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Uncle Walt 1930-1950: Disney becomes the most successful and celebrated animator in the United States His rise is fueled by public perception of him as An artist and storyteller A master of technology A captain of industry He is seen as personifying the American Dream: Why?

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Uncle Walt

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Uncle Walt

  • 1930-1950: Disney becomes the most successful and celebrated animator in the United States

  • His rise is fueled by public perception of him as

    • An artist and storyteller

    • A master of technology

    • A captain of industry

  • He is seen as personifying the American Dream: Why?


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Disney and the Media

  • Disney comes to be constructed by the media as a man of genius, solely responsible for the collaborative work he signs “A Disney Cartoon”

  • Though his workers are often seen at work in creative, interesting contexts, they disappear before the final credits

  • Why is this a problem inherent in a capitalist system? Where else do we see it in Hollywood movies?


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Why was Disney so celebrated?

  • He entertains children of all classes and races, uniting them into a single group through laughter

    • Newspaper comics

    • Comic book novels

  • He reconciles art and commerce

    • “Movies are art, now more than ever.”

  • He brings together art and governments

    • “Hollywood [is] as busy as a league of nations,” bringing education to the free world (Walter Wanger)


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What caused his popular decline?

  • He failed to keep reconciling oppositions

    • Labor disputes

    • Mixing of live action and animation too experimental for middle-class critics

  • His technical expertise came to be seen as a substitute for story and character

  • Actually, he failed to move with the times


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What changed?

  • Television entered middle class life

  • Cartoon style moved from realism to minimalism and/or surrealism

  • Audience for cartoons got younger

  • Acceptable representations of race and of female sexuality gradually changed

  • Attitudes toward the rights of the worker became more labor oriented


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The Media’s Influence

Disney did become, at least for a while, an American symbol for

  • Benevolent business

  • Uniting classes and races

  • Within a rigidly maintained system of class and racial divisions

  • And a belief in US political and commercial superiority in the global context


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Disney Diplomacy

  • Why Disney? He personifies

    • Cultural dominance

    • Commerce

    • Government policy

  • The purpose of Disney Diplomacy

    • Social control at home

    • Global preeminence for US government and industry


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Good Neighbors

  • Office of Cultural Relations

    • Nelson Rockefeller, Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Relations

  • Counters German propaganda presence in South America

    • Argentina and Brazil major battlegrounds

  • Disney is instructed to make films positive about American achievements, but avoiding “anything which might indeed cause laughter at us, instead of with us.”


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What did he forget to consider?

  • Cultural differences between the US and the South American countries

  • Differences between countries in South America

  • That South American countries were politically independent

  • They were not synonymous with the European conquerors whose languages they still spoke, and they might reject European culture in favor of their own traditional culture


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The government assumed . . .

. . . that Walt Disney, ‘a benign, entertaining, and educational presence,’ could, as a representative of the US, “tour a foreign culture, come to understand it in just a short time, film it, and then bring it back home with him, all with the blessing and thanks of the culture he had visited.” (Smoodin, p. 141)


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OOPS

“I tried to find a way of fixing it (Goofy Gaucho), but I found all my efforts so hopeless that I told them I didn’t see any way at all; such was the conglomeration of errors.”

--Florencio Molina Campos


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Doomed to Fail: Why?

Conflict between:

  • understanding the culture and the need to sell these cartoons to American audiences

  • The ideas of multimillionaire businessmen and the revolutionary governments of many South American countries

  • The potential benevolence of a “good neighbor” and the need to maintain cultural and economic dominance over less developed countries

  • The need to counter Nazi propaganda and the racism inherent in US culture in this period


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Meanwhile, back at the ranch

  • The films fail to establish any real dominance in South America

  • Disney still considered a “great man” by the US government, but conflicts exist:

    • FBI files

    • HUAC cooperation

    • The New Spirit

    • Interest in promoting the FBI, but increasing impatience at their attempts to censor his work


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The New Spirit

  • Who found it an excellent use of taxpayers’ money?

  • Who didn’t?

  • Why is this significant?

  • What does it reveal about class and race assumptions in the US at the time?

  • Would the government even consider making a propaganda film directed primarily at the upper classes? If so, would it be a cartoon?

  • What do the contemporary responses to the cartoon reveal about the public, as opposed to the media, response to Walt Disney?


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