RIP Into A Good Book

Return of Bambi

Well, they’re at it again: the (War) Ad Council has teamed with the Library of Congress to push literacy in the most brain-dead manner possible.

What?

Yes, there’s a new PSA (Public Service Announcement, a “free” radio commercial), that OFFENDS me on virtually every level imaginable. (Listen to it HERE) It is sponsored by the aforementioned. (For a history of the War Ad Council, now the Ad Council, see “Smokey and the Bandits,” an unauthorized biography of Smokey Bear)

Here’s what it says on their website:

In an exciting collaboration with the Walt Disney Company, scenes from the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, are featured in the first round of PSAs.

The PSAs encourage children and parents to log on to the Library of Congress’s website, www.loc.gov, a great place to let the journey into learning and imagination begin.

Yes. The (War) Ad Council, that hoary bunch of propagandists who brought you Iron Eyes Cody crying, and Smokey (NOT ‘the’) Bear, puts together the volunteer ad agency and the sponsoring group and voilà!, another series of 30 and 60 second radio and TV spots, and, usually, print ads as well. Sometimes, like this time, they get somebody like Disney involved.

Well, actually, Disney DID a campaign ad for FDR in 1944, and there’s been a quasi-governmental/quasi-business relationship ever since. Disney leased the War Ad Council the use of Bambi for a year (Bambi is back, BTW, no doubt to remind people of the Blu-Ray release of the Annotated Bambi, now with feature footage of the artists actually drawing, and funny off-color office cartoons they did about how much they’d grown to hate deer!)

And what does this ‘exciting collaboration’ between the LOC and Disney and C.S. Lewis’s Estate and “The Geppetto Group” create?

Sponsor Organization: Library of Congress
Campaign Website: www.loc.gov
Volunteer Agency: The Geppetto Group

To tell kids that it’s MUCH cooler to do the work to read a long (Christified work, although C.S. Lewis carefully kept all Biblical reference out of it) book for “FUN” instead of watching cable movies, or playing video games on the latest platform.

Yeah. Right. Sure.

What the hell are these people thinking? WHY do they automatically assume that Fiction is the highest form of reading?

(I mean BEYOND getting Disney a free national multimedia ad campaign for “The Chronicles of Narnia,” its merchandising and sequels?)

As a writer of fiction — novels, short stories, “true” first person stories, etc. etc. — I decry but accept the reality that the vast majority of “reading” is nonfiction. Even moreso when you include all of the reading that is never documented as “books” read or “magazines read.” Emails, notes from your spouse, cable TV synopsis screens, signs, instructions, medicine and food labels, and, yes, ads: all are writing that we read on a regular basis.

And blogs, like this one.

But for many years, the well-intentioned institutions have been missing the point.

Who cares if “Reading Is Fun?”

Reading Is Power, baby.

Why aren’t we advertising that?

Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” was what inflamed the united Colonists in the Year of 1776, and at the time, it was read by more Anglo colonists proportionately than have watched the highest-rated SuperBowl. Literacy rates in New England for WOMEN were over 90%. They were higher for men.

In the South, after the Nat Turner rebellion, states passed “Nat Turner” laws. One of the most draconian was that any slave who learned to read and write was to be executed. Reading was considered THAT dangerous.

Now, when you are selling “reading” why aren’t you selling the fact that reading and writing are the keys to power in nearly any field you care to name?

The Southern Plantation aristocracy considered reading so dangerous to their power that it was banned on pain of DEATH. And you’re selling this … power as “fun!” That’s like selling Coke because of the neat swash on the can. It’s like selling a vacation to the Carribbean for the neat seashells you could find. It’s like starting a simile and then having no earthly idea how to finish it.

What is the (War) Ad Council and the Library of Congress thinking? (We KNOW what Disney’s thinking). The LOC was FOUNDED from Thomas Jefferson’s library, based on the PRESUMPTION that reading was the power that sustained our Republic.

And they’re selling crypto-Christian (and, arguably, ROTTEN literature, says this book critic) novels to get kids to read? Oh good grief, Charlie Brown.

Why not a series of ad spots of famous actors — aimed at whatever demographics you’re targeting — talking about reading. Unless you are a good and voracious reader, acting is impossible. The real actors I’ve known (you know, the ones who know “upstage” from “downstage,” can hit their marks and do it for the cameras OR the stage) have all been exceptionally well-read.

Bill Gates may have dropped out of college, but I have a feeling that without an amazing capacity for wading through reams and reams of dull technical writing he wouldn’t be playing gazillionaire globe-trotting philanthropist today.

And many of us wouldn’t have the software that’s allowing this to be read over the internet.

Throughout history reading rates have fluctuated greatly, but one fact remains unyielding amidst the chaos of history: the literate classes have always ruled society. If there is 2 percent literacy, that two percent will be running things.

This is a fact, shorn of interpretation.

In our society, we offer the unique opportunity for ANY citizen to rise to the highest offices in the land, save for the presidency, which has a “born in the USA” requirement.

