Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Currently there is a  trailer getting internet buzz due to its bizarre content: A computer animated TV show in Japan featuring cute bunnies decked out as American G.I.s in gory, blood-squirting combat with turban wearing camels out in the desert. The project is provocatively titled "Cat Shit One." You owe it to yourself to draw your own conclusions about it, though pardon me for not linking to it...I'm not eager to drive up their web traffic hits.
I will be the first to admit if I'm being quick to react to a show I haven't seen entirely, but the whole thing seems crass and exploitive to me.
War is horrible, and I'll admit that the tragedy of war is often an inspiration for art, both historical and fictional. I thought Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried" was a brilliant and powerful piece about the fragile humanity behind American boys in the Vietnam war. I loved Schindler's List. War can be ridiculous and abstract. I loved Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," and thought it did a great job illustrating how bureaucracy and emotion can be competing forces. In war we can forget that our enemies are still human, and still ourselves. I think Herman Hesse and Kazuo Ishiguro do wonderful, lyrical jobs of illustrating this point... but all of these artists are using war to help us understand the scope of the human condition.
The atrocities of war are hard to comprehend by people like me who haven't been touched by its brutality. Maus is an autobiographical graphic novel by cartoonist Art Spiegelman where the artist tries to make peace with his conflicting emotions towards his father who survived the Holocaust by better understanding what his father suffered through. Spiegelman uses his visual, cartoonists language to put the events in a context he can understand, drawing the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. It's a simple visual hook even a child can understand, but as the work develops you realizes the cartoonist's true message: anything he could think, draw or write would be a paltry illusion to the actual suffering, the actual emotions and experiences of those who lived the reality.
The anthropomorphism isn't disrespectful, it is a useful tool to help us try and understand the unknowable monstrosity that was the Holocaust. The parable of cats and mice reveals many naked truths and underlines the surreality of it all ... That said, Maus was published in the 1980's, and won the pulitzer in the 1990s. 
Any work using the tropes of anthropomorphism and realistic war must be measured up to Maus, at least in "Western" eyes.
My beef here is that "Cat Shit One" seems more interested in using the animals as an excuse for slow-motion violence and zip boom pow Hollywood action. A computer animated TV show where humans gun down Arabs or dodge exploding rockets would be at best tacky sensationalism and at  worst horribly insensitive and completely inexcusable. This point is fairly well lampooned in Team America: World Police, where puppets engage in this type of behavior in order to "take the piss" out of anyone who thought the action movie esthetic trumps a moral conscience.
In my opinion "Cat Shit One" seems to want to make a cracking good modern war show, but we're a bit too smart for that anymore. The horrors of war are not entertainment. They hope to eschew the tacky melodrama of their black and white war stories by using computer animated animals to lend the entire affair a cloud of bewildering detachment.
Again, to be clear: I am looking forward to Quentin Tarantino's film "Inglorious Bastards," which promises to make Sam Peckinpah look like Walt Disney. Why? Look at any Tarantino picture to see the truth: Tarantino is well aware of the absurdity of the human condition. He makes post-modern films about our expectations as an audience, see-sawing the movie versions of crime, gansters and violence with their awful, real-world consequences. He makes us laugh at ourselves by pointing out how disturbingly violent many of our favorite films really are, but also he has the courage to say what he wants and show what he wants.
His films aren't metaphorical. If he wants to show how horrible it would be for a ganster to cut off a cop's ear you best believe he's going to drive that horror home while making you laugh out loud that you ever thought you wanted to see such a thing.
If "Cat Shit One" would like to argue they are showing a truth through their animals, or even upping the grotesque factor to the actual realities of war by having cute animals killing each other I would only argue that human suffering is far more grotesque than computer animated rabbits, and there are many chilling documentaries to show the grim truth to war.
Maybe they feel the truth of our current war in Iraq isn't being exposed, and only through the safety of talking animals can they get away with shining a light on it. Could be. Few here in the states actively educate themselves on what our actions are doing abroad. In this light it could be argued that the more sensational they act, the more viewers to the show, the better chance some message could sneak past our thick headed attention span. Does giving them this benefit of doubt change the face they put forward in their trailer? Not really.
Maybe they think they are a modern day "Animal Farm," disguising political truths through allegory. Again, these lofty aspirations are hard to grant here. "Cat Shit" seems neither allegorical nor subtle, just aptly named.
I think there is lazy thinking in a project like this, and certainly question the motives of its audience. Gussy-ing up human suffering in strange and unusual clothes to make a "Cool" or "Edgy" piece of entertainment just ain't right. I find it exploitive, crass, and dehumanizing. I had a real problem with the animated motion picture "The Animatrix" for this reason, too.
"The Animatrix" was a Matrix movie spin-off to establish WHY Keanu Reeves was locked in combat with killer robots. The answer was that we were mean to them. To show how mean humanity was to the robots the directors traced over (or rotoscoped) actual footage of mass graves from the Holocaust, as well as other terribly real pieces of film of actual human murder, with people killing innocent robot victims.
This belies a sickness I don't even want to fathom. There are people out there who think it acceptable to use the darkest moments of human suffering on film to add "Punch" to their cartoon about fictional robots?
A robot is not an animal, and an animal is not a human being. Robots by definition cannot suffer as animals and people can. Animal cruelty is sick and depraved, but I'm with many who feel the suffering of animals doesn't compare to the suffering of human life.
-I wouldn't feel qualified in the realm of cartoons or fiction to claim to know how wide-spread or even harmful this sort of perceived desensitizing of human suffering is, but it raises a red flag with me. As I said in the beginning, maybe I'm jumping the gun on "Cat Shit." I haven't seen it, just the trailer. I just feel this "artistic" effort is sensational before it's educational... and yes, I feel you owe it to those who really suffered in war to educate others about their suffering before you cash in on the explosions.
There is plenty of material out there of a documentary or even "First-hand" nature to help us understand the tragedy of war before we go looking for it in rabbits shooting camels.
OR I could just be a blow-hard who's quick to pass judgement on things he doesn't understand. Seems fairly likely, actually...


