Disma….uh, Disney: The 5 Reasons I Am Not A Fan

During a class discussion concerning the consolidation of media ownership –in which basically a handful of corporations own essentially 90% of the media in the United States- it occurred to me that I find anything Disney, be it theme parks, corporate dealings, movies, music –so very disturbing. Yet, at the time, I was not sure why.

So I promised the class I would write a blog on it for the sake of helping me to clarify and articulate my thoughts on the matter.

Blogging really helps me organize my often scattered ideas floating about in my head. After doing some thinking and writing -a process that files my disparate ideas into a concise narrative (I hope)- I realize there are 5 specific reasons Disney thoroughly irritates me. Enjoy…or just tell me what a dick I am…I am used to it.

1. They are greedy bastards. The entertainment newspaper, Variety, reported in 2014, “The Walt Disney Co. ended its fiscal year on a significant high note, reporting a record $48.8 billion in sales, up 8%, and 22% improvement in net income of $7.5 billion, handily besting analysts’ expectations.” Now, in fairness, Wal-Mart earns nearly 5 times this amount, but that is a different blog for a different day -as I feel I lose a part of my soul each time I enter a Wal-Mart. As I think about it, the “greedy bastard” argument is not just reserved for Disney as I hold similar feelings toward the entire movement of convergence and the concentration of ownership among a handful of media corporations –in addition to Disney, I look at Comcast, Fox, Viacom and Time Warner in a similar light.

Where are we headed when less than a handful of companies own 90% of the media in this country? I am not a social dystopian theorist in general, yet if such conglomeration does not at least raise an eyebrow and be cause for some concern, we are just not paying attention.

Yet this massive profit is not really the “greedy bastard” part that bothers me so much. Without going into too much detail because it would be a blog all unto itself, Disney was the primary fighting force in changing the copyright/public domain laws in the 1990’s so they could continue to own the copyright on Disney stories -stories apparently stolen from the public domain many years earlier- for the additional life of the author plus 120 years (it was formerly 70 years….for a great open letter to Disney regarding this matter check out this link. This Copyright Term Extension Act is now comically referred to as “Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1998″) as they hijacked global myths from humanity and called them their own for the sake of profit. Disney guards both its stolen and non-stolen possessions like a mother hen.

Oh…and just try to paint some Mickey Mouse ears on your kindergarten/preschool room walls…Disney lawyers will be on your Early Childhood Education ass faster than you can sing, “Can you feel the love tonight?”

Heigh ho, heigh ho…to the next criticism I go.

2. Disney is the bully of culture. In addition to the fact they bullied congress for a change in copyright laws and aggressively guard their designs, what makes this worse is that Disney has so crept into the entire ethos of American culture that if you deny your children a healthy consumption of Disney products you are a bad parent who deprives your child a “normal” childhood.  It is like getting the culture hooked on crack and then only allowing culture to buy your brand of crack…or risk going to prison (ok, bad analogy as you will go to prison for using any crack…but I think you get the point). Please do not get me wrong, when my children were growing up I force fed them Disney consumerism (read: crack) like there was no tomorrow…and it felt good doing it at the time.

Well now that I am older and, very much arguably, wiser, I sicken myself for falling for the bully tactic hoisted upon our culture by Disney. I believe I came to this realization when, a couple of years back, I was having a discussion with a colleague, Jeff –who currently is raising 3 small children- about parenting when he said they were about to do something Disney related. It was at that time that I thought out loud to him, “Why do we do this? Why do we indoctrinate our children with all things Disney? I did the same thing,” I told him.

Jeff, a philosophy professor, laughed and shared the same inquiry. “I don’t know,” he said, “I just don’t know.”

I would tend to guess most of us would have a similar answer: We really do not know, we just do it, as if it is all we know. We suckle at the teet of Disney culture as if it is our only source of entertainment nourishment….at least for our children. We have succumbed to the bully who has cornered the market on childhood, some would argue unfairly, and we have, like sheep, blindly followed the bully into the back alley where he entertains us into consumerist submission and leaves with our wallet –all the while with a Mickey Mouse-like smile on our face.

Nice work Walt. Thanks. I truly am feeling the love tonight.

3. The massive profits produced by Disney are immorally generated by producing an illusory world of lies. A lot of greedy, bully companies make good profits. Oil companies, the meat industry, automotive manufacturers, just to name a few, generally make money hand over fist. Yet these industries do not mask and conceal their mercantile contributions in an underhanded, skewed and disguised sense.  We know we fight wars over oil -while this and the automotive industry are cause for environmental concerns.  The meat industry does not claim to enhance the lives of animals.

Disney sells happiness. The irony of a greedy, money hungry, bully conglomerate selling as its primary product happiness, fairy tales, dreams coming true and living happily ever after is, well, sickening. The author Aldous Huxley in his book, “A Brave New World,” with ideas later reignited by Neal Postman in his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” suggest that the end of civilization as we know it will not come from “big brother” forcing his coercive evil hand upon us, rather we will become a culture so engaged in our own masturbatory sense of entertainment, amusement and dependency on delight that we will be lulled into a sense of wonder…and be lead to our destruction with a big smile on our face.

Is that somewhat overstated? Probably. Yet the idea of a bully selling as its primary product happiness just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It would be akin to the sugar industry selling the idea of dental health or the donut industry selling the idea of weight loss. Just ironic. They sell the idea of “the happiest place on earth,” though when it costs $100 a pop just to walk through the gates only to purchase $10 sodas, we quickly realize it is, in reality, the “greediest place on earth.”

I am all for entertainment, storytelling and myth. I just need to know where myth ends and reality begins. So, Disney, I guess you could say I have interest in being part of your world.

