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Like any totalitarian state, Disney has no room for God
The Telegraph (U.K.) ^ | 12/26/2001 | Robert Harris

Posted on 12/25/2001 3:34:14 PM PST by Pokey78

WHEN I was growing up, Boxing Day meant two things: cold turkey and Walt Disney.

Year after year, as unchangingly as the Queen's Christmas Message, on the afternoon of December 26, the BBC would serve up an hour-long compilation of Disney cartoons, movie clips and nature documentaries - usually, for some reason, involving a bear and its mother traipsing through the mountains - the whole thing one long free plug for the Walt Disney Company.

Indeed, in the very early days, I dimly remember old Walt himself presenting the show.

No other studio has ever been afforded such treatment since. There has never been a Spielberg Time or a Lucas Hour, with a world-famous producer being paid to advertise his product to 15 million eager consumers. But that was Disney; Disney was different.

This month, as everyone knows, marks the centenary of his birth, an anniversary celebrated by his company with an almost sacrilegious intensity.

"One hundred years ago," proclaims the official website, "Walt Disney was born. And the world was changed forever . . . We all hold a special place for the magical legacy of this one man."

The official history of Walt Disney World is humbly entitled Since The World Began; one has the feeling the company would have called it Genesis if the name hadn't already been taken.

About three years ago, casting round for a subject for a new novel, having already written books set in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, it struck me that the Walt Disney Company would make a perfect setting for a dystopia.

There is something slightly frightening, almost totalitarian, about this faade of syrupy ideology - Disneyism - being maintained by the legendary commercial aggression of a company whose disgruntled employees call it "Mauschwitz" and which, in 1998, was worth an astonishing $75 billion.

It was all there. First, the moustachioed, Big Brother-like founder - the object of a cult of personality that would have made even a dictator gape with envy. I went to Walt Disney World (on a working trip, without my children - a sin for which I have never been fully forgiven) and stood beneath Walt's statue, gazing out across the Magic Kingdom: an environment as tightly controlled as the Kremlin.

For $9.95, I bought the Disney equivalent of Mao's Little Red Book: Walt's Famous Quotes, containing The Founder's wisdom on more than 100 subjects (Walt on patriotism: "If you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them and up my spine is growing this red, white and blue stripe").

There were even well-attested stories that Disney, like Stalin, had wanted to have his body preserved: cryogenically frozen, so that it might be brought back to life in some distant era, like a hideous variant on one of the theme park's animatronic figures.

But it was the behaviour of the company itself that provided an almost perfect model of a totalitarian state. For more than a decade, under the brilliant and ruthless leadership of Michael Eisner, Disney has inserted itself into almost every aspect of life in the developed world.

In the words of Peter Bart, the editor of Variety: "It was Eisner's dream that the typical consumer would patronise Disney movies, watch Disney TV shows, buy Disney videos, spend money at Disney stores, vacation on Disney cruise lines, take his or her kids to Disney theme parks - all the while becoming completely enveloped in the Disney subculture."

In pursuit of this aim, Disney displays characteristics that anyone who has ever studied a totalitarian regime will instantly recognise. It uses architecture, for example, in Eisner's words, "to imprint our stamp on the world" - hence such monumental structures as its enormous, Tuscan-style palazzo headquarters in California, whose roof is supported by ranks of 19-foot high terracotta dwarfs (eat your heart out, Albert Speer).

It also employs that classic totalitarian technique of preaching family values while subverting the family structure, appealing over the heads of parents directly to their children.

In the Disney empire, the young don't put on uniforms or denounce their parents: they simply demand to be taken to things, or bought things - meals at McDonald's, perhaps, because McDonald's has paid Disney for the rights to give away toys promoting a particular movie. (So successful was this strategy that McDonald's at one point became the world's largest distributor of toys.)

