Air Date 5/8/2021
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [00:00:00] Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we shall learn about the culture that Disney has helped create and how they did it using cuteness as a weapon to push ideas from racist stereotypes and segregation to the more recent masterful use of hollow nods towards progressivism while reinforcing the ethics of individualism in order to give systemic injustice a pass. Clips today are from Propaganda, Still Processing, Lindsay Ellis, American Hysteria, Wisecrack, it's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders and Cracked.
The Racial Politics of Disney Animals Part 1 - Popaganda from @BitchMedia - Air Date 8-28-15
SARAH MIRK - HOST, POPAGANDA: [00:00:40] These days, Disney is one of the most influential media companies in the world. It's hard to believe that Disney almost went bankrupt right after it got started. In 1940, the studio had sunk $2.3 million into making epic musical work Fantasia. The movie was a financial loss and Disney had exceeded its loan limits. So the studio turned to a simple story of a flying elephant to make some money. Dumbo was born.
In the film, Dumbo was befriended by a group of crows. Maybe you saw Dumbo as a kid and didn't think too much about it. But listen again to that crow song.
EXCERPT FROM DUMBO: [00:01:31] Did you ever see an elephant fly?
Well, I seen a horsefly! I seen a dragonfly! I seen a housefly.
I seen all that too.
I seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band. I seen a needle that winked its eye. But I be done seen about everything, when I seen a elephant fly!
What you say, boy?
SARAH MIRK - HOST, POPAGANDA: [00:01:58] These crows are clearly standing in for black people. They're way of speaking, their clothes, even their name are racial stereotypes. The main bird's name is Jim Crow, in reference to America's racial segregation laws. Some of the crows are voiced by black actors, but Jim Crow himself was portrayed by Cliff Edwards, a white actor and ukulele player, better known for voicing Jimminy Cricket.
CLIFF EDWARDS: [00:02:23] [singing] When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.
SARAH MIRK - HOST, POPAGANDA: [00:02:32] Many people have examined the racial politics of Disney animals over the years. The documentary film Mickey Mouse Monopoly explores this issue along with other critical perspectives on Disney. Here's a clip from the documentary, which starts with a scene from Tarzan and includes quotes from two media scholars and two small children.
DOCUMENTARY SPEAKER #1: [00:02:52] Ahhhhhhhh [Tarzan yell] Kids in Africa see it. They see a white man in Africa who's superior, swinging from trees and there they see no Africans. And they see gorillas as being the ones they relate to. Is it promoting white supremacy?
DOCUMENTARY CHILD #1: [00:03:12] I never seen any black people in this nice movie?
DOCUMENTARY CHILD #2: [00:03:16] I can't think of any Disney movies that have black people that are good.
DOCUMENTARY SPEAKER #2: [00:03:23] Disney has very few Asian or Asian American characters in their children's films. And that's probably why the Siamese cat really stand out for me. The question is, what type of stories get invented, circulated, perpetuated in the public imagination, and why?
SARAH MIRK - HOST, POPAGANDA: [00:03:44] Scholar, writer and activist Walidah Imarisha is someone who's been thinking hard about what story Disney tells and why. She teaches a class on race and Disney films at Portland State University. Her class does a deep read on Disney, looking at the role that animated animals play in defining perceptions of race, class, and gender. You heard Walidah if you listen to our episode on feminism and Sci-Fi where she spoke up for the rights of droids in Star Wars. I'm happy to welcome Walidah back to our show. It's always such a thrill to have her on.
What are the requirements of your class on race and Disney films is for students to write a personal essay about their history with Disney films. So something you could tell us about your history with Disney. Did you watch a lot of Disney as a kid? And when did you start thinking critically about the way Disney uses animals, with an eye on race specifically?
WALIDAH IMARISHA: [00:04:36] Sure. I think it's really important for us to acknowledge the kind of ways that Disney has influenced all of us. And I think that, I feel like people either love Disney, or love to hate Disney, and oftentimes are kind of thinking about it in a holistic way.
And so I think for students coming into the class, it's really hard to critique Disney, right? Because Disney has been part of the vast majority of our lives, since before we could remember a time without Disney. And I think it's really important to recognize that's actually part of Disney's marketing plan. And their goal is to get folks when they're babies, which is why they market products to babies, to get folks before they know that there's such a thing as a world without Disney. And and to inculcate themselves in this magical realm and this idea of nostalgia so that they actually don't fall within the realm of critique. Pretty much every term I'm accused of ruining people's childhoods. And so my goal is to try and find a way to acknowledge that emotional connection while still saying -- and that actually means we have to critique it even more, not less.
SARAH MIRK - HOST, POPAGANDA: [00:05:49] That's funny you point out that I personally can't remember a time before I knew about Disney. It's just always a part of your culture and always a part of your life. It's Disney is such a cultural touchstone for our pop culture. It's where it all begins.
WALIDAH IMARISHA: [00:06:04] Yeah, absolutely. I think that can't be overstated and, again, that that is a concerted effort by the Disney corporation to do that. And and to infuse itself into every part of American culture.
The other thing about Disney is that Disney works so hard so people won't think about it as a corporation. And it's been incredibly successful at that. And many of my students have an incredible hard time thinking of Disney as a corporation. And I'll say, okay, what is the definition of a corporation? And we'll go through it. What is the point of a corporation? To make money for its shareholders. Students are very clear about that. I'm like, what is the point of the Disney Corporation? To make people happy? Because Disney has done a phenomenal job of marketing itself in a global context.
40 Acres and a Movie - Still Processing - Air Date 4-8-21
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:06:52] There is something inherently appealing about the moral imperative of these movies, right? This fight against evil. You’ve got Steve Rogers who continues to be this voice of reason about the dangers of fascism, the dangers of dictatorship, the dangers of governments having too much power, right? Because the government in these movies is constantly trying to apprehend and control and wrangle and have access to all this intergalactic wizardry, I guess, for lack of a better word.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:07:20] Steve Rogers being Captain America, of course.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:07:22] Yes, Steve Rogers, Captain America. And like I said, I do think that it was really reassuring. I mean, there’s these moments in “Endgame,” I mean, I’m embarrassed to say, but I was getting kind of choked up. You know, in the scene in “Endgame” when everybody’s assembling and everybody’s there. Everybody’s putting down their differences. And they’re like, we have to defeat Thanos because humanity. And it’s not even just humanity, it’s like the —
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:07:48] the galaxy.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:07:49] Yes, the galaxy.
ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: [00:07:50] Archived Recording [Black Panther]
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:07:55] there was something about watching that scene in late February and feeling a lot of despair and a lot of desolation. I mean, there’s still horrible things happening in this country. And then turning on this movie and watching hundreds, dozens, millions of species, intergalactic beings come together, uniting against one shared cause, I mean, it made your girl emotional. And it’s cheesy and it’s corny, but it really meant something to me.
But then, that moment passed. The sun came out in New York. We also had daylight savings time, which I also like to call “depression switch time,” OK?
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:08:38] Wow.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:08:38] My mood improved. I felt a little more invigorated. And I started watching these movies with a much more careful eye. And I was like, hold on a second. You mean to tell me they’ve been making these movies for over a decade, OK? 12 years, and you have still not managed to decenter the whiteness of this universe? The series is called Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is not called Marvel Cinematic White People. It is literally called the universe.
And so in this epic portrayal of the universe, you mean to tell me all the main characters are white? So, I had to open my eyes a little bit wider, you know? I was really letting myself tune out. I was gorging on these movies. And I was allowing myself to overlook the problems within them. And it just teleported me back to my childhood, which was full of all the iconic Disney cartoons. And I was just struck by this really disturbing thought that the entertainment obsessions of my adulthood were going to resemble my childhood —
— in that everything was mildly problematic. And I was just willing to overlook it for the sake of being entertained.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:09:54] I mean, you have zeroed in on some of the Disney problem, right, which is basically that that company owns a huge piece of every living person’s childhood. And it’s not just Disney — the Disney that we all know in this sort of generic Mickey Mouse sort of way. It’s all of the live action Disney movies, obviously, and Pixar. They own ESPN, ABC.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:26] What?
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:27] And they also own Lucasfilm, which means they own “Star
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:34] Wow.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:36] They have a whole galaxy.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:36] It’s bonkers, everything.S
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:38] Oh, I’m not done.
Wait one second. Disney now has Marvel. It also bought Fox.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:46] What? When did that happen?
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:10:49] It bought 20th Century Fox a couple of years ago. And they need new childhoods, basically. My mom is no longer a child. But when she was a child, my mother loved Mickey and Minnie. And this company and its movies made such a huge impression on her, mostly I think not through the movies, but through the Mickey Mouse Club.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:11:12] Uh-huh,
I remember this.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:11:14] And my mother had a terrible childhood. And this was the thing that made it pleasurable to her.
they built an empire, basically, off of these memories, this company — off this good feeling.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:11:28] I know. And I know a lot of these soundtracks by heart. And I did spend a ton of time in my youth and adolescence watching Disney movies. I mean, in the very beginning of the epidemic, I had this moment when my girlfriend and I thought it’d be cute to watch “The Little Mermaid.” And it felt really harmless. It felt like a good rabbit hole to go down. And I remembered I was kind of scaring myself with how much I remember of the dialogue and I remember all the songs. But then rewatching it with adult eyes, you start to see all these new details. I mean, Sebastian — I mean, that song “Under the Sea” slaps, but he is Jamaican inexplicably. He’s just Jamaican.
ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: [00:12:17] Why, if Ariel was my daughter, I’d show her who was boss.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:12:20] And he’s cantankerous. He’s kind of lazy. He doesn’t want to do his job. And then when Ariel actually gets to the place where Prince Eric lives, it’s an island. My guess is in the middle of the Caribbean. Eric’s American. Everyone that works in the island is British. So clearly, there’s some kind of colony situation going on. Then you fast forward to the middle of the movie. There’s this wedding. I had to slow it down because I noticed this row of all these white guests, and then behind them, a row of Black servants.
And I’m like, hell, no, this movie is racist. And it’s not the kind of racist where they’re like, Sebastian, you’re an n-word. No, it’s like, we’re just going to set within this colonialistic framework that is just inherently racist to take as normalcy. All these movies have these hideous elements to them. I mean, I was thinking a lot about when I was a little kid, and I was babysitting for my cousins. And they loved “Lady and the Tramp.” And guess what song they loved the most? [GONG] The song featuring the Siamese cats.
ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: [00:13:31] Archived Recording
[SINGING] We are Siamese if you
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:13:32] please.
Which uses all these Orientalist tropes that just kind of further dehumanize people of color and make them seem less human. I mean, they’re literally less human, but it’s not enough for them to be animals. They have to make them racist animal stereotypes to kind of further denigrate and allow Asian people to be the butt of the joke in that movie, which is one of the reasons we are where we are today. But I just, it’s really unsettling to think about how woven into the feel-good infrastructure all of these tropes and stereotypes have been over the years.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:14:06] Oh, yeah,
I mean you can start with “The Little Mermaid.” But then you go all the way back to the early Mickey Mouse movies. I’m thinking specifically of “Steamboat Willie” and “Trader Mickey.” First of all, what was Mickey
trading? Right. That’s my first question.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:14:27] Oh my God.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:14:29] The way Trader Mickey works is Mickey and his dog show up on this island, and it is populated by Black savages, who just look like the worst minstrel poster caricatures. This is the basis upon which this giant company built its empire.
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:14:48] I’m so depressed. That’s horrible.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:14:50] Things like this recur throughout the animated movies, right?
So Disney is acknowledging this. One of the ways they’ve acknowledged it is to never be able to see “Song of the South” — Disney’s most racist movie. And it never got a home video release. And you can’t find it on Disney Plus. But the movies you can find on Disney Plus that do have some problems, like “Dumbo” and “Lady and the Tramp” and “The Aristocats” — “
The Aristocats,” Jenna!
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:15:20] Mm-hmm. I mean, it’s everywhere, honestly.
WESLEY MORRIS - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:15:22] Those movies now come with the warning label that includes such lines as, “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then, and they’re wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” So, obviously, Disney knows it’s got all these movies in its past. What can it do to atone in the present for mistakes that people who currently work there weren’t necessarily responsible for in the first place?
JENNA WORTHMAN - HOST, STILL PROCESSING: [00:16:03] Yeah, and also, I mean, it’s worth noting that for all the movies that Disney put this label on, right, and outright removed, “The Little Mermaid” is not part of it. And again, it’s like we make these decisions based on blatant racism and not so blatant racism. But it’s worth interrogating how all of these movies reinforce the ideas that are so harmful in the formation of this country. And that’s the part that I think really sits with me, which is, they’ve decided, yes, absolutely, this is super inappropriate in the following eight movies. But the rest of the movies, they seem fine. And no one has a problem with it.
The Racial Politics of Disney Animals Part 2 - Popaganda from @BitchMedia - Air Date 8-28-15
SARAH MIRK - HOST, POPAGANDA: [00:16:39] One of the first films you discuss in your class is the 1967 animated film, The Jungle Book. And this of course is a film that's all about animals. It has Ballou, there's the bear. There's Bagheera the panther, there's Shere Khan, who's a tiger, who's the villain. Can you talk about how you use The Jungle Book to discuss race with your students?
WALIDAH IMARISHA: [00:17:00] Absolutely. I think that The Jungle Book is an incredibly important film because it shows the Disney ideology in many ways the clearest, right? Walt Disney had a very clear framework about how the world should be, right. And he was very clear and upfront about that. Walt Disney had an incredibly conservative framework. He felt that women should be in the home. He felt that there shouldn't be queer and trans folks in the world. He felt that folks of color should keep to their menial places. He was very clear on this sort of immense conservative worldview. And that worldview is infused in all of these Disney films.
And I think you can see it in some ways most clearly in The Jungle Book, right? The Jungle Book is actually the last film that Walt Disney worked on personally, before he passed away 1966. And there are great scholars who really look at it, one of them being Greg Metcalf, who has an article really saying that in many ways, The Jungle Book is a complete repudiation by Disney of all of these changing times, right? The 1960s, what's happening in the 1960s in this country? Well, everything. We have the women's rights movement, women liberation movement. We have the, beginnings of gay liberation movements. We obviously have third world, black, latino, asian, indigenous liberation movements happening here and globally, right?
And that The Jungle Book is actually a complete repudiation of all of that. And if you go through what comes out so clearly when you watch The Jungle Book is there is a natural order of things. Things have a natural order. Everyone has their place in a hierarchy, and it is once you step out of that place, that everything falls apart and things can not come back together and society can't function unless everyone is in their proper place.
And we see that with, especially with the differences between the original book by Kipling and the changes that Disney makes to it, right. To emphasize this. In the book, there's a reason that Mowgli can't go to the village for a while. But at the end of the film, Shere Khan has gone, Mowgli tied that stick to his, burning stick to his tail. He's gone. Seemingly we've won. There's no more danger. Why can't Mowgli stay in the jungle? So that's not the natural order things. And they reinforce this again and again.
SARAH MIRK - HOST, POPAGANDA: [00:19:22] So let's talk about another film you talk about in your class, which is The Lion King. And this film is one of the more recent ones. Maybe you were talking about watching as an adult. It came out in 1994. Does the message remain the same over those 30 years that people should stay in their place, defend the status quo? Or do you see a radical difference between the way The Lion King deals with these issues versus The Jungle Book?
WALIDAH IMARISHA: [00:19:45] Yeah, I think that's a great question. And I think that the idea with Disney -- and there's actually an article called this is " The more things change, the more they stay the same" -- that one of the things that makes Disney incredibly a brilliant corporation is that it takes the critiques that are being given to it, and it seemingly incorporates those critiques while keeping the same underlying ideology. The Little Mermaid actually was a response to a feminist critique of saying these old Disney princess films, it was Cinderella and Snow White and, dear God, Sleeping Beauty who spends the vast majority of the film either singing, cleaning, or sleeping. These are not appropriate images for young girls to have anymore. So then they gave you The Little Mermaid, right? Who's this strong, empowered, independent, adventurous, young woman, until she sees a man. And then she's willing to give up everything for him. So the more things change, the more they stay the same.
And we absolutely see this in The Lion King. Because so again, we have the lion being coded as the top of the hierarchy, the ruling monarchy. And so being coded as white. And we have the hyenas who are voiced by two people of color. And really the main two people of color voices that we hear in that, we see that the hyena has been coded as people of color. And they are ghettoized, they're given the badlands. They're given the lands where the light doesn't touch, where nothing grows. And they are starving to death. And, there's this very clear analogy to folks who are in inner city, overexploited, under-resourced communities. And when the hyenas leave their segregated community, and try and take over with supporting Scar's leadership, that's when everything is destroyed, right? The land itself rebels against this unnatural order of things, the land, the water dries up. There's no food to eat. Like the land itself becomes desolate. The sun goes away, it's just dark and there's nothing to eat and everything's terrible, because we did not keep to the natural order of things. And it is only when that hierarchy and that segregation is re-instituted that we see the sun immediately comes out,the water begins to flow, the animals are happy and everything is back the way it should be.
And I think the one other thing about The Lion King that's so important is that this film that, as you said, came out in 1994, this is the era of the end of a legal apartheid in South Africa, that Nelson Mandela came home, that we're seeing the dismantling of the legal apartheid system that people had fought against so hard. Which was one of the most brutal forms of segregation the world has ever seen, and let's be clear, modeled on American segregation.
And so it is at this time when this country that the whole world has been looking at is dismantling legal segregation, that Disney puts out a film whose whole message is, if you don't segregate people to their proper place, then everything will be destroyed.
Woke Disney - Lindsay Ellis - Air Date 9-30-21
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:23:15] The plot of the original Dumbo comprises basically the first act of the 2019 remake, and from there it goes into what appears to be a winking meta critique of Disney itself.
