Friday, September 20, 2013

Popeye the Sailor: "Be Kind to Animals"

Originally aired in 1935, this Popeye cartoon offers a glimpse into anti-cruelty efforts of the early 20th century.  The episode begins with Popeye and Olive Oyl bonding as they feed birds in the park.  From their bench, they see Bluto atop his heavily packed cart, refusing water to his horse who was struggling to pull the load and whipping him mercilessly.  Popeye and Olive Oyl intervene, at which point Bluto insults Olive Oyl and throws things at her.   Popeye stands in for the horse's whipping, and eventually finds spinach on the cart.  Upon eating it, he is able to overpower Bluto, who had begun punching the horse in the face.  As Popeye fights Bluto, the horse frees himself and joins in to help.  The cartoon ends with Bluto pulling the cart as the horse has taken the driver's seat, whipping Bluto.

Aside from the obvious message to children that we should be "kind to animals," this cartoon has a few other interesting themes.

First, we see that interacting positively with other animals can be a bonding experience for partners.  Rather than framing empathy for other animals as an especially feminine interest, both men and women are depicted as concerned as a team.

Second, we see that violence against women and violence against other animals are linked.  Bluto is not only hitting an insulting the horse, but he is quick to do the same to Olive Oyl.

Third, we see that eating vegetables is a source of power for Popeye.  Rather than emasculating him, eating spinach gives him the ability to enact his "maleness."  A powerful counter-image to the notion that masculinity and meat-eating are inseparable.

Finally, Nonhuman Animals are not depicted as powerless victims completely at our mercy.  While the horse needed a human ally to help fight off his oppressor, we see that the horse actually liberates himself and fights back.

Thanks to Kim Stallwood for sharing this video on Twitter.


  1. We absolutely love this early humane education history at the National Museum of Animals & Society. So much that we created an entire exhibit ("Be Kind: A Visual History of Humane Education, 1880 - 1945") on the subject which can be accessed at:

    There are several similar "Be Kind to Animals" cartoons, which we recently explored in our 'Be KInd' event this summer. Folks may appreciate this one:

    Casper the Friendly Ghost

    A recap of this 'Be Kind' event, can be found here:

    -Carolyn Mullin, Executive Director
    National Museum of Animals & Society

  2. In all fairness I need to let it be known that I became aware of the wonderful Popeye cartoon from my colleague and friend John Edmundson, who was told about it by his friend, Ed--whose last name I don't know!