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Lines and Shapes and Colors and Stuff

Here's the interesting thing about cartoon characters: they have no psychology.

Take the other night, for instance. Some friends and I went to see The Animation Show (2005). There's some great stuff in it. There was one cartoo-- er, I mean, animated film -- that I didn't particularly care for (except in parts), but the others ranged from amusing to, in one case, stunning in its look, its idea, and its storytelling.

It's odd how much we invest in these moving lines, shapes, and colors up there on the screen. You put the lines and shapes and colors in all the right places and pretty soon you've got us bringing them to life for you. Take this little guy for example:

You know what he is feeling. You know what you would feel like if you were being pursued by a giant, flying loaf of bread. That's how you know what he is feeling.

Except "he" isn't a "he". "He" is a series of dark lines against a white background. Dark lines against white backgrounds are not generally known for the depth of their feelings. It's you who are feeling what you know "he" is "feeling". He can't feel anything. How could he? He has no psychology.

Cartoonists. Lazy bastards. All you do is make the damn pictures. We're the ones who have to do all the work of bringing these lines and shapes and colors to life in our heads.

And boy are we diligent and dedicated about it. You really have to work hard at screwing up the lines and shapes and colors so badly that we refuse to see life in what you do (see example above). Gosh. It's almost as if we are desperate to project our psychologies onto that screen. It's kind of scary actually. Unless you are a hopelessly controlling son-of-a-bitch, it kind of gives you pause. How much of this projecting of our psychologies are we doing outside of cartoons?

If you want to just talk about moving lines and shapes and colors, then you really aren't distinguishing much between a "live-action" film and a cartoon, are you? You go see a movie with an actor in it and ... um, excuse me? You aren't watching an actor up there. You are watching a series of moving lines and shapes and colors upon which you project what you think you know, and what you know you feel, about the behaviors of these lines and shapes and colors. And come to think of it, I don't see how T.V. is much different. FOX News. CNN. Cartoons. Everywhere you look. Even the scenes you see right in front of you as you go through your day.

I resolve that from here on out, I will not see life as a cartoon. I take the pledge: Immune to the Cartoon!

Ha. Fat chance. Okay, so I resolve to try to not project my psychology onto all those moving lines and shapes and colors out there. Hmm. Okay, I resolve to try to occasionally remind myself not to do that anymore.

Okay, I resolve to try to remember I'm doing it all the time.

This projecting of our psychologies is great for the cartoonists and such, but it really plays havoc with our politics and the course of history and all that. For one moment earlier this evening, I wondered if it might be worth giving up our ability to create and enjoy cartoons if it meant we wouldn't do so much of this psychology projecting. But then I thought, hell, it's the way we're built. What can we do?

And so I stopped feeling this vague resentment I had toward our cartooning fellows. It's not their fault, after all. It's the cartoonists who remind us with their work that moving lines and shapes and colors are all we really see of each other. They go: "Here, look, look at what you are doing." So I guess it's okay by me if they keep making their cartoons.

You really should try to go see The Animation Show. You can find a schedule for the various places it's showing around the country here. For any New Yorkers out there, you should hurry the hell up about it since I think it's in its last days in town. (Hmm. It was at the Cinema Village on 12th at University Place, but I think it may be gone now...)

There was one cartoon I wanted to write about in particular called Fallen Art. When I finally figured out what it was up to, the moment of realization took my breath away. I love that moment with a piece of art -- that moment when it takes your breath away. But I won't tell you anymore about it on account of probable spoilage. Sorry.

And come to think of it, there was another cartoon I really liked (When the Day Breaks), not only for itself but for what it got me to thinking about. In this cartoon there was a gentlemanly rooster (who sort of reminded me of what Jean-Paul Sartre would have been like if he'd been a rooster), and there was a housewife who was a pig. Also, a cop who was a dog and a green-grocer who was a bunny.

At one point the pig housewife goes out shopping and the tension began to rise in me. Would the pig meet the rooster at the grocery store over the MEAT COUNTER?? What would THAT be like? What sort of questions would that raise in everyone's minds?

After the movie, one of my friends mentioned that she'd seen a Goofy cartoon when she was little and it really bugged her that in the cartoon Goofy had a pet dog. "He's a dog! How can a dog have a pet dog?" I had no answer. None of us did. Just as I couldn't imagine what it would be like if the pig housewife met the gentlemanly rooster by the meat counter.

These are the cartoons that are still waiting to be made. I saw cutting-edge stuff the other night, but no one took on questions like how a dog could have a dog for a pet, or what it would be like if there were cut-up chicken parts waiting for the rooster in the meat department. Sort of like the cartoon-world equivalents of why can't we have election machines that can be verifiably audited? Or, why hasn't anybody been punished for lying us into a pre-emptive war?

If only our cartoon news outfits had the courage to tackle topics like Goofy's putative pet dog or cut-up chicken parts or the Diebold machines or WMDs. You know what? I'd even settle for them just changing their names to the FOX Cartoon News Channel, or the Cable Cartoon News Network, or the CBS Nightly Cartoon News. At least that would keep reminding us of what we are doing to ourselves. It's not like the news isn't all lines and shapes and colors too, you know, all laid out and just waiting for our psychologies to fill it up with life. This whole dead lady in Florida thing... we'd all be so much better off if we could just see it for the cartoon that it is.


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At first I thought you were drawing (p.t.p.) static cartoons into your diatribe, then I realized you were limiting your examination of what you call "psychology projection" to animated cartoons. What of the static, frozen-in-time cartoons? By your logic, we'd have to invest even more of ourselves into making these fragile pieces of art "work."

I'm not sure where I'm going with this - it's early on a Sunday morning, but I'm reminded of the postmodern comic strip Leviathan, where the protagonist is tied to railroad tracks with a train imminently approaching, and his thought is something to the effect of "thank goodness this cartoon isn't animated."

Yeah, I'd say you'd have to do it with frozen-in-timers. I do it above. I don't know if we have to invest even more. Seems like the same thing to me. There's no psychology there, and then there is. Puppets, cartoons, animated films, the "Mona Lisa", coverage of the war in Iraq. To the degree that these things seem alive to us, it seems to me the "life" is generated by the viewer.

That guy tied to the railroad tracks? I heard somebody took that cartoon and used it as a first frame in a flip-book he made. The poor character died horribly... horribly...

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