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Disney, Multiculturalism, and American Culture

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  1. Disney, Multiculturalism, and American Culture HUM 3085: Florida Culture Fall 2010 Dr. Perdigao October 15, 2010

  2. Victorian/modern divide • American modernism: “fin de siècle, transatlantic cultural movement that gradually came to dominate Western art and culture in the first few decades of the twentieth century” (Watts 103). • “this cultural movement emerged in the United States in direct opposition to the principles and sensibility of Victorianism. Inspired by the great European experimenters like Freud, Stravinsky, Picasso, and Joyce, American modernists began to challenge bourgeois culture by undermining several of its bulwarks—a moral creed based on repression and rationality, a system of intellectual inquiry based on formalism, a genteel tradition of narrative realism in arts and letters. Second, in a more positive sense, modernists sought to recombine aspects of human experience that had been strictly separated by Victorians—human and animal, civilized and savage, reason and emotion, intellect and instinct, conscious and unconscious—in order to reconstruct the totality of human nature. By smashing through a brittle surface of rationality and genteel beauty, they hoped to recover the vitality that lay in instinctual motivation, a fluidity of perception, and a turbulent subjectivity.” (Watts 103) • Disney’s “sentimental modernism”—blend of real and unreal, naturalism and fantasy, manipulation of each to illuminate the other; nonlinear, irrational, quasi-abstract modernist explorations by utilizing tropes from Victorian past—“an exaggerated sentimentality, clearly defined moralism, disarming cuteness” (104).

  3. Changing Faces • “El Groupo”—Disney on “goodwill tour” of South America, fear of Nazi influence, solidification of ties between US and South America, popularity of characters • Saludos Amigos (1943) as result, followed by Three Caballeros • “good neighborliness” (247) but rather than evidencing multiculturalism, a form of cultural parochialism, versions of Goofy, Donald Duck, all familiar characters just dressed differently • Transition from sentimental modernism: surrealism • Three Caballeros presenting a “world that was falling apart” (243). • Late 1940s, critics turned against Disney • Emergence of Donald Duck as key character, change in Disney themes • Voice—Clarence “Ducky” Nash (253) • Appearance in popular culture—as Whistler’s mother, Leonardo’s madonna, Titian’s Adonis, Rembrandt’s Noble Salve (255) • Like PhilharMagic, Donald taking over stories

  4. Disney’s World?

  5. Surreal Donald

  6. Changing Faces • “Donald’s character also symbolized a more complex, post-Depression era, in which economic recovery was still fragile and global pressures more mounting. His bombastic confidence masked a kind of insecurity as he desperately lashed out at impediments to his happiness” (256). • “age of adjustment psychology” when “individuals traumatized by the Great Depression increasingly perceived success in terms of finding an acceptable social role and fitting into society” (257). • Self Control (1938): Smiling Uncle Smiley with radio advice show • Cured Duck (1945): course on psychological techniques • Modern Inventions (1937): rage against the machine—robot butler, mechanical barber chair • Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)—assembly line; authoritarianism versus liberation • Donald Duck’s popularity “rooted in the regenerative climate of the post-Depression United States” and also “subtly reflected a gradual rethinking of America’s global situation” (258). • Mickey Mouse unable to “survive in this hostile environment” (258)

  7. Museum of Modern Marvels Modern Inventions (1937) The Riveters (1940)

  8. Donald and Psychoanalysis Self Control (1938) Donald’s Better Self (1938) Cured Duck (1945)

  9. Nutzi Land?: Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)

  10. Disney’s politics • “libertarian populism”—”autonomy of ordinary citizens in the face of overweaning authority” (288) • “live-action history films”—American frontier, Wild West, American Revolution, Civil War • Response to Cold War—“respect for the past had begun to emerge as a crucial article of faith in the anti-Communist creed” (289) • Robin Hood figure—The Story of Robin Hood (1952); The Swamp Fox on ABC’s Walt Disney Presents (October 1959-1961); Zorro (October 1957-July 1959); The Sign of Zorro (1960) • New politics? • http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/business/media/05mickey.html?_r=2&hp • Liberal conservative? • Disney and the FBI; George Washington Award from the Freedom Foundation in 1963; Nobel Peace Prize discussions • Domination in television, new media, integration as dedifferentiation • Television: park; television as park

  11. Hiaasen’s politics • http://www.carlhiaasen.com/bio.html • “It’s not surprising that one company was able to change the face of Forty-second Street, because the same company changed the face of an entire state, Florida, where I live” (4). • “The absolute worst thing Disney did was to change how people in Florida thought about money . . . Everyone in Mickey’s orb had to drastically recalibrate the concepts of growth, prosperity, and what was possible. Suddenly there were no limits” (4). • “The message, never stated but avuncularly implied, is that America’s values ought to reflect those of the Walt Disney Company and not the other way around” (9). • “Enough Orlandos, already” (26) • Power of Disney to make reality • http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/16/us/new-disney-kingdom-comes-with-real-life-obstacles.html?pagewanted=all

  12. Michael Eisner—is that you?

  13. From JungleLand to Disney

  14. Rewriting • Disney Magic: “Would your first choice of a rescue vessel be a lifeboat whose design was inspired by a 1928 cartoon?” (46). • Gorda Cay: Castaway Cay • Rewriting story with conquistadors, shipwrecked pirates (48) • 1980s Country Walk, Arvida Corp.; Hurricane Andrew • 1986, Nicholas Daniloff, correspondent for U.S. News and World Report • “Disney Imagineers have created tropical forests and jungles, streams and waterfalls, and savannas and rocky ridges—fascinating lands filled with natural beauty, where animals and visitors will participate in the unrehearsed drams of life in the wild” (73). • “What Team Rodent has ‘recreated’ in Orlando—from an African savannah to an Atlantic reef, from a Mexican pyramid to a Chinese temple—has been engineered to fit the popular image and to hold that charm for tourist cameras. Under the Eisner reign, nothing in the real world cannot be copied and refined in the name of entertainment, and no place is safe” (79). • Idea of “real Florida”