And, of course, like every totalitarian state - paradoxically, in view of its traditional association with Christmas - Disney abhors organised religion. As a global brand, it can't afford to alienate any one section of its consumers - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists - by pandering to the beliefs of another.

It therefore seeks instead to provide its own mix of opium for the masses by rewriting history, cannabalising myths, bowdlerising the classics - passing all of it through a kind of gigantic narrative blender to produce a PC mush of magic, dreams and environmentalism.

Thus, in the movie Pocahontas, the evil Englishman, Sir John Ratcliffe, is shown, true to type, oppressing the peaceful, nature-loving Native Americans, whereas, in reality, according to the head writer on the movie, what actually happened to the historical Ratcliffe was that "when the Indians captured him, he was nailed to a tree and skinned alive. That would have been a choice Disney moment. Maybe a good song sequence."

In the end, I never wrote the novel - partly because I'd probably have been sued from here till Magic Kingdom come if I'd ever tried; partly because, once I'd witnessed couples lining up to get married overlooking Cinderella's Castle wearing satin mouse ears, I realised this was a phenomenon beyond satire; and partly because I decided, in the end, that consumers simply aren't stupid: that for all Disney's cunning and global reach, they could easily one day simply tire of it and turn away.

That may be happening now. Disney's latest profits, for the third quarter of 2001, even without the full impact of September 11, are down 82 per cent. The totalitarian model, it seems, doesn't work for companies, any more than it does for countries.

One hundred years after his birth, and 40 years after I watched him on Boxing Days, Uncle Walt looks more than ever like Uncle Joe.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial

1 posted on 12/25/2001 3:34:14 PM PST by Pokey78
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To: Pokey78
I do enjoy Disneyland/world, though I have to agree that there are strong totalitarian themes within the company - Walt himself, actually, envisioned Epcot Centre not as another amusement park but as a 'perfect' community where everything was regulated by the authorities - curfew, schools, health care, transportation, wages, jobs, etc. Pretty frightening stuff.
2 posted on 12/25/2001 3:53:41 PM PST by Rightwing Canuck
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To: Pokey78
The men who lead the Disney company today are but disgusting filth on the bottom Walt Disney's shoe.

They have perverted the dreams of Walt Disney on the altar of the profit and loss statement. They have nothing in common with Walt Disney. Eisner is a filthy ............

3 posted on 12/25/2001 3:55:14 PM PST by ASTM366
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: Ms Casey
5 posted on 12/25/2001 4:02:25 PM PST by MSCASEY
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To: Pokey78
When I worked for Disney at Buena Vista in the 1950's there was no meat on Fridays in the studio commissary because Disney was a Catholic, as were many of his execs, and they imposed this policy on everyone else.

This, of course, has now changed.

6 posted on 12/25/2001 4:04:05 PM PST by codeword
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"Like any totalitarianANTI CHRISTIAN-PRO HOMO state, Disney has no room for God."

Hmmmm--there was another post here saying that Disney was one of the few places where Santa was actually shouting "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays".

I suspect Walt is generating high wattage in his grave with some of the stuff Eisner has done, but unfortunately, that is the way it goes when the founder/visionary passes, and the bean counters/"managers" take over the company.

7 posted on 12/25/2001 4:06:33 PM PST by Wonder Warthog
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To: Pokey78
Thank you for this article. It coalesces some vague thoughts I've had for some time now.
8 posted on 12/25/2001 4:10:31 PM PST by Petronski
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To: ASTM366
Eisner is a filthy ............

I consulted on several of the EPCOT projects when the park was being developed. I guess I was a bit naive because I didn't know who Michael Eisner was at the time, even though all the Disney people made me very aware of their pecking order.

Anyway they were having a problem at the Exxon site, and they knew I could help so they called me. I flew down there after working all day in NJ and showed up at the site at about 10 PM. At about 2AM there were still problems and I was wiped out. The #1 guy for the Exxon site didn't want me to leave. "What am I going to tell Michael," he asked.