V. A. VANDERVERE, DUMBO (2019): [00:23:25] Join me in my family. Let me take us all into the future. Let me take us all... to Dreamland.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:23:34] With really obvious and heavy handed references to Disneyland and its theme park owned by Michael Keaton's villain, Vandevere, himself a weird mixture of P.T. Barnum, Walt Disney, and Vanderbilt, there are blatant nods to actual attractions like the Astro Orbiter and the Carousel of Progress and just park aesthetic in general. There's a Wonder of Science attraction that, well...
MILLY FARRIER, DUMBO (2019): [00:23:57] Dad, Wonders of Science.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:24:00] Don't worry honey, it's bought by Exxon Mobile.
Also within this is a weird half-ass critique of the over use of the word "dream" and the need to feel like a child again.
V. A. VANDERVERE, DUMBO (2019): [00:24:09] You've made me a child again.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:24:10] I'm still parsing out what the intention of this weird take on Disney's own past and corporate culture is meant to say, besides a weird, well, you can't hate their corporate monopoly if they make fun of themselves. Self-awareness is relatable. It feels like commentary, but it's commentary that does not say anything. Vandevere's park looks like Disneyland, but beyond that, it seems to be an indictment of P.T. Barnum more than anything, especially since the film ends with Dumbo going back to the jungle and woke circus getting rid of all of their animal acts.
Mary Poppins Returns also has a curious relationship to wealth and power. Jane has grown up to be a union organizer.
JANE BANKS, MARY POPPINS RETURNS: [00:24:47] No, it's the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Underpaid Citizens of England.
GOODING, MARY POPPINS RETURNS: [00:24:52] A labor organizer.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:24:54] Which considering Walt's relationship to unions itself is kind of hilarious. But she is mostly portrayed as kind of a ditz and the ending relies on her asking the lamplighters for unpaid labor, not for the benefit of any kind of, you know, labor union, but to help her save per house, that she owns. Jane's advocacy doesn't really do anything for organized labor. If anything, it's just more, you know, just ripping off the original, "you know, well, her mom was a suffragette, so Jane's a pinko, I guess." but the main plot surrounds the Banks' and also the bank, which wants to repossess the Banks' house. In the original the bank is portrayed as something of a neutral evil, heartless and bottom-line obsessed. Something that Mr. Banks overvalues at the expense of his family. Meanwhile in sequel land, the main villain is a rogue Colin Firth, the bad rich man.
WILKINS, MARY POPPINS RETURNS: [00:25:45] In two days Banks will be out on that street and the house we'll be ours.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:25:50] The Banks family is on the cusp of losing their house because Michael is bad at money and Jane is a communist. A home they love so much they've tied their identity to it in much the same way that Mr. Banks did his job in the original. Towards the end, it looks like they're going to lose their house unless they do the thing by the stroke of midnight, but don't worry, the one bad man is removed. They are able to keep their house because the bank itself is good and moral and is on the side of the middle-class and thus...
MR. DAWES, JR, MARY POPPINS RETURNS: [00:26:16] The house is yours.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:26:19] The Banks' identity and happiness can continue to be tied to their position of material things. And I find that interesting because in the original Mr. Banks Left go of the thing that he had erroneously attached to his own value and sense of identity, but in the remake, don't worry, they never have to have that moment of self reevaluation because they never lose the thing they were worried about losing because good capitalist is here to save the day. And he's played by Dick van Dyke! Dick van Dyke is over here like, "Oh, the bank would never intentionally hurt their trusting customers."
WILKINS, MARY POPPINS RETURNS: [00:26:55] I've nearly doubled the profits of this bank.
MR. DAWES, JR, MARY POPPINS RETURNS: [00:26:57] Yes, by wringing it out of the customers' pockets.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:27:00] A large business always has the best intentions. Big corporations aren't bad, but the rare nefarious individual, that is the bad one. It is not the system that is bad, but a few bad apples. If anything, the transition from old Disney to new Disney is a transition from monarchy is good to capitalism is good. There's always a good King or a good bank or a good businessman, and these conclusions while they pay lip service to progressive ideals, ultimately conclude that nothing of the status quo need be challenged, not really, which feels pretty convenient when the company producing these things own more and more of the media that we consume every day.
DAVID FABER, CNBC: [00:27:36] But now Disney will have full control of Hulu, uh, will control its customer management, its technology, it's data sharing.
LINDSAY ELLIS: [00:27:44] This is not to say that empowering women to be leaders, or a family keeping their house, or cruelty-free circuses are a bad thing, but if that's all you got then that's not progress, that's just marketing.
Disneyfication of American History - American Hysteria - Air Date 1-25-21
CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: [00:27:55] In Disney's America, the train would take people to a number of stops through the national landscape and history. And as you might imagine, things get, well, you'll see. In the theme park, a kid could fast forward 25 years and visit a Civil War fort, and with the " wizardry of Disney's Circle Vision 360 technology" even experience actual combat with authentic reenactments. Then they can head over to President's Square and honor the fight for independence and the founding fathers messages. They can take in the Industrial Revolution through the factory town of Enterprise, and even embark on a "High-speed adventure through a turn of the century mill culminating in a narrow escape from its fiery vat of molten steel." [said under host's breath] I want to go on that!
You could visit a faux Ellis Island and learn all about early immigration and its effects on national culture, using the Muppets for some reason. At victory field, kids and adults alike can celebrate aviation and the heroes of World War II, where "Guests may parachute from a plane or operate tanks and weapons in combat and experienced firsthand what America's soldiers have faced in defense of freedom." There is the state fair section with classic roller coasters and Ferris wheels with a vast background of rolling cornfields. And there's even an old fashion baseball field where all can relive the early days of America's favorite pastime. Hop over them to the family farm, which "pays homage to the working farm -- the heart of early American families." Visitors see how crops are harvested, learn how to make homemade ice cream or milk a cow, and even participate in a nearby country wedding, barn dance, buffet, and all.
But this sprawling Americana included some other sections that raised some serious eyebrows. Native America depicted tribal life before and during colonization: "Guests may visit an Indian village representing Eastern tribes or join in a harrowing Lewis and Clark raft expedition through pounding rapids and churning whirlpools." But here's where the controversy really got cooking. In regards to the Civil War section Disney Imagineer and park designer, Bob Weiss made the mistake of announcing that "We want to make you feel what it was like to be a slave or what it was like to escape through the underground railroad." As you might imagine, the pushback was swift and damning, with environmentalists working against the 180 acre endeavor outside of DC, and with academic historians launching a group called Project Historic America. One of the group members, historian, David McCullough said Disney's America "Would be an appalling commercialization and vulgarization of the scene of our most tragic history, and I would deplore it."
An article that ran in The Nation rebuked Disney's poor history on American truth, calling it "Mickey Mouse history". Disney's CEO at the time, Michael Eisner thought the park could bring emotional stories of the past alive for the kids of today, and he didn't think the criticism was fair. "I sat through many history classes where I read some of their stuff and I didn't learn anything, it was pretty boring." Eisner would defend the park by telling reporters that they had spent a hundred thousand dollars on historical advisors trying to get the stories right. But regardless, the growing Project Historic america, which would eventually include famous documentarian, Ken Burns, took out a full page ad in the New York Times with a title "The man who would destroy American history."
The pushback had seriously surprised Eisner who would say years later, "I expected to be taken around on people's shoulders." He has since expressed regret over some of these comments. David McCullough, who was then the president of the society of American Historians, said of the project "we have so little Left that is authentic, that is real, and to replace it with plastic history is a sacrilege." Eisner's response: "the first amendment gives you the right to be plastic." A couple months later, 3000 people would reportedly March on Washington chanting things like, "Hey hey, ho ho, Disney has got to go", with one sign reading "Mickey didn't free the slaves. Learn the truth."
Clearly this was a pretty bonkers idea. One that 1990s culture, and certainly our current culture would not have accepted, but Disney heads, Michael Eisner and Bob Weiss did have some interesting intentions that are worth mentioning. Eisner was quoted as saying of the slavery representations, "We are going to be sensitive, but we will not be showing the absolute propaganda of the country. We will show the Civil War with all its racial conflict." Weiss said, "We are going to deal with real issues and the diverse population of this country as it was defined through struggles. So you'll see some pretty rough issues dealt with in this park, as well as a lot of fun things you would expect to be a part of one of our parks. You will not see Mickey mouse walking around in the Civil War reenactments because he doesn't belong there." And Eisner promised to honor "the gritty reality." But of course, as the parks general manager said, "we don't want people to come out with a dour face. It is going to be fun with a capital F."
Over the last few years, there's been a loud and powerful movement to no longer Disney-fy our history by ignoring the brutality that's marked this nation forever. To no longer Disney-fy our present, to actually see what the structural inequalities are doing to our most vulnerable children and adults. And to no longer Disney-fy our future into a simple technological utopia, and instead see clearly the potential for catastrophes we haven't been trying hard enough to prevent. As pushback, there's now an equally loud movement to honor a far more plastic, patriotic past, present, and future. Those who want to keep it cute no matter what, and a lot of people do.
How Disney Ruined Culture - Wisecrack - Air Date 11-9-20
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [00:35:07] Disney's reign of cuteness was not a happy accident or mere coincidence. Walt was basically ruthless in his quest to make all things adorable. And in the process, Disney has spent the last 100 years acquiring stories, adapting them and ultimately twisting their original artistic intentions beyond recognition. All of which is to say is all this cuteness actually super uncute?
