Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus Day Cartoons

Columbus Day, a product of late 19th century America and promoted with statues and celebrations by Italian-American organizations since that time, has experienced a curious evolution through the years.

First an ethnic festival, then a holiday intended to promote American cohesiveness, later on the man Columbus and the holiday both derided and protested against for the more ghastly aspects of colonization that Columbus has come to represent.

Today in New England it’s the prime foliage weekend, so it’s become synonymous with apple picking, leaf-peeping and pumpkin buying. And perhaps tags sales. Neither ethnic pride nor celebrating circumnavigation are so much a part of the picture.

But back when American history was taught as part fact and part myth (Washington and that cherry tree incident being only one of the colorful and utterly false tales we learned), the myth was enhanced by mirth. Here are two cartoons which use Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World not as a history lesson, but as fodder for sight gags.

Here is “Kristopher Kolumbus, Jr.” (1939), a black and white cartoon with Porky Pig in the Columbus role. Directed by Robert Clampett, the action is zany. His famous gag of throwing the baseball around the earth to prove the earth is round, and it’s returning to him with luggage stickers from all over the world, was so simple and nutty, that it was used again in another parody of the Columbus tale with Bugs Bunny.

“Hare We Go” (1951), directed by Robert McKimson, features Bugs as the mascot on board Columbus’ ship. Queen Isabella is depicted as something like Mae West, and Mel Blanc must have had a ball voicing the emotional, irascible Christopher Columbus. Annoyed that he must prove to the Queen that the world is round to get money for his voyage, he angrily shouts, “Ravioli! Alla time prove! Prove, schmoov! She’s a round!”

Bugs’ problem is avoiding being killed by the crew, who all think he is bad luck. One of the more clever gags is when Bugs holds up a postcard of the New York City skyline in front of a spyglass to show they are close to land. We see that Bugs Bunny has actually discovered America and Columbus only took the credit. Now, that’s a myth I can somehow believe.

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