Our family was watching some vintage Scooby Doo, when a very interesting cartoon short played to take up the remaining time until the next main show was to start. The cartoon was “The Bear That Wasn’t”. It’s about 10 minutes long, but it is worth it.
What a great little cartoon. It simply touched on so many things. The cartoon, made in 1967 by Chuck Jones, was based on a book written in 1946. I copied the Plot and Themes from the Wikipedia page because they summarize the cartoon so nicely – I couldn’t have done it justice. It’s startling how the Themes of this cartoon are still applicable to today, isn’t it?
A bear settles down for his long winter nap, and while he sleeps the progress of man continues. He wakes up to find himself in the middle of an industrial complex. He then gets mistaken by the foreman for a worker and is told to work. To this he responds, “But I’m not a man, I’m a bear”. He is then taken to each of his successive bosses, who try to convince him that he is just a “silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat”, reaching all the way up to an elderly president of the factory who concludes he cannot be a bear because “all bears live in the zoo”. The bear is taken to the zoo, hoping to gain support from his own species, but even the zoo bears claim he is not a bear, because if he was “he’d be behind bars like us”. Eventually he concludes that he must be a “silly man”, and works hard at the factory to the satisfaction of the foreman and the other bosses. However, winter comes again, and he feels cold. He wishes he knew what a “silly man” would do to get warm. But in the end he finds a cave and enters, feeling comfortable and bear-like once more. As the bear is sleeping, he reflects on the events of the year, as the narrator concludes that because all the bosses and even the zoo bears disbelieved he was a bear, did not make it so. “The truth is he was not a silly man…and he was not a silly bear, either”.
Though appearing as a children’s book, this story takes a critical and satirical look at aspects of society. It revolves around the concept of people believing a repeated idea even though it may not be true. People have a tendency to shift their views if a concept is hammered into them over and over again, like the bear being told he is a “silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat”. The bear eventually succumbs to this mistaken assumption, believing he is a man even though he had previously known otherwise, just as humans shift their views on a topic because of repetitive information, or because ‘they all say it is true, therefore it must be’. Yet, in the end, the bear, who is cold in winter, reverts back to what he really is – a bear – and finds shelter in a cave. This idea covers the concept of people never changing due to outside influence. Though a person may change for someone else, when placed in a difficult position, they revert back to old habits – just like the bear hibernating. Whether something’s fact or fiction, it is what it is and doesn’t change – no matter how many people believe otherwise.
The book also presents a visual satire of corporate culture. Each time the bear appears before a higher-ranking man in the corporation, the offices get progressively more elaborate (for example, progressively more phones, more wastebaskets, more secretaries, all according to rank). There is also progressively more chins and less hair on each higher ranking person as the Bear ascends all the way to the president’s office.
When I was watching it and saw the old, bent, crooked finger of the President pointing at the bear and telling him he was a silly man, I just chuckled. Has anything really changed since 1946? It doesn’t seem so.
Per Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Hmmm….. the world (governmental, corporate, etc.) must be insane, huh?