© Copyright 2017 Sophia Vecchiarelli, Ryerson University
At first glance, the issues of national identity in Dizzy Don Down South America Way Issue 14 may not jump out at readers. It may appear as just another comic released in 1944 by Bell Features: to a child who lived in 1944, it could be considered funny, with an adventurous plot, and awe-inducing heroes; to a 21st Century reader, it would come across as fairly stereotypical, poorly produced and horribly racist. Through a closer reading, one begins to notice the overarching concept of identity and the all-encompassing attitude nationality seems to inflict on that identity. This paper will be discussing the historical and contextual factors that affect the way readers approach Dizzy Don Down South America Way through the lens of national identity. It will provide a constructed definition of national identity using multiple scholarly articles that have been published in that field, which can then be applied to the characters in Dizzy Don Down South America Way. Moreover, this essay will discuss the shifting of nationality and the affect it has on the identities of the characters. Most importantly, this paper will be exploring the impact of characterizing identities through nationality and how that affects the young readers Dizzy Don Down South America Way is directed to.
Historical and Contextual Factors
To begin, the historical factors of World War 2 will have an important impact on the way nationalities are depicted in Dizzy Don Down South America Way Issue 14. World War 2 took place between 1939-1945 and pitted nation against nation (“World War II Fast Facts”). During this time, who one was and where they came from were considered the same identifier (Dauphinee). One’s country of origin was used to identify a person as quickly as their name would be used (Dauphinee). An article from The Globe and Mail in 1943, titled “No Japs left on Kiska as Canucks, Yanks Land” illustrate the way people categorized each other based on their home nation (Dauphinee). The names of individual soldiers are not used in this article, it is simply their country of origin that matters and that is all a reader needs to know in order to judge these men. This technique was used to classify people as being allies or enemies during war and this technique translates into Dizzy Don Issue 14.
Furthermore, one must understand the medium of the comic book and the importance of the time period in which Dizzy Don Issue 14 was created. Comic books in Canada were in their golden age during World War 2 because of the War Exchange Conservation Act, put in place to stop trade between Canada and other countries (Bell). This Act allowed Canadian comic book makers to thrive and publish stories that enhance Canadian national identity (Bell). It can be assumed, given the content, comic books were directed mainly at young boys. It can also be assumed that comics were used to make children laugh in a time when laughter didn’t always come so easily. However, not everything in Dizzy Don Issue 14 is
humorous as many stories are filled with propaganda and bias ideas against certain types of people (Easson 36-40). It is important to remember to step back and remind oneself of the time period in which these materials were released. Many aspects of Dizzy Don Issue 14 will not seem acceptable to the mind of a 21st Century thinker but for the sake of understanding this paper and comic better, historical perspective is helpful.
A Definition of National Identity—Somewhat
The Oxford English Dictionary defines national identity as “a sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, and language” (Oxford English Dictionary). This definition allows for a starting point in thinking about national identity; it is a concept that people are connected through their nation, where they live, even if they are not connected in any other way. It is another technique that humans have come up with to divide people into categories of us and them (Thompson 251). It causes people to start thinking about their home country in a certain way, as being bonded through their “shared” traditions, and outsider countries of having “other” or “different” ways of living (Thompson 251). In powerful countries, such as the United States, it creates a “nationalistic impatience” with outsiders who cannot or don’t want to assimilate into the “right” national identity (Thompson 250).
During World War 2, dictator Adolf Hitler used nationalism as way of excluding anyone who wasn’t his ideal citizen, using this concept to make citizens have the mentality of being better than other countries (Thompson 250). One could argue that the need to be the strongest nationalistic country caused the death of millions. This concept of nationalism is able to be extracted from war and politics, presented to children in the comics of 1944, and in the present, still plagues citizens at every turn.
An argument that can be drawn from this definition is that where one comes from is a part of who they are as a human being and is displayed through the way one walks, talks and approaches situations. However, Dizzy Don Down South America Way takes this concept to a new level when representing characters from all around the world; their identity of “self” and their nationhood are so intertwined that changing their nationality changes the essence of a character.
