"Once Upon a Virus" "Once Upon a Virus"

China and the U.S., not the best of friends to begin with, have been at loggerheads over the cause of and response to the coronavirus crisis. Officials from the two countries have spent recent months trading insults and conspiracy theories that blame the other side. Now China has upped the stakes — with animation.

A short video titled “Once Upon a Virus,” posted online by the state-run news agency Xinhua, portrays a dialogue between the Statue of Liberty and a Chinese terracotta warrior, both depicted as Lego-like figures. (The Lego Group has emphatically stated that it had nothing to do with the video.) As the American ragtime classic “The Entertainer” plays on the soundtrack, the characters engage in a war of words, through which the video ridicules the U.S.’s response to the virus while justifying China’s.

The Statue of Liberty starts by dismissing the warrior’s warnings with comments reminiscent of President Trump’s early remarks: “It’s only a flu,” “Don’t wear a mask.” As the Chinese side handles the escalating crisis with efficiency and transparency, the Statue grows angry — and ill (it ends up connected to an IV drip). “You didn’t warn us,” it says.

“We are always correct, even though we contradict ourselves,” concludes the Statue. “That’s what I love best about you Americans: your consistency,” replies the warrior.

The video isn’t subtle — but then propaganda tends not to be. Animation has served up many examples of this in the past. Take World War II, when the major U.S. studios produced dozens of cartoons ridiculing and taunting the Axis powers. Meanwhile, Japanese animators depicted animals successfully leading an attack on Pearl Harbor to defeat the Americans.

These war cartoons are particularly well-known cases, but the tradition of using animation for propaganda is a long one, running from the Boer War in 1899 to CIA funding for the feature Animal Farm, to the Saudi-Iranian conflict of recent years. The subject is covered in an excellent new book by Donna Kornhaber, Nightmares in the Dream Sanctuary, which focuses on the relationship between animation and war. The book is reviewed here on All the Anime.

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