And to do that, you gotta be able to read. And, formerly, you had to be able to write, as well.

Politics is NOTHING but language: rhetoric. Pathos, Ethos, Logos. (Ethos and Logos are faves ’round hereabouts.)

Language in oratory, language in writing (in various forms), even the language of declarations of war, of surrender, of victory, of written orders, laws, and commandments, all are intrinsically tied to READING.

RIP into a good book.

What about a guy whose friend is working on his car (*can you DO that anymore?) and can’t figure out a problem with the leaking blinker fluid. He calls out to his buddy, hey, look up the “blinker fluid dispenser.” The friend flips to the index, locates blinker fluid … replacement, specifications, dispenser”

And READS the “trick” “It says here, to cover the intake while you uncouple the muffler bearings.”

Case closed. READING saves the day.

Why are you selling it as a video game? What has possessed generations of “educators” and “librarians” to try and sell reading as a competing media? You know, like playin on the computer, watching TeeVeee. Watching videos. Playing videos, surfing the ‘net …

(All of which are better the better you know how to read, BTW)

Reading isn’t “fun.” It’s the power at the base of our entire civilization. You don’t have to know how to read — there have been mighty empires with single-digit literacy rates. It ISN’T all that imperative from a raw sociological point of view, after all. Literacy rates fell after the Revolution and have never yet recovered. They got so low in the 19th Century that the whole public education system was BORN.

Reading ain’t fun.

Reading ain’t “fundamental.”

It’s elemental, and that’s power.

See the foureyes sittin’ on the fence?

See the two jocks pushin him around?

Thirty years later, they’ll be pushin a broom for old foureyes. (A cliché, but when you’re propagandizing the American public as you’ve been doing since World War II and “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” clichés can be good.)

That’s right, Bifocals T. Owl* reminds you, “Reading is Power, kids! So RIP into a good book!”

That’d sell reading. Might not sell a lot of copies of the Narnia trilogy, but it WILL sell reading. Not reading novels. Not even reading books. Sorry librarians, and sorry fiction writers.

Whether they ever read my tales, or check a book out of a library, we need to sell reading. It’s good for them, important to our society, and, therefore, personally good for US: We, the Resders.

Instead, what we have is a series of free ads for the Disney ‘Narnia’ movie (which they hope to turn into a franchise), coloring books, happy meals, fruit rollups, backpacks, notebooks, glitter pencils, etc. etc. etc. Why are our public airwaves being turned into a free ad campaign for a series of “Christian” books, and a WORSE movie from Disney?

That shouldn’t be what we’re selling.

We need to sell that reading is essential to attaining power, status or celebrity in this society.

That’s what we should be selling.

READING is power. Reading manuals. Reading news stories, reading supreme court decisions, reading the AP Stylebook and Libel Manual (587th edition). Reading instructions, reading regulations, reading signs, reading charts, reading Monopoly Reading Railroad cards, you name it.

Reading is power.

Reading THIS, however, won’t do you a damn bit of good.

Courage.

[* Bifocals T. Owl, which I just made up, could be the gazillionth “official” cartoon mascot of the Federal Government. See Pat, Your Passport Pal, Broadband The FCC Cat, and others HERE. And HERE is the motherlode.

Here follows the longest footnote ever recorded in this blog, its acquaintenances and predecessors:

It rather bothers me that, beginning with the lie of Smokey Bear (with which, as a stepson of a Forest Service Engineer, I was raised), government has become increasingly administered by Cartoon Characters: Woodsy the Owl, Smokey Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, Harry and Ariel Recon, the CIA’s Spy Pigeons (don’t believe me? Look at the CIA for Kids website at http://www.cia.gov/cia/ciakids/aerial/index.shtml); although, sadly, Mr. Zip, the Zip Code guy was murdered, probably some time during the Nixon Administration.

In New Mexico, they hired an ex-Disney artist to come up with the three Chili Peppers “Hal” “Eee” and “Peenyo” (spelling is approximate) which they stick up outside of construction projects. In 1992 and 1993, during the remodeling of the “roundhouse” (The Capital Building) in Santa Fe, they had these 5-foot-tall cartoon chili peppers mounted on plywood cutouts saying “Pardon our mess! We’re REMODELING!”

And I thought: “Yeah. We’re a REAL state. Our capitol building is guarded by cartoon chili peppers.” Talk about your fundamental credibility and tax dollars at work!

(Odelay.)

And, increasingly, we’re a REAL country. Our republic is administered by cartoon characters. Why, our spy agency has its own cartoon mascots!

Might I suggest for the FBI: “Wally Weasel, the Undercover Investigator”? “Hey kids! Wally Weasel here! If you see anything suspicious, when you’re over at your friends’ houses, turn their parents in ANONYMOUSLY for cash and prizes!” We could add it as a rider to the Patriot Act II that’s slithering through the capital.

Or, what about “Choker the Anaconda,” your Homeland Security Snake? He could remind you that we’ve got to “put the squeeze” on terrorists and put him outside every dam, power plant and unguarded chemical facility in the country.

