Animal Farm is a book that almost every American has to read in school, and it probably comes as no surprise that the reason for its ubiquity is propagandistic in nature. The US government was so taken with Orwell’s anti-Soviet communism allegory that they produced the famous animated film adaptation of the novel.
Edward Howard Hunt was a member of the CIA’s Psychological Warfare Workshop and was sent to the author’s widow, Sonia Orwell, in 1950 to obtain the film rights to the novel. Hunt promised her that she would get to meet her favorite movie star, Clark Gable, and he sealed the deal.
The CIA then proceeded to bring on Louis De Rochemont, the creator of The March of Time newsreel films, to be the producer. He hired British animators Halas & Batchelor to handle the nuts and bolts of bringing it to life. Reportedly, the CIA was so paranoid about communists at the time they didn’t trust any Americans to animate the film for fear that they might have political sympathies for the other side. They felt that the British citizenry were more hard-line anti-Soviets. In fact, the only problem anyone had was a feeling that Old Major Pig’s voice sounded too much like Churchill.
If the agent Hunt’s name sounds familiar, that’s probably because he’s better known as E. Howard Hunt, one of the burglars involved in the Watergate scandal. His name often comes up in the conspiracy to assassinate JFK. He’s a shady mofo.
Animal Farm was just one of many forward-thinking works of art that the CIA sought to weaponize. They were also profoundly responsible for the spread of Abstract Expressionism, seeing it as a more free-wheeling and distinctly American alternative to the strict rigidity of Soviet art. The US government proceeded to fund touring exhibitions and fill the press with sympathetic critics. The artists were unaware that their sudden, global rise had to do with anything other than their unbelievable talent.
The irony of Animal Farm‘s place in American school curriculum’s and propaganda is that the allegorical satire lives on long after the death of the Soviet Union. Now that communism represents virtually zero threat, the barbed slogans like, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” actually have more resonance with corporate America’s takeover of politics. After the Citizen’s United decision that corporations are people and that money equals speech, some votes are indeed more equal than others.
(Photo: Halas & Batchelor)