This book provides an overview of the efforts of the Warner Brothers’ studio to aid in the war effort, namely by campaigning against Nazism. Birdwell examines the complex relationship between the Warner Brothers Studio and the US government in promoting the war effort.
Birdwell’s discussion frames the effectiveness of the “Private Snafu” series in the context of other films of its time which sought to promote the US war effort. The book provides a good understanding of mainstream propaganda films which were accessible to a broader audience and how they are different from the “Private Snafu” series.
This is a collection of films produced by the Warner Brothers studio with reference to individuals such as Frank Capra who produced the “Private Snafu” series and the role of the Production Code in film production.
This source is helpful as an introduction to the climate of wartime film-making at the Warner Brothers studio. It provides an in-depth look at the workings of the Warner Brothers studio, especially during the Second World War.
This is a contemporary essay of how government agencies helped shape Hollywood documentaries. What is particularly interesting is that an author of the essay was involved first-hand in the Hollywood-US government interaction: Robert Katz was Deputy Chief of Long Range Operations in the Office of War Information (OWI), Overseas Branch and then Assistant Chief of Production Planning in the International Motion Picture Division of the Department of State in 1946 and 1947. In this essay he co-authors with Nancy Katz, Robert Katz discusses the role of the "Private Snafu" series vis-à-vis other elements of government propaganda to manage and ensure morale of the troops. Specifically, the Katzs discuss how one of these shorts film portrays the consequences of Private Snafu neglecting a hole in the mosquito net: death at the hands of "Anopheles Annie," a malaria-carrying mosquito. Such films were direct answers to concerns and questions that soldiers had about life in the military. In addition to the Armed Forces, other forms of government interaction with the film industry included the Overseas Branch of the OWI, which actually made films that were shown exclusively abroad to promote elements of the New Deal.
This essay places the “Private Snafu” series in historical and contextual perspective in relation to other war time film propaganda, both in terms of the intended audience and the production process. It also captures the importance of the documentary filmm=-making approach and its relevance for effective propaganda.
In a book review in the 2005 issue of "Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies," Robert Frye discusses the importance of parody as a viable propaganda format. The subject of his review is "Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, 1939-1945" by Michael S. Shull and David E. Wilt. (McFarland, 2004. 246 pages), a study of Hollywood films during World War II. Frye writes how the book provides additional information about America's attitudes toward World War II and the responses from Hollywood to such feelings, especially how these changing attitudes shaped production of animated films during World War II. An example he points out is how advancements made by Allied Forces on Germany and in the Pacific Theater against Japan were coupled by a decline in the number of cartoons produced. The authors conclude that the sense of impatience for a prolonged war and optimism for a better life post war contributed to the decline of the animated short.
Just as propaganda films such as the “Private Snafu” series were born of wartime sentiments, their ending was also correlated with war time events in real time. As people yearned for more positivism as the War dragged on, there was less of a demand for propaganda film that centered around the war effort. Indeed, film often represents a cultural and societal dialogue not just between the studios of the film industry with the government but also with the people who serve as audience and consumers of the film product. In this way, control of films is restored in part to the people from the government’s film office.
Smoodin discusses the complex relationship between Hollywood and the government, which essentially acts as a studio as it plays a increasing role in controlling film media during World War II. Smoodin points out the irony that in serving to assuage soldiers’ discontent with military life, the “Private Snafu” series also reinforced how much discontent permeated the military. By presenting a negative example of how not to act, these films were effectively both modeling and providing resistance against military authority.
Smoodin’s argument resolves the fact that the “Private Snafu” series both illuminated and worked to address contradictions within military life. In fact, the seeming irony does not undermine the ideological purpose and inherent success of these films to serve the needs of the government in maintaining morale in the military because they represented the reconciliation between the individual and the group in social psychology. The relevance of psychology and one’s awareness as an “everyman” soldier vis-à-vis the greater goals of the group (and the nation) meant that the “Private Snafu” series provides more positive answers to address soldiers’ concerns than exposes negativity about these concerns.
