If you have young children you can’t escape Walt’s world. Disney’s ubiquitous characters gaze out from T-shirts and lunch boxes;
commercials for the latest Disney animated film blanket children’s TV programming.
And Disney comics reach even the most isolated rural regions.
The Disney machine has touched us all, spreading the values of the marketplace,
colonizing the fantasy life of children and changing the world irrevocably in the process.
Here’s a potted summary of the impact of ‘disneyfication’ on daily life.
The colonized mind
American media conglomerates like Disney and Time-Warner, publishing giants like Germany’s Bertelsmann and Australia’s Rupert Murdoch have near-monopoly control of global news and entertainment. Not just the hardware and the wires but also, increasingly, the content. The result is Western (mainly American) domination of most forms of popular culture, especially books, music, movies, television and film.
Does this mean that sooner or later we’ll all be American? Probably not. But it does mean that local communities are less able to identify and nurture their own dreams and create their own self-identity through a common project of shared imagination. Centuries of tradition are eroded by the technically dazzling but culturally-biased products of the corporate entertainment industry. Goodbye to Hindu classics like the Ramayana and the age-old folk tales of Africa, hello Baywatch and Geraldo.
Death of diversity
Cultural diversity mirrors the biological and geographical diversity of our planet. ’Disneyfication’, like economic globalization, tends to ride roughshod over local variety. So baseball hats, blue jeans and running shoes become the uniform of teenagers in both Budapest and Bangalore while Western TV shows promote the illusion of limitless wealth. This process is not the same as different artistic traditions learning from each other and sharing ideas freely. Cross-fertilization and borrowing from other cultures has invigorated and strengthened both Western and Third World arts. Think of Gauguin in Tahiti or the jazz-influenced sounds of Ghanaian high-life music. Great art prospers from contact with the outside world. But corporate culture is different: its guiding principles are efficiency and profit and there is a tendency for those goals to steamroller both diversity and authenticity.
Cultural uniformity goes hand-in-glove with the cheer-leading for free markets heard in agencies like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. Efforts to open borders to ‘cultural exports’ have been at the heart of free-trade negotiations. Western countries like France and Canada and Third World nations like Malaysia have fought hard to restrict imports of foreign films, books and magazines to protect their own heritage. And cultural nationalists everywhere are concerned that international trade agreements like the Multilateral Treaty on Investment (MAI) would catalyze the Americanization of global culture. If passed, the MAI would limit the ability of national governments to impose domestic content standards.
Born to shop
The spread of American movies, music and fashion is as much about buying as culture. In fact the fusion of consumerism with the arts, entertainment and sport is now widespread. Olympians are sponsored by Nike, jazz festivals are funded by tobacco companies and rock singers strike marketing deals with soft-drink firms. Disney and his corporate cohorts (Reebok, McDonald’s, KFC, Coke, Armani, Hilfiger et al) are the shock troops for the spread of consumer society. They prime the pump for the endless stream of ‘wants’ created by corporate hucksters. You can take your kids to see the newest Disney animated film, Mulan, and then you can buy the video, the key chain, the stuffed toy, the sweatshirt, the embossed note pad and pencil set. Every Disney animated film comes bundled with a complete marketing strategy for merchandise, interactive games and a line of children’s books.
Nature under control
The rise of a corporate monoculture accelerates our separation from the natural world. Concern for the destruction of the environment becomes a ‘sales opportunity’ for slick PR pitch-men while the promotion of frivolous consumer goods continues the assault of industrial production on the earth’s finite resources. Despite attempts to pass itself off as a good corporate citizen, the Disney view of nature generally reflects the view that all environmental problems can be overcome by technology and human ingenuity. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same conceit that animates industrial society in general and the main reason catastrophe threatens the natural world today.
Theme park Earth
Disney’s theme parks in Florida, California, Tokyo and Paris were the first and most successful attempts to meld entertainment with consumerism. They are fantasy worlds cut off from the anxieties and fears of daily life where you can temporarily escape the ‘rat race’ to join Mickey, Donald and Goofy in a clean and carefree land of the imagination. We all need to escape the stress of daily life from time to time. But the Disney theme park idea has metastasized and in the process it’s become a dominant model for both urban and commercial development. Chain eateries, mega shopping malls, redeveloped city centres: all feature the same mix of escapism and consumerism. In the process the values of the market elbow aside the democratic aspirations of civil society. As the public realm shrinks we risk turning the Earth and our unique communities into one big, privatized theme park.