By clicking on the video links on IT's musings on Betty Boop cartoons and Chess, you can find an entirely other conception of mass produced surrealism, shaming the Parisian bourgeois bohemians by combining a technology way beyond their subverted oil paintings and collages with an equally jarring sense of psychotic disruption of everyday reality. This evokes a passage in Dialectic of Enlightenment which is generally given less attention than it deserves: in the apparently total indictment of mass culture as 'Mass Deception' there is an opposition set up between the possibility of a disruptive, dissonant strain in the culture industry, one which is occluded as often as possible:
The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. It is stronger even than the rigorism of the Hays Office, just as in certain great times in history it has inflamed greater forces that were turned against it, namely, the terror of the tribunals. It calls for Mickey Rooney in preference to the tragic Garbo, for Donald Duck instead of Betty Boop.
The significance of this only really becomes clear after a viewing of a few of the Fleischer cartoons of the early 30s. The sheer onslaught of Modernist techniques here is frankly bracing to anyone brought up with the mimeticism of CGI or 80s cartoons. Here, as Benjamin writes of Mickey Mouse, was a way of adapting oneself for 20th century life by adapting one's own form, by morphing constantly, by being able to survive all manner of absurd privations. As he wrote in 'Experience and Poverty', 'Mickey Mouse's existence is full of miracles, which not only outdo technical wonders, but make fun of them too: a redemptive existence appears'. The early Mickey of the Silly Symphonies (eg, the one above) is a ratty slum creature, and one which would inevitably be posited by the Nazis as an exemplar of Jewish decadence: this being before Disney's turn to realism and the European fairytale in the later 1930s. The bashings given to Donald Duck would symbolise for Adorno the culture industry's latent sadism and acceptance of extreme violence. Fleischer though is Disney's id: a malevolent, overtly sexualised and violently disjunctive response to Disney's underlying cutesiness. Constantly drawing attention to their own flatness, their own means of production, the Fleischer cartoons even encompassed a practical demonstration of synch-sound technology.
Betty Boop is perhaps the best exemplar of this. Fleischer, as Esther Leslie points out in Hollywood Flatlands, didn't have a story department until the mid 1930s, so the form would follow the whims of the animators, could twist itself into anything it wished without having to keep some notion of reality as a referent. Betty Boop starts out as only partly human (with dog ears, curiously enough) and maintains a spatial being that draws attention both to an all-too-human sexuality and an ability to orchestrate technologised chaos. So she is both participant in the events, being ogled and chased, and central point of the cartoon's assault on spatial realities. Frequently she seems to have a role of ringleader, of master of ceremonies, presiding over it as well as being a protagonist: able to step in and out of it at will. Naturally the Hays Code puts paid to all this, as a newly sensibly dressed Betty helps animals and dispenses moral advice. Nonetheless there's an abiding sense of the not right about Fleischer cartoons which fits in perfectly with Brechtian alienation techniques, proving they don't have to be a programme for grimness and aridity, and can instead provide disruptive pleasures that realism can't approach.