Fans of the Our Gang series will recall a lively short from 1933 called The Kid from Borneo, in which Spanky is pursued by Bumbo, a wild man from a carnival who keeps repeating "Yum-Yum, eat 'em up!" Actually, the supposed wild man is quite harmless, but Spanky is frightened nonetheless, and at one point attempts to pacify the fellow by engaging him in small talk. "How's things down in Borneo?" he asks. "Do you have Technocracy?" (Slight pause, for expected laughter.) The short was in heavy rotation on TV when I was a boy, and I'm sure I wasn't the only baby boomer who was bewildered by that line. Technocracy, as it happens, was a fad in the early years of the Great Depression, an ideology that proposed the rule of society by scientists. (And at this point I'm thinking, hey, why not?) But for those viewers who wish to know more about the concept, Robert Benchley thoughtfully made this short film at the height of the Technocracy fad, to bewilder us further.
The set-up is very much like Benchley's other short comedies in which, you know, he sets out to explain stuff. We're in an auditorium, and on the dais there is a long table where well-dressed dignitaries sit, attired in evening wear. The emcee tells us that Mr. Benchley is a renowned expert in North American plants and colonial furniture, and is therefore well equipped to discuss Technocracy. Benchley rises, and within moments we know that he's not especially well equipped to discuss anything. Soon he's rambling into weird digressive cul-de-sacs about razor blades, shoes in ancient Rome, etc. etc. In order to clarify matters, he decides to illustrate his points with a chart, and promptly clarifies nothing. Film clips of an industrial nature are shown, and Mr. Benchley narrates, despite the fact that he's uncertain what, exactly, those people in the factory are doing. And so it goes! This short differs from most of Benchley comic lectures in one respect: usually, his on screen listeners sit in polite, if somewhat mystified, silence. But in Your Technocracy and Mine the crowd turns against him, and by the end becomes openly hostile. Mr. Benchley is forced to slip out of the hall, incognito.
If you enjoy Benchley's style of humor -- and I do -- you'll get a kick out of this amusing short. But if you really want to learn anything about Technocracy, you may as well ask Bumbo.
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