Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Superman and Bishop Ussher

Today I happened to watch some of the terrific Fleischer Superman cartoons from the early 1940s with my almost two-year-old daughter (this is what we do for fun). I'm very fond of them (see here and here for my loving slideshow tributes), less so of the war-propaganda installments produced after Famous Studios took over.

But at any rate, today I noticed something odd in The Arctic Giant, which pits Superman against a thawed-out "Godzilla" clone (though the actual Godzilla was still more than a decade in the future). The voice-over at the beginning announces the monster as having roamed the earth "millions of years ago in the Mesozoic Age." Pleasingly accurate according to the scientific theories of our time. But here's the nameplate on the museum display:

Let's send it through my state-of-the-art html auto-processor:
AGE  ABOUT  2,400  B.C.
Stop the presses! 2,400 BC??? That's not what the voice-over guy said!

Being the weird sort of person I am, I couldn't stop thinking about this all day. Then, while washing the dishes, I suddenly recalled having read about Bible-based chronologies many years ago. Various persons, including the Venerable Bede and Sir Isaac Newton, have attempted to construct these, but the most famous is probably the Ussher chronology proposed in the seventeenth century by the Irish bishop James Ussher. I remembered that his chronology sets creation at 4004 BC.

So now I've looked it up, and confirmed my suspicion: according to Ussher's timeline, the Flood took place in 2348 BC, or about the date given on the nameplate.

What's the story here? Is the date a joke on creationists? Is it a subversive visual comment by a creationist animator? Recall that the Scopes Trial had taken place only about fifteen years before. What did the animators know about the voice-over and when? The other "scientific" aspects of the nameplate are so ludicrous that it's possible to see the entire thing as a joke. Especially since Willard Bowsky, one of the two animators, also worked on the hilarious Arabian Nights Popeye cartoons. (Bowsky was killed in action in France two years later.)

Unfortunately, my diligent Internet search for the mysterious Alfred R. Ley failed to turn up further information. In fact, I appear to be the only person on the entire Internet to have noticed the disparity. Hence the post. I'm actually kind of disappointed. I thought this was the sort of thing we invented the Internet for in the first place.

Watch the cartoon here if you like; it's public domain, as are all the Fleischer Superman cartoons. I've been into reading Superman comics and watching the Richard Donner films lately. No doubt I'll have more to say about the Man of Steel before long.

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