Friday, November 20, 2020

Reason and Emotion, Redux

It's hard to believe this was shared only a little over two years ago.  It's still relevant.

And bears repeating.

When the United States entered World War II, Hollywood was not too far behind.  Through the creation of the Office of Wartime Information in 1942 and in particular, its Bureau of Motion Pictures, Hollywood was essentially drafted.  Hollywood had been enlisted to help create motion pictures that would further America's war aims, including propaganda and educational films.  By 1943, every studio, except Paramount, was letting the Office of Wartime Information examine their movie scripts.

Disney was no exception.

In fact, the government looked to Walt Disney more than any other studio chief as a builder of public morale providing instruction and training of soldiers, using animated graphics to mobilize servicemen and civilians for the cause of the war.

Between 1942 and 1945, Walt Disney productions was involved in the production of propaganda films for the United States government. These included animated shorts involving Mickey and friends either enlisting or supporting the war effort, the feature film Victory Through Air Power explaining how the United States should become the preeminent air power through more modern planes and long range bombing, educational films for the servicemen like Four Methods of Flush Riveting, and even animated sequences for Capra's Why We Fight series.  They also designed cartoon insignia and mascots for the different divisions of the armed services.  (There is a great collection of the various insignia here.)

One of the most striking animated short films of this era that the Walt Disney company produced is Reason and Emotion.

The cartoon starts like a typical cartoon of the era, explaining how we all have two drives: reason and emotion.  When we are born, we are all emotion, getting in trouble because of our impulses.  The cartoon zooms into a baby's head to show it run by a cave toddler named Emotion who lives there alone.  After the baby tumbles down the stairs following Emotion's suggestion, a stuffed shirt little baby arrives name Reason, who explains that this whole mess could have been avoided if he had gotten there sooner.

The cartoon then jumps forward in time to show Reason and Emotion fighting for control of the driver's seat of the now adult man. As Reason drives, everything is fine, but when Emotion is in control, the man rudely comes on to a woman and gets slapped.   We then follow the battle between Reason and Emotion in that young woman, in whom Reason is keeping her on a diet and Emotion begins to destroy all that progress.  Not the most enlightened situations to demonstrate for either sex.

At this point, the short reaches its point.  It scrolls through newspaper headlines of the day and focused on how they impact an everyman.  How a constant stream of bad news about the war turns this everyman into a nervous wreck.  And it's not really the media, as much it is every neighbor's or acquaintance's thoughts and opinions and fears about the true bits of news that they are hearing that weigh on our everyman.  As we zoom in, Reason tries to remain calm, but Emotion fully gives into fear lashing out and looking to incapacitate Reason with the controls.  At this point the narrator interacts directly with Reason and Emotion, adding "Go ahead! Put Reason out of the way! That's fine...for HITLER!"

The focus then shifts to show how Hitler preyed on Emotion through every tactic and technique.  Preying on fears - fear of the Gestapo, the Concentration Camps, the enemies, the others.  Seeking sympathy, arguing that he really wanted peace but everyone else dragged him into war.  That everyone was picking on him.  Rallying behind pride.  Pride in the Fatherland, pride in their heritage, pride in their race.  And finally, dragging out hate.  Hate for the other, the lesser, the lower.

As the short zooms into a German spectator's headspace, our narrator now cries, "Behold! the Nazi Superman."  Revealing a person fully ruled by Emotion (now with spiked helmet), stamping out Reason and any rational objection.  Emotion keeps growing larger and larger, as Reason keeps shrinking.

The short ends reminding us of the purposes of both Reason and Emotion.  Reason is to think, plan, and discriminate.  Emotion drives our passion for country, freedom, and life.  So long as Reason is in the driver's seat with Emotion at his side, we can accomplish whatever task is before us.


Truth be told, I think Emotion is running a little amok today.  Emotion converts patriotism to nationalism.  Emotion lets our fears create policy.  Emotion is fed by and sustains clickbait and "fake news."  Emotion is easily digestible in 140 characters.

Emotion propagates conspiracy.  It takes pieces of information and puts it together in a way that we want to be true.  That we just absolutely believe to be true - no matter what the facts say.

We need Reason back in charge.  Absorbing and rationally sorting through the information we receive.  Verifying statements made and pictures shared on the internet before acting and sharing.  Trusting in the checks and balances of power that have held our form of government together for nearly two-hundred and fifty years, instead of calling for their removal.

If we continue on the path of Emotion, I fear we are headed for that time Lincoln feared where "we ourselves are its author and finisher."  Emotion is pulling us in two.  In completely separate directions, both afraid of the other.

So again, can we put Reason back in charge?

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