Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dreamers and doubters, then and now

Mike Barrier has blogged about Phil Klein, an animator who went on strike at Disney in 1941 (he was the younger brother of I. (Izzy) Klein, storyman and New Yorker cartoonist best known as the originator of Mighty Mouse).

Canadian author and political activist Naomi Klein, had this to say in her book No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs:

My late grandfather, Philip Klein, who worked as an animator for Walt Disney, taught me a valuable lesson early in life: always look for the dirt behind the shine.

Barrier writes:

Most of the people working at Disney's—and no one more than Walt himself—cared a great deal about what wound up on the screen. When owners and employees share that kind of commitment, the inevitable sources of friction in a vast collaborative enterprise diminish in importance. The goals were less elevated at studios like Leon Schlesinger's, but there was much the same willingness to accommodate one another's needs. For leftists like Phil Klein, though, bosses of any kind were the enemy, no matter how benevolent or creative.

Most of the leaders of the 1941 strike, people like Art Babbitt and Dave Hilberman and others such as my father, were at least as motivated by their sense of betrayal of the "Disney dream" of animation as a communal art form, as they were by political class-warfare considerations.

Barrier sees a parallel with the attitudes revealed by commenters on blogs such as this one, and in the frustrations of contemporary creative animation people with their corporate bosses. In making his point he takes a swipe at Pixar and John Lasseter, but I think that studio (at least up to this point) has been an exception to his argument about contemporary animation workers feeling alienated from their bosses.

Not having lived through the the 1930s and 1940s, it's hard for me to say if animation workers are more or less political today then they were then. But I think nowadays we're more likely to separate our political leanings from our feelings about the art and industry of animation.

PS Of course, Tom Sito got to this before I did. It's been a week for that, blog-wise ...


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