Mar 3, 2011

Diagnosing Popeye

The Fleischer Brothers created a number of memorable and iconic cartoons that retain a historical relevancy even until today. Characters ilke Betty Boop and Popeye, some of their most famous original characters, were made popular by the social commentary utilized in their creation, utilization or characterization. Betty Boop was a hyper-sexualized femme who, throughout her misadventures, is notably comfortable and happy her sexuality. Her characterization was modern and relevant to the urban audiences of the early 1930's aware and perhaps even supporting the early feminist movement within the United States. Meanwhile, Popeye, a hyper-musculatured, short-statured sailor, was a character "of the people". Strong, not traditionally attractive, and working class, Popeye was a cartoon based strongly in a reality many knew.

Popeye's physical depiction suggests not only the nature of his profession, but also the toll a life of poverty, malnutrition and hard labor can take. He is short, much shorter than the other characters, and his face is noticeably distorted by a musculature deformity. His speech patterns, eye sight and pipe-smoking are definitely and noticeably affected by this facial deformity. His shorter legs and longer torso suggest proportions of one perhaps with dwarfism, or a childhood bout with polio. As a sailor, Popeye would have started working as a child. A dangerous workplace could have facilitated a accident, and a broken limbs would also explain Popeye's disproportionate body shape. A life-long smoking habit would explain Popeye's gravelly voice, and the level to which spinach affects his performance suggests either a severe protein deficiency, or a life-long spinach allergy.

Although it appears a little silly to be diagnosing a cartoon, it is extremely important to remember, especially in the case of a reality-based studio like the Fleischer Brothers, that cartoons success is based on their ability to relate to things people know. A life of poverty and illness was well known to the world of the early 20th century, and a character like Popeye only exemplifies it.


1 comment:

  1. Eating spinach all the time can't be good for your health.