Mutt and Jeff on Strike

Mutt and Jeff on Strike Production Company: Bud Fisher Films Corporation, distributed by the Fox Film Corporation. Director/Writer: Charles Bowers (?) 1920

If we conceptualize the commodity as a condensation of social forces and asked it to speak, what would it say? Perhaps like A. Mutt in the cartoon “On Strike” the commodity would yell “Arbitrate me eye!!!” at his at his creator and CEO. In the film “On Strike” Mutt and Jeff discover that thanks to their antics Bud Fisher is making a mint and living “the life of Riley”. Furious, they demand 75% of the profits, a three-hour day and a five day week. When Fischer insists on arbitration, Mutt threatens to strike but then comes up with an even better idea. He and Jeff will animate themselves. The commodities will become workers and take production into their own hands!

I like to think of early animated films as “thought at work”. In the early days cartoons did not hide their means of production. The figures are clearly just lines drawn with ink, yet like the protagonists of slapstick, both Chaplin and the ladder, they reveal a hidden potential in their constant improvisation and metamorphosis. They map out a world that is in constant flux. A line can turn into a man and then turn into house or a mouse, a word, or an idea in a bubble. Everything and anything is possible. Everyone understands them and we respond with laughter.