The animated short above, The Dot and the Line, directed by the great Chuck Jones and narrated by English actor Robert Morley, won an Oscar in 1965 for Best Animated Short Film. Based on a book written by Norton Juster, “The Dot and the Line” tells the story of a romance between two geometric shapes—taking the archetypal narrative trajectory of boy meets girl, loses girl, wins girl in the end (finding himself along the way) and injecting it with some fascinating social commentary that still resonates almost fifty years later. One way of watching “The Dot and the Line” is as a “triumph of the nerd” story, where an anxious square (as in “uncool”) Line has to compete with a hipster beatnik Squiggle of a rival for the affections of a flighty Dot.
The Line begins the film “stiff as a stick… dull, conventional and repressed” (as his love interest says of him) in contrast to the groovy Squiggle and his groovy bebop soundtrack. With the possible suggestion that this love transgresses mid-century racial boundaries, the Line’s friends disapprove and tell him to give it up, since “they all look alike anyway.” But the Line persists in his folly, indulging in some Walter Mitty-like reveries of heroic endeavors that might win over his Dot. Finally, using “great self-control,” he manages to bend himself into an angle, then another, then a series of simple, then very complex, shapes, becoming, we might assume, some kind of mathematical wiz. After refining his talents alone, he goes off to show them to Dot, who is “overwhelmed” and delighted and who “giggles like a schoolgirl.”
Here the subtext of the nerd-gets-the-girl storyline manifests a fairly conservative critique of the “anarchy” of the Squiggle, whom the Dot comes to see as “undisciplined, graceless, coarse” and other unflattering adjectives while the line—who proclaimed to himself earlier that “freedom is not a license for chaos”—is “dazzling, clever, mysterious, versatile, light, eloquent, profound, enigmatic, complex, and compelling.” I can almost imagine that George Will had a hand in the writing, which is to say that it’s enormously clever, and enormously invested in the values of self-control, hard work, and discipline, and distrustful of spontaneity, free play, and general grooviness. At the end of the film, our Dot and Line go off to live “if not happily ever after, at least reasonably so” in some cozy suburb, no doubt. The moral of the story? “To the vector belong the spoils.”
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Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.