Filmed Under the Auspices of the Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (1940s)
During the twentieth century an approach to helping the poor of the third world really came into prominence which focused on education.
The idea was based upon the adage “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat all of his life.”
Essentially, the idea was that we’d teach them to live like us.
What many people don’t realize when they support the “teach a man to fish” idea is that such an approach is woefully inadequate for dealing with poverty issues. What if the water sources are polluted by big industry with huge political influence? What about overfishing by larger fishing companies? What about getting a fair price from unscrupulous middlemen? I could go on.
Successful eradication of poverty requires the individual to know their power, and to organize with others to change their situation.
In the 1940s, Disney was recruited by the Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (a U.S. government office which sought to promote U.S. influence in Latin America) to make some short educational films to educate people from Latin America.
A number of these are focused on disease control.
The Winged Scourge looks at the threat posed by…
Based on my limited medical knowledge, this video does a pretty good job of describing the way Malaria is transmitted. Like other disease-related films made for the OCIAA, there are economic reasons stated for controlling disease.
Here’s a wealthy, successful farmer:
The film then describes the awful possibility that the wealthy productive land owner might be visited by a malaria mosquito.
“WHAT?” you might say, “Surely the wealthy are immune to disease!” It is surprising but it turns out having a lot of money does not frighten away mosquitos. This is an important lesson. They seem to live upon communist ideas of equity. Stupid commie mosquitos.
The film then shows the devastation caused as the productive farmer succumbs to Malaria and can no longer work. But don’t worry, the film says he probably wont die (because he has access to health insurance?), his farm will just become a wasteland.
Now, what are the chances of this? Surely a farm like this is not run by this man alone. How often are the wealthy entirely self-made? A farmer as successful as this, with such a large property would likely have a lot of the labor performed by farm-workers. No doubt malaria would affect his individual productivity, but not his workers – and if any of them get malaria, he can always fire them and hire other workers. (That’s what The Man would do.)
The film describes the life cycle of the mosquito, highlighting their most vulnerable stages of life, as well as the fact that you need only fear the female mosquito. Spreading disease is women’s work.
Then we meet that other model of productivity, the Dwarf workers collective from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, who are recruited to help stop this menace. The workers collective actually display the positive approach to dealing with malaria, and are shown taking all of the preventative steps…
Like pumping insecticides into local water systems…
…and gleefully spraying these same hazardous chemicals around the house.
Other efforts include purchasing substantial amounts of wire mesh to cover everything and mosquito nets.
While such endeavors might reduce the likelihood of malaria infection, keeping the workers productive, and therefore possibly seeming economically worthwhile, we have to question what kind of impact the insecticides will have on the Dwarfs’ health (not to mention the river’s ecosystem). Another worthwhile point is who is making money off of the purchase of insecticides? Probably a large American chemicals conglomerate. This film is clearly the work of The Man.
Health issues and their relationship to productivity were also the concern of other Disney OCIAA shorts such as the Health for the Americas series.
This series deals with diet and sanitation issues, again taking the position that poor health creates poverty. Based on this we might suppose that they saw the reasons for poverty in Latin America being largely due to a lack of education on health issues, rather than systemic injustice.
The films also neglect to mention how people in urban areas might address such problems. All of the people depicted (of course using Latin American stereotypes) grow their own crops, clearly living in rural areas. The solution presented to the problem of an imbalanced diet seems to be for people to purchase cattle, pigs and chickens – not really as possible in an urban environment. One of the films also depicts a healthy diet as one consisting of a significant amount of meat. Meat is expensive, and not really as essential to nutrition as it is made out to be. Certainly not in such large quantities.
One film that focuses less on disease (seeming to be an exception) is a tribute to corn, entitled The Grain that Built the Hemisphere.
This film depicts the history of the use of corn, portraying it as being at the center of every major historical civilization in the Americas – but then later stating how much better the white man does it by large-scale production farming.
More so, this film is a celebration of all of the wonderful products and uses that corn can provide, including…
- Feed for animals!
The film states how much animals love it, but evidence shows that their natural food (grass) is much better for them, and makes the meat much better for you. It also grows naturally on the ground, rather than using up valuable farming resources on huge crops.
- Cooking oil!
- Paste for billposters!
- Glucose – You mean High Fructose Corn Syrup, right? – They actually suggest putting HFCS in baby milk.
It also states some innovative developing corn-technologies:
- Alcohols for fuels and high explosives
- Fabric for parachutes
- Plastics “Stronger than steel for cars! For tanks! Men of War! Ships of peace!…”
Wait, what? It seems to get a little preoccupied with military technology.
This is not the only Disney OCIAA video that seems a little preoccupied with war.
Defense from Invasion focuses on the role of vaccination in preventing disease. Unlike many of the other Disney OCIAA films, they’ve opted to use a cast less obviously geared towards Latin-American audiences.
Tubby is packing his underpants because the Doctor has a needle, and is pretty keen on poking him with it. But it seems Tubby doesn’t get it. So they get all of Tubby’s intentionally interracial friends together and have a lesson on how the body works.
The explanation is that the body is like a city, with lots of buildings. When disease comes in, the body tries to fight it, but without the proper preparation (i.e. arms and ammunition), it is overcome. However, vaccination gives the body the experience of fighting a weaker version of the disease. As a result, the body’s economy switches to preparing for war, stockpiling large amounts of weapons.
This then means that when the disease actually enters they can blow the crap out of it because now they have tanks and bombs. Victory is theirs!
So why the preoccupation with war? Well, this was during World War 2, and no doubt they wanted to get people thinking about the glory of war.
However, there is also the fact that one of the biggest reasons for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs during that time was to undermine German influence in Latin America, and promote U.S. interests. Perhaps the idea was that the more you see the Americans and other allied countries fighting positively, the more people would be persuaded from assisting the Nazis. Apparrently, one of the ways they felt they could best befriend people in Latin America was to assume they were riddled with disease and talk about ways to prevent that.
- Is there any more obnoxiously long title to type than Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs?
These and other WWII-era Disney materials can be found in the Walt Disney on the Front Lines: The War Years collection.