But to see the Disney method in action, let's dissect an early example: Pinocchio. For the uninitiated, this story revolves around the titular puppet who just wants to be a real boy. As the magical blue fairy tells him, his wish will be granted if he proves to be brave, truthful and unselfish.
Magical blue fairy from "Pinocchio": [00:35:44] And someday you will be a real boy.
Pinocchio: [00:35:47] A real boy!
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [00:35:48] But Pinocchio's not about that life. He runs away from home, joins a puppet show and lies to the blue fairy about it which famously leads to this. [dramatic music accompanying unknown video clip]
The fairy lets him off the hook, but Pinocchio doesn't stay out of trouble for long. He's soon whisked away on an all-expense trip to the dubiously named pleasure Island. There Pinocchio and his resort buddies engage in all sorts of vices: from drinking to smoking, to gambling, only to find out that they're turning into donkeys. But with the help of his cricket companion, Pinocchio narrowly escapes only to learn that his daddy got lost at sea looking for him.
Jiminy Cricket, from "Pinocchio": [00:36:22] It says here he he went looking for you and he was swallowed by a whale.
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [00:36:26] Pinocchio, then sacrifices his little wooden life to save the old man from the literal belly of the whale. But lo and behold, now that Pinocchio is good, he's brought back to life by the blue fairy but this time as a real boy, and everyone lives happily ever after. If only life was that easy.
But what if I told you that the author of Pinocchio Carlo Collodi never intended for his story to give children that warm, fuzzy feeling. And that once Disney had bought the rights to the story, the company whitewashed Pinocchio to fit the big mouse's cutesy aesthetic. If you have any doubt, then I present to you the original ending of Collodi's Pinocchio.
"Without loss of time, they tied his arms, passed a running noose round his throat and hung into the branch of a tree called the big oak. A tempestuous northerly wind began to blow and roar angrily, and it beat the puppet from side to side, making him swing violently like the clatter of a bell ringing for a wedding. And the swinging gave him atrocious spasms. [Really bad!] His breath failed him, and he could say no more. Shut his eyes, opened his mouth, stretched his legs and gave a long shudder and hung stiff and insensible."
You heard right! Collodi had Pinocchio gruesomely hanged. This inspired so much angry fan mail that his editor demanded that he bring the puppet back to life and continue the series which he begrudgingly did.
In Collodi's defense though, Pinocchio being hanged was pretty much par for the course. It's hard to see in Disney's version, but Pinocchio was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek albeit bleak morality tale. The simple moral? Be good or suffer. Throughout the story, we see a mean-spirited and rude Pinocchio, a stand-in for all misbehaving children: robbed, starved, stabbed, and also his legs get sawed off, but we're not supposed to feel especially sorry for him; his actions cause all of his suffering. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, Collodi also heaped on the psychological abuse, making Pinocchio at one point think he had killed Gepetto and the blue fairy which I didn't even know was possible.
And while you and I, growing up in the media diet full of high saturated Disney cuteness might find the story repulsive, it's pretty run of the mill if you're familiar with old German folklore. More recently, we've seen similarly gothic tones in children's books like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Now let's be fair. Maybe you don't want your kid's bedtime story ending in gruesome death. But there's still something unsettling about the way a media giant like Disney can take a beloved fairy tale, purge it of its original intentions and thus rewrite the narrative in our collective memories. Instead of staying faithful to Collodi's artistic intention, Disney did what it would continue to do for decades: buy a story, bleach it in a caustic vat of cuteness and pump it out in exchange for cold, hard cash. Gone were the dark, satiric overtones, and in their place were syrupy lines like this:
Jiminy Cricket, from "Pinocchio": [00:39:24] Thank you, milady. He deserved to be a real boy.
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [00:39:27] As for Pinocchio himself, he went from being a total frat bro to the naive piece of pine we know and love today. In the process, his character design underwent similar changes. With Walt Disney scrapping the angular designs found in Collodi's story for a character model that can best be described as what would happen if Mickey Mouse had a baby with a tree.
Obviously Collodi's estate was pissed, with his grandson suing Disney's Italian distributor for infringing on the moral copyright of the story. Now, I know what you're thinking. It's an adaptation. Artists are allowed to adapt. And sure, they are. Plenty of great art exists because someone took an existing story and made it their own, sometimes undercutting the original, like Pride and Prejudice, but add zombies. More seriously, something like There Will Be Blood took the first few pages of Upton Sinclair's equally awesome book Oil and basically threw away everything else. But nobody would accuse Paul Thomas Andersen of whitewashing Oil, and I don't think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has somehow cheapened the Jane Austin novel. Maybe part of the difference lies in formula and scale. PTA hasn't created a billion dollar industry by stripping stories of their content and replacing them with a deranged Daniel Day-Louis. Disney, on the other hand, regularly takes stories like Pinocchio or Sleeping Beauty or hell! The Hunchback of Notre Dame and throws them into the commercial meat grinder. Worse, they've been doing this pretty consistently for the past hundred years. Seriously, if you were to put all the Disney films on a spinning wheel, whatever you land on would likely be an adaptation in which the original story has been blanched, artistically ground down and pumped out as a cute little Disney sausage.
Actually, why don't we just spin that wheel and find out? Ah, yes. The 1989 classic The Little Mermaid, a timeless story in which a young mermaid makes a Faustian bargain with a sea witch to gain legs so she can win the hand of a hunky prince. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the same name, Disney's retelling strips the story of a lot of its darker and more religious overtones. In the big mouses version, we 're treated to a love story that ends with they happily-ever-after. The prince ultimately realizes that he really digs this mermaid. The mermaid frees herself from the sea witch's curse. The Prince harpoons said sea witch, and all is basically right with the world. The message? True love saves all. But the source material isn't nearly as happy or uplifting. That's because Andersen flatly rejected this message. First of all, his story portrays love primarily as suffering. For example, Andersen's mermaid doesn't just give away her voice in exchange for legs, but also endures the pain of being stabbed every time she takes a step. Nevertheless, she delights in dancing for the prince and making him happy. What's more, in Andersen's telling, the prince never returned the mermaid's affection. Instead, he marries a local princess. So, yeah. Rough deal, but there's a reason for this. Andersen wanted the mermaid to be saved, not by love, but by sacrifice. At the start of this story, the mermaid despairs not just because she's half fish but also because she doesn't have a soul and won't be able to chill with her prince in heaven. In fact, the whole bargain with the witch revolves around Ariel gaining a soul if she manages to kiss her true love. But as Andersen explained to a friend, he never wanted the mermaid to gain a soul simply because she fell in love with a straight-up hunk. He thought such an ending would be explicitly wrong. In short, Andersen would have despised Disney's ending in which a kiss and a strategic boat crash saves [sic] the day. See, in Andersen's tale, the mermaid saves the day with a Christ-like sacrifice where she gives up her life and love to save the prince. And lo and behold, that she's rewarded for her good deeds and turned into a gentle spirit. If she helps mankind for the next 300 years, she'll be rewarded with a soul. Hooray. Well, according to Andersen, this is the more natural, more divine path though it probably wouldn't have jacked up Disney's 1989 stock prices. And at this point, we could keep rambling off examples. The real Pocahontas is not a story about the freedom to love who[m] you choose. It's about colonists kidnapping a native American woman and murdering her husband. The original Sleeping Beauty is literally about a woman being non-consensually impregnated in her sleep and giving birth to twins, also in her sleep.
Now, we're not going to say Disney should be making more films about assault because that'd be horrible. However, the general Disney meat grinder, which polishes off any rough and unsavory edges, comes with consequences. In the case of Pocahontas, it's a very shitty history lesson that some people might never question. But that's just the first of many ways that Disney's storytelling might actually be a major disservice for developing young minds. That's because most of the stories Disney adapts are fairytales. And while these stories may often be dark and complex and vaguely disturbing, they also offer children a symbolic template for understanding the world.
For example, in a children's cancer clinic, researchers found that patients were able to use fairytales to express and cope with their anxieties. One child, for example, identified with the big, bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood venting his frustration and anger by drawing an oversized wolf with massive teeth. Another child drew a comically tiny wolf as an expression of confidence and bravery in the face of his struggles. Here, we see how the darkness of fairytales can actually offer a light to children confronting adversity.
But Disney often strips these fairytales of their bite, instead inserting a bland, wholesome narrative as we saw with Pinocchio and The Little Mermaid. And ironically in the process, Disney has developed new narratives that are in their own right potentially quite destructive. As psychologist Susan Darker-Smith points out, young girls who identify with characters like Cinderella or Belle from Beauty and the Beast are more likely to end up in abusive relationships as adults. While interviewing victims of domestic abuse, Darker-Smith found that many identified with the heroines of these stories in which love conquers all, believing that if their love is strong enough, they can change their partner's behavior.
