I don’t write much about popular culture or art on this blog, but a recent New York Times article about animator Shamus Culhane and his penchant for slipping avant-garde art into Woody Woodpecker cartoons was rather interesting. While most animators seemed happy to inject their work with hidden bawdiness, I would not be surprised if there were more frustrated artists who tried to fulfill their creative drive through their animated work.
Unfortunately, today’s market is inundated with computer animation that is so boring and joyless that I feel even worse for the modern frustrated artist. I am not sure if it is possible to explore the outer reaches of the human imagination while punching equations into a computer program. Furthermore, I also have my doubts about the ability of artists to express their creativity secretly, without running afoul of their employers. Technology had made employee surveillance much more potent than it has ever been, yet another dark side to the advance of technology.
Indeed, Western popular culture is becoming increasingly boring even as it becomes more exciting and stimulating in a sort of basic way. Even relatively shallow features, such as MGM’s Tom and Jerry shorts, seem very impressive to me, especially the handsomely drawn early shorts by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. I am still greatly impressed by the sense of weight conveyed in the 1942 short "The Bowling Alley Cat," where the bowling balls look quite heavy and capable of inflicting a lot of pain.
While I don’t want to push the artistic merits of Tom and Jerry too much, in a world where traditional animation is giving way to headache-inducing computerized movies that are little more than glorified video games, I will continue to have a certain nostalgia for the early days of animation and cinema in general, when I am sure many a frustrated artist gave millions of people pleasure and a taste of art through popular and accessible channels of expression.