Why I'm Not Anti-Disney (Even When I Roll My Eyes)

Re-post from 2017. I will be referencing this post when I start A-Z List 7, Fairy Tales. 

Although I will criticize Disney, I am not in fact an enemy of Disney. [In 2022, this statement is a little less true since I'm tired of corporations with no backbone crawling to mobs, whether they come from the left or the right. Netflix's latest memorandum was a welcome call for true diversity, not bullying "everyone must think like my righteous self" faux diversity. May it continue! However, returning to Disney, I continue to believe that if a company has the right to take a political position, at all, it has the right to shoot itself in the foot.]

Here's why I can't get freaked out by Disney:
1. There is no need to choose only Disney:

The idea that Disney is an overwhelming presence in the lives of children/American culture is similar to an idea that I encountered in my master's programs: "underprivileged" (i.e. poor) people are at the mercy of television commercials.

Except all the "poor" ("poor" in America is an extremely relative term) people I've met (on food stamps, homeless, etc.) barely watch television. The argument appears to be mostly a matter of  transference--a bunch of beleaguered, overly educated middle-class folks insisting that everybody else is as obsessed with the media as they are. [Yes, this point has recently been made multiple times about Twitter--seriously, Twitter-angsters, nobody else cares!]

I grew up in a house without a television (sort of--check out Eugene's "TV Wars"). I also grew up with Disney records, the Wonderful World of Disney (at my friends' houses) and going to see Disney movies. Plus Perrault, Andrew Lang, Cricket Magazine, Lloyd Alexander, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter, many many many picture books, and a scary set of Grimm fairy tales (which I never read).

Yes, there are parents who only give their kids Disney but is the alternative truly better? No nothing at all? Should children only read literal, legalistic, non-creative, non-fictional tomes? Only watch approved social documentaries or "fiction" that teaches an appropriate lesson? I know parents who would say, "Yes." Scary people. 
Truthfully, one can have it all.

2. Criticism of Disney brings together the left and the right--rhetorically speaking--which is an unpleasant combination.

As social observers before me [and currently] have remarked, there is a weird and unattractive combo-pack of the political left and religious right in terms of rhetoric and behavior . [See Sarah Haider's point about how "[t]he former Christian fundamentalist, born-again [becomes] a follower of a dogmatic, woke-infested brand of progressivism."]

Complaining that Disney is sexist, for instance, brings together parents who would never be caught near each other at a political rally. Complaining about porn brings together many of the same people: those who want all that salacious nonsense to stop right now! Alongside those who want all that patriarchal, sexist, backwards-thinking to stop right now!

In both cases, "control" is the password.  Underlying it all is fear of non-literal language, which leads me to...

3. People should set aside their fear of communication when dealing with art (and everything else). 

Much of my personal disillusionment regarding the modern world is not the worries of either liberalism or conservatism. It's how people use the fear of language to try to get their way (on both the left and the right). That is, although I get disgusted by the rhetoric itself, I also get disgusted by the "DID YOU HEAR WHAT THE OTHER SIDE SAID?!" overreaction to the rhetoric. Everybody just calm down!
More than anything, I get irritated with the underlying assumption--which nobody ever challenges (okay, I did here)--that we are the victims of communication (language and images) within our environments rather than free agents. [The conflation of language with violence is a related problem here. Students, pundits, and religious folks who think "hearing" a word or label will trigger them into an meltdown and immediately destroy the world as they know it are not prepared for true physical violence when it arrives, either to address it or combat it.]

Decision-making studies indicate that people make choices for reasons that have almost nothing to do with how other people think they are supposed to react. Advertising, for example, is notoriously unreliable. There's a reason advertising firms get paid so much to discover so little about how people actually buy stuff. Humans are not in fact victims of Hollywood insidiousness or socio-geo-politico brainwashing. (I remembered the above commercial but not the product or company.)

Cultures do have their own realities--and perpetuate themselves according to their own time frames. But never make the mistake of thinking that there weren't people in, say, the 1500s, who weren't asking the same questions we do. Maybe those questions didn't use the same rhetoric or have the same cultural significance or catch people's attention in the same way: other worries came to the fore. But that doesn't mean nobody thinks anything until some institution/celebrity gives permission. People were thinking Protestant thoughts before Martin Luther came along.

Language and images reflect us--they do not control us. For some people, this entails a greater degree of responsibility than they wish to accept (see porn debates).  But is denying one's agency really going to help anyone?
In sum, I can appreciate--even if I don't totally support--a parent who decides, "I'm going to monitor what my child watches." I truly admire parents who deliberately expand what their child consumes. But I cannot agree with or admire those parents who decide that this thing is bad and destructive--therefore the whole structure should come crashing down for everyone and how dare anyone think otherwise, you corrupted and corrupting individuals!

Personally, I think Disney sometimes produces garbage. Sometimes, Disney puzzles me. I also think Disney sometimes produces darn good stuff (see Tangled). It is artistry, which means that sometimes it will be great; sometimes not. Artistry also means it is going to reflect our wants and needs and experiences and imaginations as well as the wants and needs and experiences and imaginations of the artists. That's what art does. 

And living in a world with art is good.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Except when I was really young, I've never been a big fan of Disney. I have liked most of Pixar's output I've seen and interestingly a lot of the TV cartoons like Duck Tales and Gargoyles. Recently, I've enjoyed (for the most part) Gravity Falls.

However, if one's kids like Disney let them watch Disney. Cultural Critics whether on the left or right are a venomous breed. They are generally whiney, self-important busybodies.