Of course, the reality is tragically different. Ironically, by peddling a convenient narrative in which all of the world's problems can be solved by true love, Disney fails to give children any tools for navigating real life problems. And that was the whole point of fairytales; to convey the darker and crueler aspects of life so as to better prepare children for the realities of adulthood. Of course, this all begs the question: should Disney care. According to the legendary and incendiary free-market economist Milton Friedman, definitely not. He argued that companies don't have the same responsibilities that people do. A person might have a responsibility to be a nice neighbor or recycle, while a company's only responsibility is to make more money. And Friedman's definition of corporate responsibility has pretty much become gospel. In other words, Disney will only do what is required to make the most amount of money, regardless of the social consequences. It's the capitalist raison d'etre of companies the world over. And that explains why Disney operates a cuteness factory.
Indeed, when Disney went dark in the 1970s and 80s, it put out a series of grimmer, edgier films like The Black Cauldron that were huge box office failures and nearly brought about the collapse of the great empire of mouse. The Disney renaissance of the 90s was a major course correction back into the sentimental cuteness that has sustained the company ever since.
And it's no wonder. Cuteness, after all, has a very particular way of hijacking our brains. And more importantly, it sells. Studies have shown the cuteness increases our concentration, a useful trick to make sure humans pay close attention to their adorable young or pay more attention to a dysfunctional snowman. Even more telling, when volunteers were hooked up to an MRI machine and bombarded with cute images, their nucleus accumbens, also known as the pleasure center of the brain, lit up and started pumping out dopamine. In other words, when viewers saw Mickey Mouse's adorable body bob up and down on screen a hundred years ago, they were unwittingly receiving the first micro doses of Disney-branded brain candy.
Interestingly enough, the phenomenon of cuteness being used for potentially nefarious purposes has a name. Cultural theorist Joshua Paul Dale calls it "evil cute." And while Dale specifically cites gambling machines that use cute cartoon kittens as an example, it's not hard to argue that Disney's precious animated friends might also qualify. In the end, cuteness is just a means for Disney to pad its bottom line, regardless if its telling stories that are ultimately good for children.
The (Not So) Wonderful World of Disney - It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders - Air Date 2-16-18
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:47:53] I asked Abigail Disney to help unpack the ways that business norms have changed, how corporate leadership in the '80s and '90s underwent this ideological shift. And she told me that so much of it goes back to this op-ed written by the influential economist Milton Friedman. It was written in 1970 and published in The New York Times. The title of this op-ed - "A Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility Of Business Is To Increase Its Profits."
that was the title.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:48:22] Yeah. What's stunning is how quickly - because consider it's only 1987. So only 17 years after that article that you have Gordon Gekko saying greed is good, right? And that's the basis - that's the moral underpinning of the argument, that shareholder primacy, everybody benefits if every business runs as efficiently as possible and makes as much money as possible. And you've got Gordon Gekko saying greed is good and the audience is cheering. I was in New York. I watched it in the theater. And the audience was cheering as though he was the good guy when he was the villain of the piece.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:48:58] You know what's - it's interesting to hear you talk about how this concept of shareholder, you know, primacy came about in the '70s and '80s because what's entirely counter to that and might have existed more before that is the exact opposite, something called stakeholder primacy where you think as much about the customers and the employees and the community as you do the shareholders.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:49:22] Yes, and...
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:49:23] I think we forget that that, like, ever existed.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:49:25] Yeah. And, you know, it comes from an almost absolutist material way of understanding the nature of the world, right? Because if you take out of business everything that is intangible, then you can't come to any other conclusion that - then that shareholders matter and nothing else does. In order to believe that stakeholders matter, that your employees actually have more than just a contractual relationship with you, those ideas are based on intangibles - things like morals, ethics, beliefs and communitarian values. And right now, if you talk at all about mutuality, what you're dismissed as is a socialist, immediately, as though there's nothing in between this pure individualism that we're working with now and Marx. There's no - nothing on the, you know, continuum between those two things.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:50:20] So fast-forward - we began to see shareholder primacy take precedence over stakeholder primacy in the '70s and '80s. The shift for corporations becomes profit, profit, profit. Now we're in 2021. You are campaigning for Disney to address that shift. What specifically are you asking Disney to do?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:50:43] What I want Disney to do is to completely realign its practices, from a corporate standpoint, around the idea that its employees are not interchangeable cogs in a machine. So there's something called the B Corp. Have you ever heard of the B Corp movement?
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:51:00] No, tell me. Tell me.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:51:01] So, you know, it's a relatively small movement of businessmen and -women and people in business schools and people who write about business, who are trying to figure out how to certify and quantify the value of a business when you include all the values that aren't strictly material. So it's more than just what they call ESG, which is socially responsible investing. It's putting all the pieces together - like, where are you on the environment? And are you really addressing discrimination? And how are you treating your employees? And how are you looking after the long-term interests of the community with your work? And is your product damaging to the people you're selling it to? And all those things.
And so people can apply for a B Corp certification. And then there's this neutral third party that goes in and tells you, here are the things you have to change if you want to certify as this social benefit corporation. And I would love to see Disney become tomorrow the biggest B Corp in the world.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:52:00] I want to take a second just to dig into the almost absurdity of some of the numbers that we see floating around Disney right now. Can you give us a sense of some of the numbers that show the scale of that disparity right now at Disney?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:52:13] Yeah. Basically, it's like, 200,000 people are employed by that company. Over 20,000 have been laid off.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:52:19] Wow.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:52:19] So that's a pretty significant bite out of...
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:52:22] One in 10.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:52:22] Yeah, exactly. And of course, you know, overrepresented in that 20,000 will be the people at the bottom of the pay scale, the people who can least accommodate that. The share price is through the roof because, as you know, the stock market is through the roof in spite of the fact that the company is losing money, in spite of the fact that the revenues have been eviscerated because the...
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:52:42] Well, they're not putting movies in theaters.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:52:44] Exactly.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:52:44] Of course, they're losing money - a lot of money, yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:52:45] So it shows you where shareholder primacy takes you, and it reinforces the idea that your share price can be totally unrelated to the well-being of the people inside of your company.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:52:56] Have you talked with low-wage Disney employees since the pandemic hit, since the layoffs hit? What are they saying, and how are they doing?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:53:03] Yes, I have. And yeah, they're terrified. They're really terrified because, you know, the folks I've talked to have things like asthma and diabetes and all the preexisting conditions that come with, A, poverty and, B, higher risk for COVID. So there was real fear that they'd be forced to go back to work. And that didn't happen in California because Gavin Newsom sort of pushed back on Disney. But, of course, Ron DeSantis said, you know, come on in to Orlando. And then there's all the uncertainty. But, I mean, I know people who work from 11 o'clock at night till 7 o'clock in the morning, and then they go home, and they get their kids ready for school, and then they clean the house, and then they do the shopping, and then they sleep for two or three hours, have dinner, help the homework and go back to work. I mean, I would love to see any CEO do that one night...
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:53:50] Wow.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:53:50] ...And tell me they shouldn't be paid better.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:53:52] You know, when I think about Disney and this image you're painting of Disney, that is one side of the company. But there is another side of the company that projects really well.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:54:04] Yes.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:54:04] You know, Disney, like a lot of other corporations, has just gotten a lot more woke in the last few years, in the last decade or two. And the conversation, particularly for entertainment companies like Disney, is, all right, what are you doing about racial equity and gender equity? And they do the thing where you can get prominent women and people of color in prominent positions. Or you can make a movie where the lead is Black. And those things are nice. And they're good. But it sometimes feels as if they are - how can I just be blunt and say it? - distractionary [ph] tactics...
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:54:34] Yeah. Yeah.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:54:35] ...From, like, the real dollars and cents of this stuff. How do you feel about that representative work that Disney is doing in the midst of this financial stuff?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:54:45] The high-profile executive woman I refer to as girl-washing, right?
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:54:49] Oh.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:54:50] [Laughter] Yeah. All you have to know is, like, go really close to where the money is and ask yourself who's there? And you'll know all you need to know about fairness at that company because, boy, the women and the people of color start to disappear the closer, closer you get to the center, right? So these are big, deep structural problems. And it's great to make the "Black Panther." There's no question that was a brilliant piece of...
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:55:15] It changed the culture.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:55:16] Yes.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:55:16] It was a cultural reset. Yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:55:17] It was really important. It wasn't even just a moment. Most movies are moments. And this was so much bigger than that. But, like, who's pulling down the 1,400 times the median worker's pay? And who's making the decisions about where the capital is allocated and why and how? And then you start to see, oh, it does get a little whiter and a little maler [ph] the more we work our way into the center of this decision-making body. And this is true at every company in America. That's not just Disney.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:55:45] So - you know, we were talking earlier in this chat about this shift in the corporate mindset from stakeholder primacy to shareholder primacy. And it might allow some listeners to think that there was a time before this stuff got so bad.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:55:59] When everything was fine [laughter].
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:56:00] Yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:56:00] Yeah, yeah.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:56:01] But that was also a time when people of color and women were totally shut out...
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:56:05] Exactly.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:56:05] ...From all fair wages and wealth creation.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:56:08] Exactly.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:56:09] So in a way...
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:56:10] Yeah.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:56:10] ...Is what you're asking for now, is it something that's, actually, never happened before, a basic financial security...
