Filthy capitalist swine
My fascination with political propaganda has no partisan allegiance, but left or right, I can’t help but think they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Those racist Tea party signs, the Shepard Fairey-designed beatification of Barack Obama—even the romantic filigree of Occupy Wall Street didn’t do much for me. My favored political propaganda is that rare combination of ambitious, angry, and optimistic—a trinity often achieved by the very coiners of the term “agitprop,” the Soviets.
Soviet Toys is the very first in a long and rich history of Russian animation, and while only a fraction those cartoons were explicitly political, the great Russian director Dziga Vertov made masterful use of the medium to produce some truly caustic revolutionary art.
Despite its explicit semiotics, the plot of Soviet Toys is a little bit of Russian history “inside baseball,” so I’ll sum up. During Lenin’s New Economic Policy (a period of liberalization where private citizens were allowed small entrepreneurial ventures to boost the economy after the Russian Civil War), a class of businessmen called “NEPmen” rose to prominence, much to the resentment of radicals like Vertov. Obviously, the fat glutton you see represents the NEPmen. Materialistic women and corrupt clergy (the church had experienced a contentious split) defer to him for favors. The industrial worker and the farmer both fail at bringing down the NEPman on their own, but eventually they literally merge (like the ole’ hammer and sickle!) to defeat him.
And as if that weren’t a happy enough ending, the Red Army comes along and forms a tree, from which all capitalists and conspirators are hanged. Though Soviet Toys might feel a little heavy-handed and technically crude by today’s standards, it’s an incredibly sophisticated little film for its time and place. Remember this is four years before Disney’s Steamboat Willie, and I don’t recall even one capitalist being hanged in that!
Via Open Culture