Dizzy Don Down South America Way—Identity Displayed
The article, “The Many Lives of Captain Canucks” explains the connection between national identity and comic books as such “comic books, as a visual medium, engage this act of imagination, in turn facilitating the mental construction of the nation and national identity” (Edwardson 185). Given the excerpt from this article, it is not surprising that Dizzy Don Down South America Way creates an imagined environment where what characteristics one displays are directly correlated to where they are from.
The Americans in Dizzy Don Issue 14, Dizzy Don, Shirley Watson and Canary Byrd, are portrayed as cool, sly, funny radio hosts who are going on tour to meet their fans from South America (Easson 10). They are beautiful and smart, the heroes of the story who can defeat any problems they could possibly come across (Easson 30). They are untouchable and powerful, just as the United States would have been viewed, by allies, during World War 2.
The South Americans, represented by Senor Cabana Manyana, Senor El Ropo, Sugar Lips and the South American police officer, are represented as mysterious, sexy, a bit clueless, and very useless outside of the extravagant parties they throw for their “favourite Americanos”. In particular, the scene after Shirley has been kidnapped by unknown bandits, Dizzy Don and Canary Byrd go to the police but the police officer offers to find Shirley in a month or two, dead or alive and Canary Byrd tells him “Go back to sleep now chiefy” (Easson 19). Dizzy Don proceeds to say they will deal with this themselves, furthering the characteristic created in this imagined setting of South Americans being no help and the Americans saving the day.
The Canadian, by represented by Joe Flip, seen only in one series of frames in the comic as being polite and helping the Dizzy Don and Canary Byrd save Shirley (Easson 24). He introduces himself as Canadian and then simply offers his services as a polite; the audience learns nothing about Joe other than that he is Canadian, he has the ability to fly a plane, and is eager to help the Americans.
Who these characters are cannot be distinguished outside of their nation and they are confined to the imagined national identity of that nation; until, of course, their national identity changes.
Shifting National Identities
The plurality of national identities is based on the idea that national identities are not static, they change from context to context (Andreouli and Howarth 362)). The idea of plurality is one person can hold multiple nationalities or a nation can have an influx of multiple identities (Cantle 315). According to the article “National Identity, Plurality and Interculturalism”, this leads to a nation of multiculturalism where there is “no us versus them” concept in play but a place that embraces new thoughts and ideas that can only come from outside sources (Cantle 315).
However, despite the positive expectations Cantle has for plural national identities, he predicts that
“The postwar ideal of a more integrated international community, in which ideas and cultures may bridge national boundaries to create a world in which we are more at ease with each other, is seldom now advanced as a desirable political objective, despite the evident interdependency of economic and political decision-making” (Cantle 313-314).
People view minorities and “other” national identities as threats to their carefully crafted world (Cantle 313). The need to classify and create the “us versus them” ideology is too distinct in humans; it is how people are able to make sense of their worlds and disrupting that is too challenging, even if it could bring positive possibilities, like Cantle believes.
This ideology was alive back in 1944 as portrayed in the article “S. Africa Hospital in Italy Has 26 Canadian Nurses”, where the reporter questions if the nurses in Africa have become African or if they are still Canadian. There is no discussion about whether they could be both Canadian and African, choosing to adopt traditions from both cultures. The reporter goes on to mention some of the nurses married African men and hints that they have chosen Africa over their Canadian roots (“S. Africa Hospital…”). This is the concept present in Dizzy Don Down South American Way, that there is no in-between for national identity. One can only be this or that and whichever they choose becomes an irreversible part of who they are.
What Nationality Shifts Mean to Character Development
The shift from one nationality to another for Senor El Ropo and Sugar Lips completely
change who the audience thought the characters where up until this point. Senor El Ropo was the shifty, mysterious, odd South American who a reader could think was suspicious but not outright dangerous. Sugar Lips was the sexy, mysterious, South American songstress who could be considered eye candy and little else as she only appeared to speak Spanish. Both characters kept up their façade until their true identities (nationalities) were revealed.
Sugar Lips is no longer the sensual singer, as she is no longer South American, but a skilled kidnapper from Brooklyn that plans to auction Shirley off for ransom (Easson 18).