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:56:17] Yes.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:56:17] ...For all working Americans regardless of race or gender?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:56:19] Yeah. The problem with looking back at 1956 or whatever - you know, 95%, sometimes, income tax rate, you know, and 80-something percent corporate tax rate. And yet companies were thriving and building and doing really well. And arguably, a lot of the thriving that was happening then was happening because - for the middle class because the middle class was just white and male.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:56:43] It was just white. Yeah. Yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:56:43] I mean, the pool of potential employees for any given job was way smaller. And so it was possible to pay everybody better. It was possible to supply health and pensions and all the rest of that. So as the world has gotten - at least attempted to be fairer and more people have joined the workforce who should have always been in it, it's gotten harder to accomplish these kinds of things. But while that was happening, while Jim Crow was, hopefully, being addressed and we were trying to do better in employment and housing and all of that, companies were also shifting their ethos away from being just. So the society was going one direction. But corporations were going the opposite direction.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:57:24] Wow.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:57:24] So we have to be very careful with the temptation to say, oh, we have to go back to when it was good because it wasn't good.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:57:30] Yeah, because good for who?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:57:31] Yeah.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:57:31] Good for who [laughter]?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:57:32] It wasn't good, you know?
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:57:33] Yeah, yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:57:33] I mean, yes, my grandfather would never have allowed for a person working for him for a lifetime to retire without a pension. That would have been unthinkable to him. He also did not hire very many Black people or women. And, you know, he oversaw and funded the making of "Song Of The South." So this is bad [laughter] unequivocally.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:57:53] Both things can be true. Yeah, yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:57:53] So yes, that's the problem that we need to kind of get to. We need to be able to - and this is true, actually, up and down and across everything related to our society right now. We need to be able to learn how to take in that this is a bad thing existing at the same time, in the same person with this other good thing. And we have to be able to hold those - both things in our heads at the same time. We can - yeah.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [00:58:16] Walk and chew gum at the same. Yes. Yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [00:58:18] Yeah, exactly - and juggle
DED Talks: Why Walt Disney is Nothing Like You Think He Was - Cracked - Air Date 1-19-15
ALEX SCHMIDT - AS WALT DISNEY: [00:58:23] It all started with a mouse. But thanks to the hard work of countless Disney staff and no women or black people, my dream of putting my name on everything a human being might come into contact with before age 18 has become a reality. And can any of you name even one of those talented Disney animators? [audience member: Max Fleischer!]
Exactly. No one important. So how did I take the work of thousands of artists and boil all the credit down into one name? My name, the name on the castle. Well, I'll tell you. And it didn't have anything to do with Tinkerbell's magic fairy dust or Dumbo's magic feather, or even Br'er Rabbit's tar baby shenanigans. God help us, no. It was through relentless vision. From childhood, I pursued my vision without ever questioning its lasting impact or my own motivation, or whether building a sprawling empire out of a cartoon mouse might in fact be the delusion of a madman. I made my vision happen by sheer force of will and with exacting standards, the kind of standards that led my own employees to call me an asshole and a shit publicly, to stage massive strikes over their long hours and low pay. And for me subsequently to tell the FBI that those union leaders of theirs were communist agitators, just to get them hauled away. Like I said, vision.
After all, in my vision of the Disney universe, there's no room for pinko liberal bleeding hearts to spoil the magic of families paying a hundred dollars a head, just so their kids can take pictures with college football mascots and furries.
The same reason I didn't hire black people in my parks. Actually a lot of Fantasia is about that, aside from all of the devil worship. And speaking of wild flights of fancy, did you know that many women applied to be Disney animators in the early days? Fortunately, I nipped that in the bud with a letter declaring the drawing of cartoon animals to be the sole domain of young virile, American men, saving us all, I'm sure, from a spate of animated shorts about the washing up and that time of the month list.
But that's not to say the fair sex has nothing to offer us. I was the only children's entertainer with the vision to meet with Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl shortly after Kristallnacht, when everyone else in town refused on "moral principles." Well, I just call it old fashioned rudeness. And I think my friends at the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals would agree. Those guys liked me so much they stuck by me after I got caught calling the seven dwarves and N-word pile. Great group of guys. And with their help and with the help of thousands of other people who have chosen to remain anonymous in the annals of history for some reason, the Disney brand has affected every aspect of modern culture. From our helpless, beautiful man-dependent princesses, to our many orphan protagonists, to our whitewashing of whole genocides, we (and by we, I, I really mean I here) have taken sheer vision and turned it into the stories your sons and daughters fear and aspire to.
You see, I've made the world a better, more magical, and as Leni would say, purer place. And important people have taken notice, like, uh, did you know that those folks at that upstart fast food chain McDonald's credit copying Disney branding with their current dominant market share? I say good luck to them. And you're welcome, heart disease medication manufacturers of the world.
If one thing can show you that all you really need in this life is vision and the willingness to put your name very, very large on things, here's the kicker. You see this mouse? Well, the thing is, I didn't even create him. I stole it. From either the Performo Toy Company or Felix the Cat, or Oswald the Rabbit, or Milton Mouse or Ignatz Mouse, honestly, I can't even remember.
There, there were a lot of cartoon mice flying around at the time. It was a crazy decade. All I remember is this. I, uh, I sat old Ub Iwerks down and had him draw Steamboat Willie entirely himself. And then I went to Ub and I said, Ub, better clean out your desk because you don't Iwerks here anymore.
And then when Ub tried to start his own studio, I crushed it.
Now, honest Injun', and I know that's an oxymoron don't get started, but honest Injun', I haven't drawn one of my own cartoons since 1929, because it's not about the cartoons or the content or the product. It's about a world of Disney. It's about a universe, a cartoon rodents in pants.
It's about making so, so, so much money.
Well, there, you have it. That's the story of a humble old visionary who whitewashes his own narrative as he did so many other stories to the point that this young Jim Stewart type is playing him in movies. And not just any movies, Disney movies.
Disneyfication Of Cuteness - American Hysteria - Air Date 1-25-21
CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH - HOST, AMERICAN HYSTERIA: [01:03:03] Let's talk about this American God, Mickey Mouse, because Lord knows the professionals of all stripes, in hopes of understanding his massive impact on culture, have broken this pleasant rodent down to his very atoms. We can refer to an interview with a seriously influential Disney employee and decades long official portrait artist of Mickey, John Hench. Called the guru of Disney design, and actually an eventual dedicated Hindu, he saw the overwhelming cultural obsession like this "There's power in that kind of arrangement of circles. Round forms are definitely more friendly. They recall a mother's breast and a pregnant torso and a baby's face and other good things." He even talks about ancient fertility symbols that look like Mickey Mouse.
Harvard biologist, Stephen J Gold wrote that Mickey is likely expressing a classic evolutionary theory that we are naturally prone to having our hearts melted by the features of infants, which then aides in the drive to care for and protect our young. Big eyes, a too big head with chubby little cheeks and a little button nose, and floppy, silly little movements, we love them! And this doesn't just apply to our own young. We actually want to protect the young of other animals too, and thus, we are obsessed with them. This is evidenced by the internet, which is about 90% kitties and puppies and little goats and little piglets and stuff. That jungle book thing is true. Animals do sometimes adopt stray infants of other species. Babies really are taken in by packs of wolves and raised as their own. In fact, the little puppies we take in have been Disney-fied for eons. Starting as snarling wolves, with humans selecting the cutest sweetest ones to breed until they finally became eternal babies -- teacup poodles.
The good characters, the animals, the children, the enchanted objects, or the cute-ified adults in the wonderful world of Disney always rely on these infantile traits and they seem to hook us every single time. There are also biological feelings of powerlessness that come from not being able to help cute things, and in the case of Disney help, the cute things we're watching through this screen. This may be part of why when we watched toy story three, where the animated toys hold hands and accept their deaths together in an incinerator, we weep audibly behind our 3D glasses in the crowded movie theater. You know what I mean!
Disney guru, John Hench certainly knew what he was doing when he was creating this Disney world. Psychologically speaking, "Color is one thing people respond to. It has its roots in very primitive times. Game was more plentiful when there was color than in winter time so we respond to that." Another related theory to this theory on cuteness can also help account for Disney's unprecedented success. One called super normal stimuli that we talk about in our episode called "Poison Halloween Candy". In the first experiments conducted to test the theory of supernormal stimuli, researchers set up fake nests for a group of songbirds. Ones that contained eggs that looked like their own, but were much more overblown, much brighter with much larger spots. The team watched the songbirds choose to take care of the fake eggs over their own. These eggs were so large in fact that the birds slid off when trying to sit on top of them, only to climb on again and slip off again, and then climb on again. Their own living eggs, left untouched in their boring and dreary old nests.
Decades of experiments on different animals have shown similar results and psychologist, Deidre Barrett has written about how super normal stimuli can express itself through the super normal taste of junk food or sitcoms like Friends where the characters personalities are what is super normal. It's why we love theater and the movies with these blown out characters in this blown out plot in these blown out settings. And we definitely have to mention our super, super obsession with superhero movies here in the good old USA.
