Reposted: The 33rd Talkartoon: The Robot, surely Not A Time-Traveller’s Prankish Insertion To History


I’d wanted to do my statistics recap, looking at readership through September. And then stuff got in the way, so please instead consider another look at an oddly anachronistic Betty Boop cartoon. It’s not just in having a robot, it’s in how it seems like a Bimbo cartoon from six or even twelve months earlier. Still neat to see, though.


I have to apologize a bit for today’s Talkartoon. Not for the content; for the presentation. I can’t find it on archive.org. I’ve found it on YouTube, and that looks good, but the link might expire when I’m not looking. If you’re reading this sometime in the future and find that it has, please let me know and I’ll try to fix things. Might even be on archive.org by then.

The cartoon was released the 5th of February, 1932, just a couple weeks after Boop-Oop-A-Doop. There’s no credits for the animators; not even guesses. It’s the last Talkartoon we can say that about.

The cartoon feels anachronistic. For the first time in ages Bimbo’s got the starring role. And he’s got his older, more screwball-character model design. Betty Boop — well, is Betty Boop even in this one? The cartoon was included in the Complete Betty Boop Collection videotapes in the 90s, but on what grounds? She isn’t named, and she doesn’t look much like Betty Boop. Mostly; there’s the scene where she comes out of the circus tent about 4:50 in where she’s basically on model. She looks closer to the possibly proto-Betty-Boop who figured in Grand Uproar or Teacher’s Pest. And there are a lot of scenes where the camera puts the scene in a circle surrounded by black. Sometimes this irises out to a whole scene. It’s a common technique for cutting between scenes or setting focus that silent movies (cartoons and live-action) used all the time. It faded out with the coming of sound, for reasons I’m not sure about. Here it’s everywhere. Given all this I wonder if the cartoon wasn’t made months, maybe a year, earlier and not released until later on.

Oh yeah also it’s about Bimbo’s Robot. In 1932. If that weren’t bizarre enough the cartoon opens with Bimbo’s television. It’s common enough these days to tell stories about stuff that hasn’t been invented yet. It’s startling to realize they were telling stories about stuff that wasn’t yet invented that long ago. Yes, yes, there were experimental television rigs that could transmit upwards of four blurry lines of a Felix the Cat clock back then. It was still a thing for the imagination, not something everyday people could experience. It was a thing of the future, the way robots were too.

Well, since Bimbo wears his car to go boxing it’s more of a mecha than a robot properly. But the concept was still in rapid flux back then. They wouldn’t even discover how to pronounce “robot” so it doesn’t sound weird until 1964.

Despite the screwball-character model Bimbo isn’t a nutty character here, no more than any inventor in a cartoon is. It’s made up for by the story being an actual, successfully formed story. There’s clear motivation for everything Bimbo does, and it builds to a climax that makes sense. It’s a surprisingly non-zany cartoon, but it’s well-crafted.

I can’t say there are any jokes you’re likely to miss by blinking. The horse on top of Bimbo’s invention shack is good but it’s not much of a joke per se; it’s just atmospheric weirdness. Nor are there any real body horror jokes. I can’t figure out what’s going on at about 1:50; I think maybe a dart going through a fanciful heart got cut off by the framing? There’s some good camera work, when the car goes weaving all over the road and when Bimbo’s Robot gets punched high up above the ring. A mouse finally turns up ringing the bell about 4:25 in, and similarly later, and waving a flag during the parade at the end. And I get a good solid laugh from the referee cat’s fast count-out of One-Round Mike.

It’s overall a rather solid showing for Bimbo, who for a wonder gets to lead the flow of action. And for the cartoon, which sets up its premise and develops it without unmotivated weirdness. This might be the one flaw of the cartoon, in that there isn’t a baffling side to it. I’m sorry there’s not information available on who wrote or animated the cartoon. The cartoon shows a plotting skill that is uncommon for Fleischer cartoons of the era. One more anachronism.

What Your Favorite Polygon Says About You


Triangle. You’re simple, solid, reliable. While you maybe fear being thought unimaginative, you feel a special affinity for triangles: they’re the shape that introduced the young you to the term “obtuse”. Knowing the word gave you many times you could insult a younger sibling without their catching on, and after they did catch on, let you insist that you were just describing the triangle they were making by doing something or other, and then they punched you. Good times.

Rectangle. You were caught off-guard by the question and figured this was the safest answer. Nobody’s ever going to say your judgement is bad, just vanilla. But, you answer, vanilla is only the most popular flavor of anything on the planet, even better-liked than chocolate, pentagons, fresh garlic toast, and the glue on security envelopes.

