Brain Pickings

Reason & Emotion: Pseudoscience Meets Gender Stereotypes in 1943 Disney Wartime Propaganda


What resisting a double fudge sundae has to do with Freud and defeating the Nazis.

Whether we call it “rationality vs. intuition,” as Albert Einstein, Anne Lamott, and Steve Jobs did, or “reason vs. emotion,” being human means being bedeviled by the near-constant polar pull of two opposing forces. And yet, we’ve seen the “divided brain” is a reductionist myth, and perpetuating it has dangerous sociocultural consequences.

In 1943, however, the clear-cut dichotomy between reason and emotion was not only perfectly acceptable, it was also a perfectly exploitable propaganda talking point. This animated Disney short film, created the same year as the now-infamous Disney employee handbook, enlists the same comically appalling era-appropriate gender stereotypes to deliver a steady dose of wartime propaganda against the Axis, portrayed as governed by unreasonable emotion, which the Allies could combat with the force of reason and restrained emotion.

As amusing as the gender treatment might be in its appallingness, one particularly appalling chasm is what happens to each gender when its bearer is possessed by emotion and negligent of reason: The man merely gets his sexual advances met with a slap, whereas the woman spirals into food binges, which promise an undesirable body, which in turn makes her unworthy of said sexual advances. In other words, reason ultimately serves the man in both scenarios, while emotion merely distracts from his most desirable outcome.

Of course, the analysis of what any of this has to do with going to war is best left to Freud.

For a similar look at wartime propaganda from the other end of the world, see this collection of vintage Russian animated propaganda.

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