Copyright: Why We Can't Have Nice Things - Wisecrack - Air Date 4-23-21
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [01:08:10] The Disney Company, for all its aggressive copyright enforcement, just loves borrowing other people's stories from the public domain, meaning they're not copyrighted and are free to use. For example, Mulan was based on a Chinese legend, The Little Mermaid on a Hans Christian Andersen story, The Jungle Book on Rudyard Kipling's characters, and the list goes on and on. This isn't necessarily bad, but here's the grift. When Disney pulls from the public domain to make a movie, they then copyright their story and characters, making it nearly impossible for the next storyteller to pull from the same influences. Try writing the next Little Mermaid and you'll see what we mean, but don't expect us to pay your legal fees.
But arguments over intellectual property are way older than Mickey Mouse. In fact, copyright disputes outdate the printing press. In his epigrams, the ancient Roman poet Martial complained about receiving no profit from the booksellers who peddled his popular poems. And in sixth century Ireland, a literal battle that costs 3,000 lives was fought over a dispute about a copied manuscript.
But copyright laws didn't develop just to settle disputes in court and without bloodshed.
ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: [01:09:13] We sampled them from them, but it's not the same baseline. Uh, like he goes, "Ding, ding, ding, ding-a ding ding." And that's the way theirs goes. Ours goes "ding, ding, ding, ding-da ding ding." That little bitty change.
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [01:09:29] They were also seen as a way to incentivize people to keep churning out exciting new work. And boy was that a success.
ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: [01:09:36] Welcome to -- Yabba dabba doo! -- The Space Jam!
MICHAEL BURNS - HOST, WISECRACK: [01:09:41] Okay. But intellectual property orgy with basketballs aside, we do want to encourage the guy who made Beethoven to make that, as well as Beethoven Second. And Third and Fourth and Fifth, Big Paw, plus Big Break, Christmas Adventure and Treasure Trail.
And this is exactly what the founding fathers had in mind when they baked copyright law into the Constitution. Like a lot of things in this wrinkly old scroll, the clause wasn't super specific, but it clearly indicated that Congress could use copyright restrictions to incentivize writers and scientists to create original works.
It reads: "Congress shall have power to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times, to authors and inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Laws enacted under the copyright clause created limited monopolies, that is, monopolies which give authors a good run, but don't last forever.
Early policies were deeply informed by a utilitarian theory of property ownership. The idea is inventors and authors should be rewarded proportionately to how useful their creation is to consumers. And also that people make more useful stuff when they don't have to worry about people stealing it. Of course the logic behind this isn't exactly perfect. It's kind of like arguing that if Disney wasn't able to copyright his own work, he would have been too lazy to create anything ever again. And maybe that's true, but as anyone who's gone to a show at Denny's knows, not every artist is in it for the money.
Still, English philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that copyright laws incentivize inventors to make cool stuff by offering them a monopoly on the profits. He wrote that, "without the assistance of the laws, the inventor would almost always be driven out of the market by his rival, who, finding himself without any expense in the possession of a discovery which has cost of the inventor much time and expense, would be able to deprive him of all his deserved advantages by selling at a lower price."
This all seems pretty reasonable: incentivized, talented, and smart people to make things by giving them the exclusive ability to profit off their idea. And then once they've milked that little Eureka moment for a long time or, you know, die, it goes into the public domain. So someone else can riff on it.
What I'm saying is, if you ask the framers of the Constitution, if Dr. Seuss's kid should be able to make money off of cartoons adapted from his books 30 years after his death. My guess is they'd say no. But Seuss's estate does still control and profit off of all sales of his books and all derivative content.
And because the Seusses is still control what can be done with Seuss's IP we can't enjoy the Star Trek/Dr. Seuss mashup book the masses were begging for.
So what the flying [beep] happened? Here's the thing. Until the early 1830s, copyright terms only lasted 14 years. And even by the time Disney created Mickey Mouse, copyright only lasted 28 years, with an option to renew for another 28 years. That would have meant Mickey Mouse would have become public domain in 1984.
But not so fast. In 1976, Congress gave the Copyright Act a complete overhaul with some guidance from a team of Disney lobbyists. See, Walt was dead. His head was again, not frozen and stored beneath the pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland, and the company's copyright on their iconic character was set to expire soon.
They weren't too crazy about losing ownership of their coveted revenue-generating love enthusiast. The resulting 1976 act increase the term of copyright protection from 28 years to the life of the author plus 50 years. All in all, the lobbying efforts of Disney and other corporations kept Mickey locked up in Cinderella's castle until 2003.
Goofy, Pluto and Donald also got their Disney prison sentences extended, and it also became way easier to get sued for selling a crocheted pattern of them sitting in Disney jail. Which I've never visited. But universal jail, you know.
And if you haven't noticed, Mickey Mouse is still not in the public domain. That's because in 1998, the Copyright Term Extension Act, or CTEA, was passed, again extending works for 70 years after the author's death, and also protecting corporate works for 95 years from the original publication, or 120 years from their creation, whichever expires first. Which means Flo won't be public property until like 2125. So guess that makes that screenplay I wrote illegal.
Anyway, people literally call this law the Mickey Mouse Protection Act because, duh. According to legal scholar Laurie Richter, Disney spent $6.3 million lobbying for the extension. They even set up a political action committee, the Disney PAC, and donated to senators who would eventually sponsor the CTEA. This was coupled with lobbying efforts from other folks like musician George Gershwin's estate, which was and still is very concerned that Gershwin musicals might be sampled in rap music. Okay, dude. This all resulted in yet another extension for Mickey, as well as a handful of other characters that would have been in the public domain by now.
But maybe you're thinking, so what if Disney wants to keep control of its characters? Well, one criticism is that Disney is keeping control of characters adapted from the public domain. And that's really bad for art: Pooh, Snow White, The Little Mermaid Cinderella, Aladdin, Hercules, Sleeping, Beauty, Mulan, they were all taken from works that were in the public domain, which means they were available to the public and were not protected by copyright. Sure. Nowadays, you could try to make your own version of Mulan, but barring the rare exception, it's remarkably hard to have much success when a multinational corporation has a virtual monopoly on the characters you're creating and the story you're telling. That said, you can certainly try.
Mockbusters aside, a bigger issue than Disney raiding the public domain while contributing nothing to it is that the copyright extensions they lobbied for have made hundreds of thousands of lesser-known works completely unavailable and inaccessible. They just sit there, copyrights extended, companies holding onto them to maybe one day turn them into something. Who knows what creative derivative work might've come from them. After all, great works ranging from Goethe's Faust to West Side Story were also derivatives of other stories. And many scholars feel that copyright extension well beyond an author's death is far from utilitarian. Increases in copyright protection can actually harm the public more than they benefit authors, especially when those authors are dead and definitely not frozen beneath the pirate ride, and the new authors are multinational corporations. One argument lobbyist and copyright enthusiasts used is something called "the tragedy of the commons" argument. Coined by Garrett Hardin in 1968, the tragedy of the commons stipulates that open shared access to a resource would cause overuse and destruction of that resource. So like open farmland, an idea being open and sharable will only be harmful. But research shows that copyright correlates more with the disappearance of works than with their availability to the masses. In his study, "How Copyright Keeps Works Disappeared," scholar Paul Heald analyzed large samples of both Amazon books and songs and found that shortly after works are created and propertized, they tend to disappear from public view only to reappear in significantly increased numbers when they fall into the public domain and lose their owners. Like how Marvel is totally sitting on countless forgotten villains and heroes who may never return to print or make it to the big screens. Or how there hasn't been a movie out about Namor, King of Atlantis, because of copyright disputes between Marvel and Universal.
Another legal scholar, Michael Heller, calls this "the tragedy of the anticommons." Heller argues that while privatizing a commons might stop wasteful overuse, it can also cause wasteful underuse. That is to say, when everything is copyrighted and the landscape becomes so fragmented, it becomes very difficult to make something new. The public can't access these things, but competitive copyright owners don't collaborate with each other either.
It might be helpful to think about the public domain as a warehouse of ideas, which authors can reuse, sample, change and incorporate into other works. If the warehouse isn't well-stocked, people don't have preexisting cultural materials to work from. Some of Europe's most well-regarded composers wrote incredible pieces by freely cribbing music that no one particularly owned. And take this little tune you might remember from The Lion King: [music]
It comes from an old church Gregorian chant that would also make its way into a famous piece by Mozart, and then Hector Berlioz.
Another by Franz Liszt.
And then another by Gustav Holst.
And then the Sweeney Todd musical.
And a Jethro Tull track.
That is to say ideas spreading freely is often, but not always, a very good thing. But the real tragedy is that another warehouse of ideas is fully stocked, but no one's allowed in there except the owner who checks in like once every 20 years.
