Will You Really Achieve Happiness If You Finally Win the Rat Race? Don’t Answer the Question Until You’ve Watched Steve Cutts’ New Animation

Illus­tra­tor Steve Cutts sets his lat­est ani­ma­tion, “Hap­pi­ness,” in a teem­ing urban envi­ron­ment, with hun­dreds of near iden­ti­cal car­toon rats stand­ing in for human drudges in an unful­fill­ing, and not unfa­mil­iar race.

Packed sub­way cars, a bom­bard­ment of adver­tis­ing, soul-dead­en­ing office jobs, and Black Fri­day sales are just a few of the indig­ni­ties Cutts’ rodents are sub­ject­ed to, to the tune of Bizet’s “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.”

Ram­pant over-consumption—a major pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for this artist—offers illu­so­ry relief, and a great deal of fun for view­ers with the time to hit pause, to bet­ter savor the grim details.

The max­i­mal­ist frames read like a grat­i­fy­ing per­ver­sion of Richard Scarry’s relent­less­ly sun­ny Busy­town. As with Cutts’ 80s-throw­back Simpson’s couch gag: pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences and visu­al input whip by at sub­lim­i­nal warp speed. 

They may also serve as an anti­dote to the sort of mes­sag­ing we’re con­stant­ly on the receiv­ing end of, whether we live in city, coun­try or some­where in-between. Check out the scene as Cutts pans up from the sub­way plat­form, 52 sec­onds in:

The panty-clad female mod­el for Blah cologne’s fash­ion­ably black and white ad is ema­ci­at­ed near­ly to the point of death.

“You’re bet­ter than laces” flat­ters the lat­est (lace­less) shoe from a swoosh-bedecked footwear man­u­fac­tur­er, while a radi­a­tor-col­ored bev­er­age floats above the mot­to “Just drink it, morons.”

Krispo Flakes fight depres­sion with “the bits oth­er cere­als don’t want.”

Heav­en help us all, there’s even a poster for TRUMP The Musi­cal.

This freeze-frame scruti­ny could make an excel­lent activ­i­ty for any class where mid­dle and high school­ers are encour­aged to think crit­i­cal­ly about their role as con­sumers.

As Cutts, a one-time employ­ee of the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency, Iso­bar, who con­tributed to cam­paigns for such glob­al giants as Coca-Cola, Google, Reebok, and Toy­ota, told Reverb Press in 2015:

These are things that affect us all on a fun­da­men­tal lev­el so nat­u­ral­ly they’re a main focus for a lot of my work. Human­i­ty has the pow­er to be great in so many ways and yet at the same time we are fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed. I think it’s the con­flict between these two that fas­ci­nates me the most. As a race of beings we’ve made incred­i­ble achieve­ments in such a short space, but at the same time we seem so over­whelm­ing­ly intent on destroy­ing our­selves and every­thing around us. It would be very inter­est­ing to see where we’ll be in a hun­dred years. The term insan­i­ty is intrigu­ing – it’s almost like we’re encour­aged to act in a way that seems gen­uine­ly insane when you look at it objec­tive­ly, but it’s often accept­ed as nor­mal right now. I think we will have to evolve beyond our cur­rent think­ing and way of doing things if we want to sur­vive.

See more of Cutts’ ani­mat­ed work here. And while he doesn’t go out of his way to hype his online store, a gallery qual­i­ty print of The Rat Trap would make a fan­tas­tic gift from your cubi­cle mate’s Secret San­ta. (HURRY! TIME IS RUNNING OUT!!!)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Employ­ment: A Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion About Why We’re So Dis­en­chant­ed with Work Today

Bertrand Rus­sell & Buck­min­ster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live & Learn More

Charles Bukows­ki Rails Against 9‑to‑5 Jobs in a Bru­tal­ly Hon­est Let­ter (1986)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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