Animation and the National Ethos: the American Dream, Socialist Realism, and Russian émigrés in France

  • Author / Creator
    Boivin, Jennifer
  • Animation is seen as the innocent child of contemporary media and is often considered innocuous and juvenile in general popular culture. This might explain why it is still a marginal field. Perhaps this perception is influenced by the mass media of animation being mostly aimed at children, or at least perceived as such. This thesis specifically focuses on animated films’ aesthetic and content in relation to their particular cultural context and ethos, or national ideology. I investigate the American Dream, Soviet Socialism, and a Russian émigré ethos in France to show how seemingly similar content can carry unique ideological messages in different cultural contexts. Therefore, my film analyses examine the way animation is used as a medium to carry specific meaning on the screen, expressing this ethos. The national ethos is manifest in beliefs and aspirations of a community, culture, and era, and it promotes a certain cultural unity and order. It is a form of nationalism oriented towards utopian values rather than clear civic or political engagement. It can be politicised as well as individualised. This idealised ethos remains a largely constructed paradigm on which the regular citizen (and the audience) should model his behaviour. In this thesis, I propose that animation is not only a form of entertainment, but also a possible mechanism of social control through national ideas, responding to prevailing cultural and social conditions. In some cases, as in the American Dream and the Soviet national models, the national ethos is clearly articulated by ideology. In contrast, the Russian émigré animators’ films display a fragmented ethos because the collective, the individual, and the nation coexist confusedly within the same model. Nevertheless, this last ethos still expresses the identity of the artist and his relationship with the nation. The three settings I investigate demonstrate how the national ethos’ nature is a dynamic aspect of identity, constantly remodelled and renegotiated depending on the cultural group, the socio-political changes, and the individual perception of the ethos. The methodology I utilise merges film criticism and analysis, with anthropology and cultural studies. My aim is to examine the way in which the content and aesthetics of animated films play a role in building the national identity and shape how we perceive ourselves, our community, and the rest of the world. Anthropology and cultural studies’ contribution is that they do not see nationalism as an essentially political phenomenon. Instead, anthropologists and cultural theorists perceive nationalism, nation, and tradition as cultural practices and social phenomena, largely constructed, imagined, or invented. Implying that the social world and its institutions, which we inhabit, are largely produced through and by imagination. Animation’s diegesis represent an imaginary world and the national ethos is equally imaginary. This research is an exploration of how ideological discourses are expressed through animated films’ content and aesthetics. It makes the films displaying the ethos a cultural reminiscence of a specific socio-political group and a specific era of history. In this sense, understanding how ideological discourse functions and is expressed in animated films is of great significance to the study of film and to the study of a society because the media culture constitutes a part of the cultural memory of a collective and helps us to comprehend how it is structured.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2017
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.