I asked him, "WTF is Michael?", and maybe he responded. I told him, "Tell him [ML/NJ] went to his hotel to sleep."

We fixed the problem the next day, but I never saw #1 again.

(About three years later I did see in the WSJ that #1 was appointed to some sort of position in the Disney hiarchy, but he sure was absent for my duration which was about six more months intermitantly.)


9 posted on 12/25/2001 4:14:21 PM PST by ml/nj
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To: codeword
The Disney tradition changed significantly when Walt died. No doubt about it - Christian values do make a difference. Even today the Disney mystique is that of a happy good place as opposed to Universals's Hollywood Schlock approach.

Unfortunately for Eisner, the need to grow the conmpany took precedence. There was a real chance that German or other European or Japanese interests could have taken control of DIsney if they didn't act. So they bought ABC where Eisner worked origninally.

Eisner is a good guy underneath as was Walt. It's too bad the whole thing has grown so bloated and overdone that the original charm and simplistic morality has become lost in the fog. It looks like the purshuit of money is the root of all evil.

10 posted on 12/25/2001 4:19:00 PM PST by Podkayne
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To: Rightwing Canuck
I think there is actually at least one community (Jubilee or Celebration??) that is governed by Disney. I saw it in a Southern Living magazine once. I'll have to look into it, but I think it was a planned, contained community.
11 posted on 12/25/2001 4:48:48 PM PST by constitutiongirl
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To: Pokey78
My family and I are flying to Orlando tomorrow for ten days at Walt Disney World. We've been to Disney World and Disneyland many times over the years. We've been to Disneyland Paris once and hope to be back. Someday we hope to go to Tokyo Disneyland.

So, although I don't claim to be an expert on totalitarian states, I do know a few things about Disney.

Totalitarian states don't usually charge expensive admissions, because people don't want to go there. They don't often let people leave whenever they want.

Totalitarian states generally don't encourage diversity. Instead, they tend to persecute minorities and the religious, rather than creating an environment where all are welcome and treated equally.

Another thing about Totalitarian states is that they generally aren't friendly or happy, and they don't typically listen to complaints or attempt to resolve them.

A lot of folks like to complain about Disney. McDonald's too. It seems that when something is popular and successful, (especially folksy American stuff) folks like to get worked up about it and make ridiculous comparisons. Laughable comparisons.

My suggestion is that if you don't like Disney stuff; don't go to it, don't watch it, don't read it. Instead, enjoy what you like.

And while we're at it, let's agree not to whine about each other's tastes.

Non Gustibus Disputatum (In Taste, There Is No Argument).

Happy Holidays.

12 posted on 12/25/2001 5:27:03 PM PST by UncleWes
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To: Pokey78
Donald Duck Wants You!
13 posted on 12/25/2001 5:27:40 PM PST by toenail
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To: Pokey78
"ABC News President David Westin apologized yesterday for saying that journalists should offer no opinion about the terrorist attack that killed 189 people at the Pentagon.

"I was wrong. . . . Under any interpretation, the attack on the Pentagon was criminal and entirely without justification," he said in a statement. "I apologize for any harm that my misstatement may have caused."

Given Disney's anti-God as well as their anti-US sentiments its no wonder their stocks and profits are off.

14 posted on 12/25/2001 6:21:32 PM PST by Kay Soze
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To: Pokey78
A few years ago, the Chinese Communists threatened to toss Disney's products out of the country, unless Disney dropped a movie project on the Dalai Lama. Disney refused and China blinked. Which is more than Bill Clinton ever did....

I've been to Epcot twice and The Magic Kingdom once. I can't say that either one of them has felt particularly dictatorial. Mind you, each time I've gone between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the crowds are down, so the lines and regimentation are not as long.

(I may have family bias, too. My father-in-law was a consultant on the water systems at Epcot.)

15 posted on 12/25/2001 8:06:44 PM PST by Celtjew Libertarian
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