Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Farmer Al Falfa's Blind Pig released, December 7, 1916

1916 saw the release of an entire series of Farmer Al Falfa cartoons. This film was the eleventh to be released this year (there's some dispute on the date, some sources claim the release date was December 1).

The series continued all the way through 1956, making it a very successful cartoon.

This particular cartoon is not on line, and it might largely be lost, like many films of this period.

Farmer Al Falfa in Tentless Circus, a cartoon released earlier in 1916.

Farm based cartoons would make up an entire genre of cartoons for a very long time and show the curious nature of the United States in regards to its rural population.  If we look at the 1920 census, the closest to the year in question, the US was 51.2% urban.  That's really remarkable actually as it meant that the US was already a heavily urban society at the time.  It might be more telling, however, to look at the 1900 census. That would reveal that, at that time, the US was 39.6% urban and 60.4% rural.  In other words, the US had gone from having a population that was clearly majority rural in 1900 to one which was slightly majority urban by 1920.

Like a lot of things about this era, almost all of which are now unappreciated, this meant that the society was undergoing massive changes.  We like to think of our current society experiencing that, and indeed it is, but arguably the period of 1900 to 1950 saw much more rapid changes of all types, a lot of which would have been extremely distressing to anyone experiencing them.  Indeed, carrying on the US would be 56.1% urban by 1930, meaning that in a thirty year period the US had effectively gone from heavily rural to heavily urban, with the percentage effectively reversing themselves in that time period.  Indeed, while not the point of this entry, this would really call  into question the claims by folks like James Kunstler that the Great Depression was not as bad as it seems because everyone came from a farm family and had a farm to go back to.  The nation had more farm families, to be sure, during the Great Depression than now, but the nation had been rocketing  into an urban transfer during that period for a lot of reasons, a lot of which were technological in  nature.

None of which is what this entry is about.  

Rather, what we'd note is that Farmer Al Falfa is an early example of a rustic depiction of farm life for movie goers.  Cartoons were shown before movies at the time and would be for a long time.  Depictions of farmers as hicks, but somewhat sympathetic hicks, were common in cartoons throughout the this period and on into the 1950s.  That's interesting in that it was a cartoon depiction of the American duality of thought in regards to farmers.  On the one hand, as people moved from the farms into the cities, they wanted to view their new lives as more sophisticated in every way over rural life, even if that meant running down rural residents.  On the other hand, rural life remained familiar enough to the viewing audience that really rural characters were familiar to them and the depictions, even if condescending, had to be at least somewhat sympathetic.  Depictions like this would last for a long time, even if they began to change a bit by the 1940s when urbanites began to show more interest in rural life. Even at that time, however, the depictions could run side by side, as with the introduction of Ma and Pa Kettle in The Egg and I.

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