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:19:09] We've just heard clips today, starting with Propaganda in two parts examining the racism baked into classic Disney characters and plots; Still Processing discussed why we are so willing to overlook problematic movies for the sake of entertainment and comfort; Lindsay Ellis looked at Disney's pivot to nodding at progressives while upholding the systems we criticize; American Hysteria looked back at the Disney part of American history that could have been; Wisecrack looked at what it means to Disnify classic stories; It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders spoke with Walt Disney's granddaughter who wants Disney to certify as a B-corp; and we heard a dead talk from Cracked imagining what old Walt would have said about himself in an inspirational speech today.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips, including another from American Hysteria explaining in depth just how much Disney has always known about the power of cuteness as a tool of persuasion, and Wisecrack discussed the evolution of copyright law and the central role Disney has played in stifling culture and creativity by lobbying to extend copyright protections far beyond their intended usefulness.
For nonmembers, those bonus clips are linked in the show notes and are part of the transcript for today's episode, so you can still find them if you want to make the effort. But to hear that and all of our bonus content delivered it seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted, no questions asked. And now we'll hear from you.
Ableism in the show - Alyson from Colorado
VOICEDMAILER: ALYSON FROM COLORADO: [01:20:53] Hi ,Jay. This is Alyson from Colorado.
I loved the show about the insurrection. However, unfortunately Roger Ray engaged in a little bit of ableism in your discussion with him at the end. When talking about mental health, he touted that being out in nature, being social, and engaging in social activism is a better cure for depression than serotonin meds. While it is true that these things are extremely helpful with depression and other mental health issues, the idea that they are a better way of dealing with depression is a dangerous myth. Many people actually do this in combination with meds and find the entire combination: lifestyle changes like Roger Ray mentions PLUS medication PLUS therapy and support such as World Service Organization groups like A.A. - the most helpful. Then he says as sort of an aside that he’s “not giving pharmacological advice” but since he addresses the drugs in a kind of judgemental way, the damage has been done. The problem is that some people’s brains just don’t produce enough serotonin, so they, and I’m included in this group, need the drugs producing the serotonin in order to get to the point where they can even get out of bed in order to do the other helpful things like being out in nature, being social, etc.
I know it wasn’t intentional and I like Roger Ray. However, the idea that you can cure everyone’s depression without medication is ableist.
Thanks as always for the awesome show!
Final comments on Woke Disney and Ableist language
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:22:12] Thanks to all of those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as a VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at (202) 999-3991 or write me a message to [email protected] There is nothing special we need to do to have your message be used as a VoicedMail, you just send me an email and I'll take it from there.
Thanks to Alison for her message. It happens to be very well timed as a lead in to a quick story that I want to tell about today's show, but first, a quick setup. Many, I think, we'll have maybe had at least a passing glance of the op-ed article that went a little viral a week, couple of weeks ago. Viral enough that the New York Times did a write up about it. There was a guy who wrote an article about Disney in the Orlando Sentinel, talking about how Disney is "too woke" and it's ruining his experience. It was a very absurd article and pretty much anyone with a reasonable amount of sense, saw it as absurd, and maybe he got a chuckle out of it or a depressing head shake in response.
And it was a very coincidentally timed article, we were actually working on this episode before that came out, but it has given me some things to think about. I like to take things like that and not just dismiss them as absurd, even though they are, I like to see what I can learn from it about real people with real opinions and perspectives who shared this person's opinion that the experience of going to Disney is being ruined by Disney's attempt to make their parks less racist or less otherwise problematic with the benefit of new knowledge and hindsight. And they think, okay, maybe we shouldn't perpetuate the sale of the winches or the cartoonish representation of the native person selling his shrunken heads. Maybe that's just not a good image to help perpetuate.
But what we can learn from this article is first of all, what he doesn't say. So he doesn't defend racist caricatures at Disney by saying that racism is appropriate. 50 years ago, you could easily imagine that being the case, and that is not the case. He is not defending racism on the merits of racism, he's defending it on the basis that it's harmless. "No one thinks that these racist representations are real. It's just Disney, you know, like we're just in an immersive experience. Kids aren't affected by the things they say. That doesn't create impressions in their minds. That last for decades. There's no danger of normalizing the dehumanization of minorities, just chill out. This is all wokeness gone too far, right?" that's his argument.
So obviously it's still a silly argument, but it's a telling one. He's at least making the basic conceit that racism isn't to be celebrated, but he's also dismissing any attempts to diminish it. And I think that that ties up in a neat little bow exactly the state of play for white supremacy right now. That is exactly the point on the arc of the moral universe where we are currently situated. Racism is bad, it is universally accepted by polite society, but trying to stop racism is also bad. That's what mainstream White supremacist culture believes and would have you believe if they could convince you.
Anyway, I'm thinking that this concept is pretty well established in the minds of most listeners. It doesn't need to be explained a whole lot more, but getting back to Alison and her VoicedMail, I think I see a parallel and I can even feel it, I can feel a parallel in myself. It's not just external. I'm not just judging others. I can feel it in myself. I feel like that when it comes to ableism, a lot of the people listening, and not me consciously but me subconsciously, definitely, I'm still not all the way to the point of fully and deeply understanding ableism. How it works. The harm that is done. I just have so much more knowledge and awareness about racism than about ableism. It's just, it's a ignorance issue, it's a lack of knowledge issue, not a lack of caring issue.
But I think that a lot of the people who are fully on board with understanding the danger and the damage of racism and the need to squash it and how they would read the idea that Disney is too woke and that guy's complaining about it and understand the absurdity of it on its face would then hear about ableism and the requests for people to change their language, and have at least a flicker, if not a sometimes full-throated rebuttal that sounds just like that guy. That, "Ah, I mean, come on. No one means anything bad by it, right? I mean, the language has changed. Sure, maybe those words used to be clinical, but we don't use them that way anymore. And so if my intent isn't bad, then it shouldn't be bad and we shouldn't have to change. And so aren't we just pushing this a little bit too far?"
Doesn't that sound familiar? Doesn't it maybe even feel familiar? Because it does, for me. As I said, I don't consciously think that way, I consciously think this is something I am happily willing to accept needs to be changed. The disability, mental health community has said it needs to be changed. Just because I don't understand it fully and deeply, doesn't -- I don't have to understand it fully and deeply to just accept they know better than me. It affects them in a way that it doesn't affect me. So I'm going to take their lead. I'm happy to do that, but it's still a sticking point and we've all grown up with ableist language in our vocabulary and it comes out naturally.
And so just a quick story about today's show, listen to this clip that I decided to edit out of the show because I didn't think it added very much, and frankly, when I heard it, being aware of ableist language, I thought, Whoa, that was, it was just like over the top.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [01:29:09] I would love to see Disney become tomorrow the biggest B Corp in the world. It would be a massive change. It's asking something crazy of them, and I don't see why we shouldn't ask something crazy of them. Wasn't it crazy for them to exist in the first place?
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [01:29:23] [Laughter] Wasn't Mickey Mouse itself as an idea crazy?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [01:29:26] Yes, exactly.
SAM SANDERS - HOST, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE WITH SAM SANDERS: [01:29:26] Come on. A talking mouse? [Laughter].
ABIGAIL DISNEY: [01:29:27] Imagine - Walt said, let's buy a bunch of orange groves in that, like, tiny Podunk town, Anaheim, and build a crazy imaginary place there, and people will drive to it and spend money to be there. I mean, all of it was nuts.
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: [01:29:41] So the sentiments behind that, I actually did think was interesting and worthy of being shared. The over the top of excessive use of ableist language that I know to be a problem for the disability and mental health community, I thought, I'm going to take that out. It doesn't make sense to include that if I don't have to, and I'll play it at the end and we'll talk about it and we'll expose it as a teachable moment and it can have a beneficial use in that way, but to just leave it in the show uncommented upon, I thought, no, I don't, I don't need to do that.
But just to wrap up, I want to super over the top clarify that I'm not comparing or equating certainly racist language and the effects of that, ableist language and the effects of that, I'm drawing parallels and similarities where the impacts of all of that go, are different enough that it doesn't make sense to compare, but the dynamic of how society and language evolves and changes usually because of progressive urging to move society in a better direction and the hesitancy that a large portion of the society has about those changes. I think those parallels are interesting, and when we can find a moment when there is an instance that we think, well, yes, that is common sense and obvious that we should move along that way, and another instance where I think for many people, it is not going to be as obvious and common sense, that I hope by drawing those parallels we can have those questions be raised in a way that makes us think a little harder about whether ableism is something we want to put time and effort into expunging from our language and our thinking. And I am in that process myself, I am by no means perfect, but I am in that process and I hope you all are too.
And now just one last reminder, this is the last opportunity I'm going to have to say that we have a live event coming up with myself and Roger Ray, that Alyson was referring to when we made our announcement, that is coming up on Monday, just a mear handful of days from now, so I won't be speaking to you again before that. So this is the last opportunity for you to go to bestoftheleft.com/live. That'll take you to exactly where you need to go. You can register. It's all free and it's happening Monday evening at 8:00 PM Eastern. If you don't live on the East coast, you have to do your own math.
Now as always keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected] That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Dan, and Ken for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets and activism segments, graphic design, bonus show co-hosting, and so on. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support as that is absolutely how the program survives.
For details on the show itself, including links to all of the sources and music used in this and every episode, all that information can always be found in the show notes on the blog and likely right on the device you're using to listen. So coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.
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