Historians Resurrect ‘Cartoon Medicine’ for a New Generation

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

“Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike” was among the animated films presented on Oct. 25 and 26 at the Cartoon Medicine Show at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.

The show featured animated public health films from the 1920s to the ’60s — some well known, others rarely screened in the last 40 or 50 years — from the collection of the National Library of Medicine. The films cover such topics as personal hygiene, malaria prevention, cancer detection, tuberculosis screening and the safe use of X-rays.

The National Library of Medicine is also creating a series of DVDs of historical medical films, the first of which is likely to be released next fall.

“From early on, animated films were viewed as a uniquely convincing way to persuade and educate people,” said Michael Sappol, a historian at the library. Animation could get a message across while also entertaining an audience.

A film like “Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike,” he said, “takes a lot of pleasure in destruction, speed and sex, things we typically associate with 1940s Warner Brothers cartoons.”

In the film, Malaria Mike unveils a diagram of an American soldier’s body with parts of the back and buttocks labeled prime rib, filet mignon and tenderloin. Soon after, he lands on Snafu’s rear end and says, “Why, it’s Snafu — I never forget a face,” prodding the soldier’s uncovered flesh with his finger.

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