then, I’m dog-crazy.
But 5,000 hedgehogs seem to be overdoing it a bit. When you get up into the thousands with hedgehogs you are just being silly, it seems to me. And, aside from the looks of the thing, there is the very practical angle that you might very well find yourself hedgehog-poor.
There must be something that hedgehogs do that I don’t know about that makes them desirable to have around in large numbers. They may keep away flies, or eat moths, or even just spread out in a phalanx and prevent workmen from lying down on the ground, or picnic parties from camping out on private property. Whatever their special function, it must be preventive.
Of course, there may be something in the back of the man’s mind about quills. He may be forming a gigantic toothpick combine or starting a movement back to the old quill pen. In this case, he has his work cut out for him. Shearing, or plucking, or shaving 5,000 hedgehogs is going to be no sinecure. And he is going to run out of swear-words the first day. Just the plain, ordinary “ouch” is going to get him nowhere.
On the whole, my advice would be to give the whole project up, whatever it is. Unless, of course, the advertisement has been answered already and he has his 5,000 hedgehogs on his hands. In that case, I don’t know what to advise.
Statistics Saturday: Nations of Asia Ordered By Length
My grand project is drawing nearer completion! Can you feel the sort-of excitement-ish sensation? I know I can.
- 1. Iran
- 1 (tie). Iraq
- 1 (tie). Laos
- 1 (tie). Oman
- 5. China
- 5 (tie). Japan
- 5 (tie). Nepal
- 5 (tie). Qatar
- 5 (tie). Syria
- 5 (tie). Yemen
- 11. Bhutan
- 11 (tie). Brunei
- 11 (tie). Cyprus
- 11 (tie). Israel
- 11 (tie). Jordan
- 11 (tie). Kuwait
- 11 (tie). Russia
- 11 (tie). Turkey
- 19. Armenia
- 19 (tie). Bahrain
- 19 (tie). Georgia
- 19 (tie). Lebanon
- 19 (tie). Myanmar
- 19 (tie). Vietnam
- 25. Cambodia
- 25 (tie). Malaysia
- 25 (tie). Maldives
- 25 (tie). Mongolia
- 25 (tie). Pakistan
- 25 (tie). Thailand
- 31. Indonesia
- 31 (tie). Singapore
- 31 (tie). Sri Lanka
- 34. Azerbaijan
- 34 (tie). Bangladesh
- 34 (tie). Kazakhstan
- 34 (tie). Kyrgyzstan
- 34 (tie). Tajikistan
- 34 (tie). Uzbekistan
- 40. North Korea
- 40 (tie). Philippines
- 40 (tie). South Korea
- 40 (tie). Timor-Leste
- 44. Saudi Arabia
- 44 (tie). Turkmenistan
- 46. United Arab Emirates
Betty Boop’s Life Guard
Previously listed as a first Betty Boop:
- Poor Cinderella, 3 August 1934.
- Stopping The Show, 12 August 1932.
- Silly Scandals, 23 May 1931.
- Mask-A-Raid, 7 November 1931.
- Mysterious Mose, 27 December 1930.
- Sally Swing, 14 October 1938.
- Dizzy Dishes, 9 August 1930.
- Musical Justice, 26 December 1931.
- Hollywood On Parade, 10 March 1933.
Each of the last several weeks I’ve said it was the last of the Betty Boop firsts. I’ve been wrong each time. I thought of another and this time I think it’s the last of the firsts, and why would I be wrong yet another week in a row?
Betty Boop’s Life Guard came out the 13th of July, 1934. This makes it the first of her cartoons released after the creation of the Production Code Administration, the enforcers of the Hays Code. Their rules about suitable public entertainment would tamp down Hollywood’s most risque elements. And Betty Boop would be tamed.
This cartoon doesn’t show much harm its post-Code release. Betty Boop isn’t introduced with her “Made of pen and ink/ She can win you with a wink” refrain. Many commentators say that, and her winking and hip-shaking, were too suggestive for the Hays Code. I haven’t seen a source for that.
But the plot’s appealing. The opening shot, of the seashore and waves removing and putting back the beach crowd, is one the studio would reuse into the 1950s. They were right to; it’s a good gag. Lifeguard Fearless Freddy warns Betty about going out too far in the ocean. She’s confident because she has her inflatable rubber horsey. I’m amazed to learn they had inflatable rubber horseys in 1934. They barely had men going shirtless at the beach back then.
Still, as foreshadowed, Betty’s inflatable rubber horsey deflates, and she goes underwater. This presents a nice sequence of undersea jokes featuring Betty as a mermaid. Everyone goes about singing “Where’s Freddy?”, up to the point that Betty gets chased by a sea serpent. The sea serpent reminds me of the Jabberwocky from Betty In Blunderland, Betty Boop’s Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass cartoon released in April of 1934. For that matter, the plot is pretty much that of Betty In Blunderland, a fantasy sequence of Betty in a surreal and wondrous land interrupted by a monster come to grab her away. Betty In Blunderland is a great cartoon, worth attention on its own. I’m not surprised the Fleischers would remake it just three months later. It seems a little odd that Betty and everyone else are so hot for this Freddy fellow, but wondering where he is at least gives something for the musical number to be about.
So here’s a question: how much did the enforced Hays Code affect the cartoon? The Production Code Administration was only established the 13th of June, 1934, too late for major changes in a cartoon getting released a month later. But the newly enforced code wasn’t a surprise dropped onto Hollywood from nowhere in the middle of June either. The very similar Betty In Blunderland would probably have passed without major changes. That Betty Boop was famous for risque jokes didn’t mean that was all she could do.
In Life Guard there’s a little bit of business about 5:30 into the picture with a Jewish rag-collector fish. It seems to me like it should have run afoul of the Code’s prohibition of “willful offense to any nation, race or creed”. But perhaps it like too many ethnic jokes was perceived as just playful. Goodness knows blackface jokes would take decades to finally register as objectionable.
Betty Boop’s cartoons generally got less entertaining after 1934. It’s easy to blame the Hays Code, although this entry shows that perfectly sound Betty Boop episodes could be made under its dictates.