The Sunday Intertitle: Less than an ant

First encountered the generally charming ELLA CINDERS (1926) when prepping last year’s POW!!! retrospective on comic book movie adaptations with Niall Greig Fulton for Edinburgh International Film Festival. Looked at it again last night with Fiona as prep for a project she’s undertaking.

I would have missed the political significance of this intertitle because I lazily assumed “Armenian” was just a comic intensifier, like certain swear words. The old Woody Allen joke about someone trying to commit suicide “by standing next to an Armenian” is certainly racist and would hopefully not be something W.A. would stand by today. It’s mitigated slightly by our certainty that Woody does not have anything against Armenians, but that certainty is in itself racist, born of the belief that Armenia isn’t significant enough to have any strong opinions about.

(There’s a would-be funny line in THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST about the prez losing sleep over Libya — Libya, of all places! — that kinda falls flat now.)

Fiona pointed out that the Armenian famine was a real thing, the result of genocide by the Ottoman Empire during WWI, less than ten years before ELLA CINDERS. Not so funny now. And curious that a mainstream, lighthearted Hollywood comedy would think this a suitable subject for amusement.

Oh, I see. It’s funny because they’re Armenian.

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5 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Less than an ant”

  1. My grandmother used to tell us kids to eat everything on our plates because think of the starving children in Armenia. I never quite bought the logic (I don’t want this crap anyway, I’d be more than happy to give it to them) but I gather it might have been a common sort of expression from the Depression era.

  2. chris schneider Says:

    I understand that Franz Werfel’s 1933 novel THE FORTY DAYS OF MUSA DAGH, which dealt with the Armenian-Turkish slaughter and was popular, in part, because of the parallels to the Jews’ 1933 situation, was bought by MGM for Clark Gable (!). Also that the protests by the Turkish government about the potential film are among that government’s first on-record denials.

    Or so Wikipedia tells me.

  3. I grew up with starving Indians and Africans being evoked. So did Billy Connolly, who suggested the response “Stick it in an envelope and send it to them!”

    Chris: wow. I presume MGM caved. Unwilling to directly address the Jews’ situation, they then fail to tackle it allegorically with a film about fifteen-year-old events.

  4. bensondonald Says:

    Robert Benchley’s “The Treasurer’s Report” (a stage sketch written in 1922 and filmed in 28) has Benchley addressing a dinner for some kind of civic / social club. After a somewhat garbled summary of the group’s wobbly efforts and finances, he closes with the hope everybody will generously donate and “make this the biggest and best year the Armenians ever had.”

    I always thought Benchley’s fictional club was Armenian. But in light of the information here, wondering if he invoked the Armenians as a near-generic charity fundraising drive, the sort of think a club would do along with producing “HMS Pinafore” and running some kind of campground. The joke evidently being the Armenians are not likely to have a measurably better year based on this group’s efforts.

  5. I think that’s it! Another sick joke, but a more meaningful one, laughing at the club’s self-importance more than the sufferers. It always seemed quite an abstract line to me, too.

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