What a difference

In my Interpretation of Drama class, we've just finished our discussion of Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit, a play about the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles in 1942-43 as told through the eyes of Henry Reyna, a young man and Zoot-suiter who is supposed to go into the Navy when he's arrested for a murder he didn't commit. It's a fascinating play because it hits you with not only issues of race, but also clashes of economic class and sexism, particularly with the hyper-masculine ethic of the pachuco.

But because my students--and I suppose many college students--have no real sense of contemporary US history, I showed the following short cartoon to them today. It's World War II propaganda starring Donald Duck. (Have I mentioned how much I love Youtube?)

Now, what I focused on for the purposes of the class is the first half--the Zoot-suited duck is a Nazi, right down to his swastika-shaped eyeballs, and this certainly didn't help quell the violence against the Zoot-suit crowd, made up mostly of Latino and African-American males. According to the film, any sort of conspicuous consumption was trafficking with the enemy, and even though we'd talked about rationing and junk drives in the class, I don't think they'd really gotten how pervasive that sense was, that sacrifice for the war effort was necessary, until they saw this film from that period.

But look at the second half of the film, and compare that attitude to the one we've seen in the last 5 years. Notice the rhetoric--paying taxes is a patriotic act. At around 1:40, the thrifty duck says "Ay laddie, it's your money, but it's your war too." Plenty of other commentators have made the point, but it's worth making again--if this really is a global struggle, a clash of civilizations, if the future of the western world really is at stake here, then why haven't we been asked to make any sort of sacrifice?

The propaganda for this generation has been "be afraid of brown people," "protect the borders," and "shop with borrowed money." What a change. Sort of makes you wonder just how important this whole global struggle against violent extremists really is, doesn't it? I mean, we're not even being asked to pay for it.

Of course, it's not a struggle against violent extremists. It's an unnecessary and immoral war, and the reason the Bush administration hasn't asked us to sacrifice for it is because we wouldn't have done so, not as a nation anyway. We want comforts, and there has to be a major reason for us to give them up. The whole "we'll be greeted as liberators" was thrown out there to console us, to tell us that there would be a war, but we'd still get to have flat screen tv's. A far cry from gas rationing and a limit on ownership of car tires. No, our war machine runs on Chinese debt and foreign oil, and no amount of propaganda can hide that anymore.

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