While she is still portrayed in her South American dress and heels, her facial expression and tone shift to a cold criminal with an attitude. She tells Shirley in one frame, “Listen babe! That Spanish was just an act I was brought up in Brooklyn. See,-your pals are gonna kick in a heavy ransom for you, and we need the dough, get the angle? Sweetheart” (Easson 18) She has acquired a whole new set of traits with her new nationality and has dropped the “performance” of a South American.
Senor El Ropo, similarly drops his performance as a South American cigar company owner when he is revealed to actually be a German spy working for Hitler and the Nazis. El Ropo becomes “Nutsi Agent Schwarīzmuller” and with his new name, he adopts new personality traits (Easson 27). All of a sudden, he is willing to kill Shirley and himself in the name of Hitler, when there has been no indication thus far that he is interested in killing anyone. When he acquired his German nationality, he also acquired “his true self” of being a murdering spy. There are no traces of El Ropo left in him, as though that was a different person altogether.
These two examples display the all-encompassing role nationality plays in this imagined comic world. A character cannot be both a mysterious South American and a murdering German as the two nationalities cannot be inhabited in the same person for the sake of the traditional solo national identity.
Why National Identity (Identities) in Comics Matter
One might be considering whether the comic itself amplifies the importance of nationality for the purposes of the tale or if it has sunken into the subconscious of the writer, publishers, and illustrators involved and unfolded unintentionally. Truthfully, it could be one or the other, or it could be a bit of both but the reason why it’s there doesn’t matter—what matters is the fact that this is the representation of national identity in comics at all.
In a child’s comic book, national identity is being used as a prop to further the divide between people who are the proposed “us” and who are the “them”. In this case, it’s the Germans who are the villains, the Americans who are the heroes, the Canadians as minor aids in getting the job done, and South Americans appear as useless, as it would be reflected to one perspective in the war. It displays the idea that people can perform identities of minorities to achieve a goal but outside of that, they will never be the heroes or the villains (Barbour 271).
However, this isn’t just a staple in the past that has changed as humans evolved and became more politically correct. It is not just a comic book that has no reflection on real life. These same issues are alive in the 21st century. The countries that one labels as hero or villain may have changed but the underlying issue is still there; people are too busy pointing fingers at each other to be conscious of what blossoms from segregation. It became Hitler in 1939, believing that Germany is the only country worthy of being powerful, it became millions of people dying, fighting each other simply because of where they come from and sadly, it became education for young kids who read comics like Dizzy Don Down South America Way and saw the world in terms of nationality.
Andreouli, Eleni, and Caroline Howarth. “National Identity, Citizenship and Immigration: Putting Identity in Context.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 43, no. 3 (2013): 361–82. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5914.2012.00501.x.
Barbour, Chad. “When Captain America Was an Indian: Heroic Masculinity, National Identity, and Appropriation.” The Journal of Popular Culture 48, no. 2 (2015): 269–84. Scholar Portal Journals, https://doi.org/10.1111/jpcu.12256.
Bell, John. “Comic Books in English Canada – The Canadian Encyclopedia.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, July 8, 2015. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/comic-books-in-english-canada/
Cantle, Ted. “National Identity, Plurality and Interculturalism.” The Political Quarterly 85, no. 3 (2014): 312–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-923X.12101.
Dauphinee, John. “No Japs Left on Kiska As Canucks, Yanks Land.” Globe and Mail, August 23, 1943. http://collections.warmuseum.ca/warclip/pages/warclip/ResultsList.php
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Owens, Mickey, Manny Easson, and Bell Features, eds. The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: No. 14. Toronto, Ontario: Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1944. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166605.pdf
Thompson, Ewa M. “Nationalism, Imperialism, Identity: Second Thoughts.” Modern Age; Wilmington 40, no. 3 (Summer 1998): 250–61. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/196868484/abstract/8A2D52CC9A954AA7PQ/1
“S. Africa Hospital in Italy Has 26 Canadian Nurses.” Globe and Mail, December 19, 1944. http://collections.warmuseum.ca/warclip/pages/warclip/ResultsList.php
“World War II Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17, Aug. 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/world/world-war-ii-fast-facts/index.html
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