Ohmer notes in her review of "Animating culture: Hollywood cartoons from the sound era" by Eric Smoodin (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 1933. 216 pgs) that "Private Snafu" series was often shown at civilian theaters at the end of military film. According to Smoodin, the character of Private Snafu acted as an outlet that addressed soldiers' discontent while also indoctrinating them further with ways of military life.
Ohmer’s discussion hints at a counterpoint to the effectiveness of the “Private Snafu” series in that the propaganda may have done more harm than good for its audience. Although the films succeeded in ironing out soldiers’ qualms, their discussion of these qualms reinforces many of the negatives of military life.
In this article, Danks focuses on "Spies" as a quintessential example of the "Private Snafu" series and how its close relation to documentary film reinforced its effectiveness as propaganda. The films were produced by Frank Capra and commissioned as part of "The Army-Navy Screen Magazine." Their targeted audience is reinforced in the film’s use of sexually suggestive content that would have been banned by the Production Code if not for the film’s role in propaganda for the military. In addition, the series was also the first collaboration of Dr. Seuss and Chuck Jones, and drew attention to the social psychology of the individual in the military.
“Private Snafu” was particularly effective because of the many ways in which it was allowed to differ from mainstream cinema as a result of its production for a specific audience. Exclusive exhibition to the military enabled the films to capitalize on its creativity and often raunchy humor to tell the story of Private Snafu. Furthermore, the propaganda purposes of “Private Snafu” give it an approach similar to that used in documentary film-making aimed at telling the “truth.”
In a contemporary magazine article, Arthur L. Mayer, who was also Assistant Coordinator of the War Activities Committee - Motion Picture Industry, discusses the role of “Private Snafu” in documentaries. The “Private Snafu” films were usually exhibited along with magazines as part of the military service’s entertainment package known as “G.I. movies.”
Mayer’s discussion reveals that the “Private Snafu” series acted as effective propaganda with an agenda to advocate and instruct its targeted audience, the soldiers, and was also embedded as entertainment. The incorporation and exhibition of the “Private Snafu” series vis-à-vis other forms of media, such as mainstream film and magazines, and exclusively for soldiers demonstrates that branding propaganda as entertainment enhanced its effectiveness.
Shull provides an in-depth analysis of individual "Private Snafu" films and their collective role in war time film history. The "Private Snafu" series represents the first animated wartime character and deviated both thematically and stylistically from other films of its time. For example, its stories are told from the eye of the heterosexual male with many references to women as objects of desire in ways that the Production Code would not have tolerated had the films been released to the general public. Another transgression from other films of its time was the inclusion of “snafu” as a four-letter word of sorts because it is an acronym for "Situation Normal All F*cked Up." Furthermore, unlike other propaganda films which included abundant elements of patriotism such as the American flag and demonizing images of the enemy, these images were few and far between in “Private Snafu” (except in the Nazis as the Devil in "Spies" and the fanged Japanese caricature in another short, "The Goldbricks" (1943)).
Shull’s analysis demonstrates that although the character of Private Snafu represents the polar opposite of how an ideal soldier looks and how he should behave, his very deviation from societal norms made him appealing and easy to relate to, which were important in serving the needs of effective propaganda. In addition, his lack of companionship (Private Snafu appears without a sidekick) makes salient an existential question which many soldiers often faced in a psychological confrontation with their sense of self in military life.
This anthology of over 100 years of American films includes a famous short from the "Private Snafu" series of twenty-six animated short films made by Warner Brothers. These films were shown exclusively to servicemen and served as educational government "posters" for soldiers through the use of negative examples. The stories were created by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel and the U.S. Army's Information and Education Division, with composer Carl Stalling. The featured film in this anthology is "Private Snafu: Spies" (1943), which tells the story of a soldier, Private Snafu, whose negligence and spilling of state secrets lead to his destruction at the hands of Nazi enemies. The short successfully promotes the idea of "loose lips sink ships" through humor and an engaging and easy-to-understand story line. There was a mutual relationship between the government and film studios and at the same time the state department also strategized trade agreements related to film in a way that bolstered the industry.
“Spies” serves as a good example of how “Private Snafu” was an effective propaganda vehicle that results from the collaboration between government and the film industry during World War II.