Confidence: The Cartoon That Helped America Get Through the Great Depression (1933)

No more bum­min’, let’s all get to work…

Actu­al­ly, hold up a sec. We’ll all be more hap­py and pro­duc­tive if we take a moment to start our work day with Con­fi­dence, a pep­py musi­cal ani­ma­tion from 1933, star­ring new­ly elect­ed Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt and Mick­ey Mouse pre­cur­sor, Oswald the Lucky Rab­bit. 

Few Amer­i­cans—today we’d refer to them as the 1%—could escape the pri­va­tion of the Great Depres­sion. The movies were one indus­try that con­tin­ued to thrive through this dark peri­od, pre­cise­ly because they offered a few hours of respite. No one went to the pic­tures to see a reflec­tion of their own lives. Gor­geous gowns, glam­orous Man­hat­tan apart­ments and roman­tic trou­ble cer­tain to be resolved in hap­py endings…remember Mia Far­row’s belea­guered wait­ress bask­ing in the Pur­ple Rose of Cairo’reas­sur­ing glow?

Giv­en the pub­lic’s pref­er­ence for escapist fare, direc­tor Bill Nolan, the Father of Rub­ber Hose Ani­ma­tion, could have played it safe by gloss­ing over the back­sto­ry that leads Oswald to seek out advice from the Com­man­der in Chief. Instead, Nolan deliv­ered his joy­ful car­toon ani­mals into night­mare ter­ri­to­ry, the Depres­sion per­son­i­fied as a cowled Death fig­ure lay­ing waste to the land. It’s weird­ly upset­ting to see those hyper-cheer­ful vin­tage barn­yard ani­mals (and a rogue mon­key) under­go this graph­ic ener­va­tion.

Oh, for some oral history—I’d love to know how mati­nee crowds react­ed as Oswald raced scream­ing before a spin­ning ver­ti­go back­ground, seek­ing a rem­e­dy for a host of non-car­toon prob­lems. Irony is a lux­u­ry they did­n’t have.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the can-do spir­it so cen­tral to FDR’s New Deal quick­ly turned Oswald’s frown upside down. As pres­i­den­tial cam­paign promis­es go, this one’s unique­ly tai­lored to the demands of musi­cal com­e­dy. Wit­ness Annie, in which the 32nd pres­i­dent was again called upon to Rex Har­ri­son his way into audi­ence hearts, this time from the wheel­chair the cre­ators of Con­fi­dence did­n’t dare show, some forty years ear­li­er.

The divi­sion between enter­tain­ment and nation-lead­ing is pret­ty per­me­able these days, too.

Accord­ing­ly, what real­ly sets this car­toon apart for me is the use of a Pres­i­den­tial­ly-sanc­tioned giant syringe as a tool to get Depres­sion-era Amer­i­ca back on its feet. A fig­u­ra­tive injec­tion of con­fi­dence is all well and good, but noth­ing gets the barn­yard back on its singing, danc­ing feet like a lib­er­al dose, deliv­ered in the most lit­er­al way.

Via Car­toon Research

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pri­vate Sna­fu: The World War II Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons Cre­at­ed by Dr. Seuss, Frank Capra & Mel Blanc

Books Come to Life in Clas­sic Car­toons from 1930s and 1940s

Found: Lost Great Depres­sion Pho­tos Cap­tur­ing Hard Times on Farms, and in Town

Ayun Hal­l­i­day can’t get enough of that rub­ber style. Fol­low her@AyunHalliday

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Comments (5)
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  • Martin Cohen says:

    When pro­pa­gan­da said “we were all in this togeth­er”, rather than “every man for him­self.” Worse times and bet­ter times at the same time.

  • Polly Miles says:

    C’mon…Purple Rose?… more like Nick and Nora.

  • kaitlyn leos says:

    The Great Depres­sion brought a rapid rise in the crime rate as many unem­ployed work­ers resort­ed to pet­ty theft to put food on the table. Sui­cide rates rose, as did report­ed cas­es of mal­nu­tri­tion.

  • riana reyes says:

    The great depres­sion was about the stock mar­ket shut­ting down com­plete­ly, and every­one los­ing a lot of mon­ey, and peo­ple becom­ing poor, and des­per­ate for food. And more home­less peo­ple and sui­cide rate goes up as well, the econ­o­my shuts down.

  • juan villagrana says:

    In the u.s. where the effects of depres­sion were gen­er­al­ly worst, between 1929 and 1933 indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion fell near­ly 47 per­cent, gross domes­tic prod­uct (GDP) declined by 30 per­cent, and unem­ploy­ment reached more than 20 per­cent.

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