Or, perhaps the IRS could use him, instead.

Oh yeah. We don’t have enough cartoon characters.

But at least CNN has John King.

Which brings us to toon town.

I was listening to our favorite cartoon weasel, Dubya the Younger, doing his snickering routine. For a long time, a nagging realization has been niggling at the receptors of my cerebral cortex. And, finally, it clicked.

Bush is the reincarnation of Muttley, the evil hound of Hanna-Barbara’s “The Wacky Races,” which premiered as a Saturday morning cartoon (remember them?) on September 14th, 1968.

Muttley has exactly the same evil, reflexive snicker that Dubya the Younger does. (click to hear)

Like Bush, Muttley was a redux of an earlier caricature:

“The first was Snuffles, who appeared on the Quick Draw McGraw show almost a full decade before Muttley made his TV debut. Snuffles would perform his bit of anti-gravity glee when he would get a doggy snack. Muttley on the other hand, went into his floating euphoria when his master, Dick Dastardly, would give him a medal.”
(from http://www.hotink.com/wacky/mfiles/ – a cartoon fan page)

Yes, that’s right. Muttley’s master was Dick Dastardly, “Dastardly” being Portuguese for “Cheney.” (Dastardly himself, of course, was Snidely Whiplash, or, the standard melodrama villain, stringy mustache and all).

Who on the Hanna-Barbara staff in 1968 had such keen psychic powers? How could they have so accurately predicted the 2000 and 2004 presidential races, and presciently filled them with such perfect grotesques? Whoever it was, we need their talents to find Osama bin Laden. Nobody else seems to be succeeding. (Or even, now that I think about it, seems to be LOOKING).

But it gets even stranger.

“Dastardly and Muttley” was a spin-off of The Wacky Races, premiering on September 13, 1969. A typical Hanna-Barbara ripoff (even notice how “The Flintstones” was a straight ripoff of “The Honeymooners”?), the show was modeled on the then-recent movie hit, “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.” (As “Wacky Races” had been modeled on the then-recent Tony Curtis hit “The Great Race.” Weirdly, a sequel to “Flying Machines” would then appear, “Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies” bringing the whole plagiarism cycle round full circle — pun intended.)

The plot was that Dastardly, Muttley and their wacky henchmen in dopey-looking planes, on orders from the unseen “General” constantly were trying to stop “Yankee Doodle Pigeon” from delivering his top-secret communiques.

Yankee Doodle Pigeon is all-but-exactly replicated by the CIA’s Aerial Recon, the CIA Kids’ Page co-mascot of our infamous spy agency. They both are pigeons. They both have the Rocky Squirrel aviator’s cap with goggles, and both have a leather mail pouch slung over one shoulder.

The only difference?

Aerial has a tourist’s camera hung from a strap around her neck. (click here to see)

Hanna-Barbara should sue, except that would make them monstrous hypocrites on a par with Liddy, Colson, Buchanan, Bush and, of course, Dastardly Dick.

When They Came for SpongeBob

First they came for Bert and Ernie and I said nothing
because I was not a Muppet.

Then they came for Tinky Winky and I said nothing,
because I was not a Teletubby.

Then they came for SpongeBob and I said nothing,
because I was not an asexual cartoon sea creature.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak up.

—Bugs Bunny (attributed)

end longest footnote**
(** cobbled together from several 2005 posts)]

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© 2007 Hart Williams. Cross-posted from Zug - Hart Williams' Blog
The continuation of
Skiing Uphill and Boregasm, Zug is 'the little blog that could.'

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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4 Responses to RIP Into A Good Book

  1. “Reading Is Power, baby.”

    Yes indeed! Wonderful Hart.

  2. QuakerLiz says:

    As I was reading this, my first thought was: “For heaven’s sake, what in the world is this person trying to say?” I’ve never particularly cared whether agencies like LOC use Disney characters (or other corporate emblems) to push their services. Then I got to the punchline. “Reading isn’t fun. Reading is POWER.” And I wanted to stand up and cheer. That is absolutely right. And the mention of Thomas Paine, etc. was, in fact, powerful.

    The point of this post is important and beautifully stated. But I do think it could use some editing, lest its power be diluted AND lest it lose some readers. I’m very glad I read it. It gives me a new outlook on reading and writing.

  3. QuakerLiz says:

    Okay, I just read it again, and I take back the earlier criticism. I have to agree that the use of cartoon characters is completely stupid and does seem to indicate a certain lack of seriousness–although the use of three chili peppers to guard construction sites is quite original. Let’s just take it to the next level and let Disney govern the USA! They provide a clean, well-organized, entertaining venue where there is very little crime. I bet taxes would be really high, though. It costs money to be the Happiest Country on Earth.

  4. Darrell Prows says:

    Some days it seems like Disney may have been given a contract to run things at the national level. Or maybe Parker Brothers. Or maybe a cross between the two.

    I’m hoping that the Bushies bought some real high dollar “E ticket”. Or maybe won a Get Out of Jail Free Card. That way, this would all be a game to them and we might not have as much to worry about.