Blogger Wealthy Pete said...

Great post Devin!

Dogs have become specifically tied to wars in real life.

The article mentions that some Dogs back from tours have post-traumatic stress disorder. Did the dogs freak out because of the war?

I kind of like the idea of a Dog War Memorial though, and Dog Medals.

4:35 PM  
Blogger unkiedev said...

Why thank you pete. Why not have a memorial to the nice doggies?

10:33 PM  
Blogger Sean Andrew Murray - aka Muttonhead - aka SAM said...

Don't forget about dolphins. They use them to find bombs on the underside of ships and such.... though my guess is they are not in any real danger like the dogs probabaly were.

I am not sure (no surprise) I agree that we are too sophisticated these days for a good ol' war movie. I think the real problem is that "feel-good" war movies were pretty specific to WWII, seeing as how it was arguably a "just war". I do not think it is out of the realm of possibility of having another Audie Murphy, just not as a result of this current war.

The problem is not with the horrors of war, per se, but with the fact that we haven't had a war we can all get behind in some time. IMO. Not that anybody craves such a thing, for the notion of wanting a just war is just silly, but let's say: i could see it happening sometime in the future.

Another angle to consider is video games. There are plenty of message-free war games these days. People seem to like those, especially actual military folks. No one seems to really mind playing a video game where you blow up a bunch o' terrorists or Nazis or what-have-you. Nor would anyone buy a war-themed video game that constantly reminded you of how awful and shitty war is.

Out of curiosity, what do you think of Watership Down?

11:33 PM  
Blogger Patrick J. McQuade said...

I agree Devin! I saw that trailer and was like "This is screwed up and disrespectful." Great post!

11:23 PM  

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