Pentagon. You actually like five-pointed stars but you’re not sure if they count as polygons.

Hexagon. You read somewhere about how this was the most efficient shape and you’re going to stick with that even though you never learned efficient at what. Alternatively, you play a lot of area-conquest strategy games and just like thinking about all these many paths of hexagons and having at least twelve types of cards to keep track of things. Alternatively, you are a flock of bees.

Heptagon. You don’t know what a heptagon is but you like the old-timey 1920s-slang feel to any word that starts “hep”.

Parallelepiped. You so enjoy the sound of this word you don’t care that it’s a polyhedron, not a polygon. If asked to name an actual proper polygon you will try to distract the questioner. “Is that a flock of bees?” you might say, pointing to the city’s new hexagon district, which is very efficient but has lousy traffic signals.

Circle. You have never, not once, ever completed a task without an argument about what the instructions precisely mean.

Parallelogram. You like how it suggests a rectangle, but by tilting to the side one way or another it looks like it’s moving faster. Or like it’s braking really fast. You can’t get just any shape to look that lively.

Heptadecagon. You are a mathematics major and were crazy impressed by the story of how Carl Friedrich Gauss figured out how to draw a regular 17-sided polygon with straightedge and compass. You’re still so impressed by this that you’re angry they inscribed a 17-pointed star, instead of a 17-sided polygon, on Gauss’s gravestone. You’ve never seen a picture of his gravestone, and you haven’t ever looked up how Gauss did this 17-gon. “It was really easy,” Gauss once explained. “I just drew a 17-pointed star and then connected the points.” You’re nevertheless still offended on his behalf.

Chiliagon. You were paying attention that day in philosophy class where they talked about a regular 1000-sided polygon and how you couldn’t even tell that wasn’t a circle. Very good.

Octagon. But not the stop-sign octagon. The octagon you get by putting, like, one long skinny table off the center of another long skinny table, because it looks like that shouldn’t even be an octagon but it is, and anybody can count edges and see it is, and that’s just great.

Myriagon. You like that chiliagon idea but think it’s getting just a little too much attention so you’re going for a 10,000-sided regular polygon instead. This is the sort of thing people warn new acquaintances you do.

Trapezoid. You have loved this shape ever since you first heard about it, and were able to go home and ask your little sibling if they wanted to see a trapezoid, and they said sure, and you informed them that they were a zoid and you grabbed their arm and wouldn’t let go, and said now that’s a trap-a-zoid and they ended up yelling and punched you with their free arm. That spot on your arm was sore for weeks. Good times.

Megagon. You’re the person who dragged the philosophy class into arguing whether it mattered that the Trolley Problem wouldn’t literally happen exactly like that, instead of letting the class explore the point of the problem about whether it’s more ethical to actively cause or to passively allow harm. Sigh. Fine. You are unimaginably clever. Now go play outside.

Dodecagon. You were trying to express fondness for that 20-sided die shape and then halfway through remembered that’s a polyhedron but you were committed. Had you started out with polygons in mind you would have said “heptagon”. The dice shape is the “icosahedron”. The dodecahedron is the 12-sided die. This is how everything in your life goes.

Waiting On The Auto Repair Sign


You might remember there’s an auto repair place down the street. I mean my street. I don’t know what’s down yours, and before you get all smug about that when’s the last time you checked yourself, mmm?

Last winter the auto repair place used its sign board to deliver a message of despairing optimism, that “Everything Is Going To Be Alright”. I think the tone came out wrong, but maybe I’m just seeing ambiguity where they didn’t intend it. They change it every couple months. Right after that was congratulations to somebody graduating and there’s no snarking on that. I forget what they went to after that one.

Auto service center sign: 'Everything Is Going To Be Alright [sic]'
I hadn’t even despaired before I saw this.

This winter they had “The Cost Is Zero To Be A Decent Human Being”. And this is a beautifully balanced message. It’s a reminder that the kind, gracious society, the one in which all people receive the dignity and decency that they need to thrive, is always at hand. It requires only that we each take a moment to remember the basic humanity of those around us, and that the cost of respecting that humanity is smaller than we fear. And on the other hand, it’s the perfect thing to yell in the quarrel that finally incinerates the corpse of a deceased friendship. “The cost is zero to be a decent human being, Lisa, and somehow that’s too much for you!”

Yesterday I noticed they had the ladder out, and they took down the reminder about the cost to be a decent human being. They haven’t put a new message up yet. But I’m eager to see what there is.

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