4. Disney serves as anesthesia for the masses. Related to number 3, above, Disney creates the idea of selling the happiest place on earth. If you live in Southern California it is not at all unusual to meet people, people who live several hours from Disneyland, who have year round passes to Disneyland. For many, it is not just a place to visit but a lifestyle.sign-front

Recently someone introduced me to an art exhibit called, “Dismaland,” that ran in Europe over the summer. This exhibit is described in part in this way:“Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you—a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism.

I freaking love this…an escape from mindless escapism.

This exhibit truly strikes at the heart of my feeling toward Disneyland. It is a stark reminder of the realities of the world around us…it can be beautiful place, yet often it is a dark, tortured and unpleasant place. Fairy tale endings and “happily ever afters” are rarely part of the real human experience. Disneyland provides such a stark contrast from reality as to, arguably, serve to render us less effective in the real place. It causes us to ask where was my knight in shining armor or my prince charming when I needed him? It places an unreal expectation on that which is real as to cause an existential crisis when reality turns out to be, well, reality.

So….it is becoming a whole new world as…

5. Disney is expanding and its influence is growing evermore far reaching…and this is dangerous.  Yes, I realize Disney knows it is in the business of entertainment and does NOT really believe in flying elephants, a puppet with a growing nose, talking cars, genies, beasts turned princes or whatever else the Disney illusion sells…but, dammit, they are going to give it their best shot to get us to believe it.  The growing pervasiveness of its presence, now leaving the theme park and entering into the global, corporate ethos…is potentially very scary. It is the greedy bully selling us a package of lies and manipulation…on a now global scale. Consider that Disney now owns the means to influence culture through ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Miramax and Marvel Studios…just to name a few.

Now that Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for a paltry 4 billion, I can guarantee we are going to get Star Wars shoved up our collective asses higher than a WeHo high colonic.

Was Huxley’s warning and Postman’s position far off?

They look spot on to me.

So kids. Argue with me. I probably spat upon your sacred cow. Or, in this case, sacred flying elephant.

I love it when a lecture inspires a blog.

Hakuna Matata Mouseketeers.

Family Values

Individuality. Responsibility. Tolerance. Sense of humor. Creativity. And what do each of these wonderful virtues have in common?

All are the central values that we desired to impart to our children as they were growing up.

Values are strange things in that everyone, yes, everyone, has them yet most have not stopped to identify and critically evaluate them.Family_ValuesF

When our eldest children were still very small, Rene’ and I adopted the idea of imparting “family values” to our children.  Perhaps some are unaware that the term “family values” was a conservative, right-leaning buzzphrase about 25 years ago (perhaps still is?? Not sure) that translated into adopting a rather conservative spin on one’s politics. I felt this to be unfortunate as, politically, I am fairly middle-of-the-road and really did not want to identify with any political branding. Yet I am a strong believer in both family and values while believing it is very important to impart discretion and wisdom to our young (or at least attempt to…I still surprise myself that at my age I am quite capable of lacking both…but I digress).

The political right used the idea of family values to provide the primary pathos of their party…as if they have corner on family values that the left sorely lacks. I would argue both parties have values -just fundamentally different ones to be sure. There is a lot of, “if your values are not my values they are not values” thinking going on. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the issue of gay rights -as both sides accuse the other of lacking values. I believe both sides have values…just radically different ones, generated from different places with different moral mindsets. Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses, is, in my opinion, a 4 time married, law breaking, hypocrite who should quit her position or go to prison. That said, I do believe she has values…just radically different ones from my own.

We adopted the term “family values” NOT in the sense of imparting conservative, right wing SHtuff to our children, rather the adopting values we felt to be important. Have our values changed in the past 25 years? In a word, yes. For example, personally, I would not have selected the value of tolerance -as it suggests to “put up with” something/someone. I would replace tolerance with a phrase that goes much further… love, for example. I am still very cool with responsibility, sense of humor and creativity….perhaps even moreso today than 25 years ago.

Taking responsibility for your own actions -not blaming others when things do not go your way, owning up to mistakes, etc… is a central tenet of the Urb clan. Rene’ has grown to believe creativity is the root of all humanity and I tend to agree. And a sense of humor? Life would not be worth living without it…to take ANYTHING, yourself included, too seriously is a serious Urb offense. Even at our most serious, we have learned to seriously laugh at ourselves and each other. I seriously love that.

I am very pleased to report that I believe we have accomplished imparting these values to our now adult children. Each child embodies these 5 values, with each child seeming to strongly emphasize one value in particular. For those of you know my family, I believe you can guess which one matches which value.

HOWEVER, if we were to change one of our original values, perhaps a value we wish we could take back, it most certainly would be that of individuality.  I do believe a healthy dose of being a very strong individual is a good thing, yet, like any good thing in abundance, it can go south….quickly.

To be a strong individual has a tremendous upside, particularly as you are growing up. To be strong in the face of peer pressure, to not allow others to determine your happiness, to stand up to wrongs and indifference, to fully develop your own unique voice and use it without apology, to question authority and, well, question everything, are all wonderful attributes -so what’s the problem?

As I think about it, strong individuality is a lot like drinking- the best part is concurrently the worst part. The worst part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions -the best part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions.

As I age, I realize the immense value and importance of community. Terrifically strong individuals typically make for poor members of a community. There is a time to give and a time to take; a time to sacrifice and a time to be a bit selfish; there is a place for “me” time yet I now realize there is a much more prominent place for “we” time.

Rene’ is much more collectivist in her thinking than I am. While I tend to be “looking out for number one,” Rene’ is too busy helping numbers two and three to be concerned with her number one status -and that is a beautiful thing. If I could go back and alter the Urb family values, I would try to find a value that balances the concern for self with the concern for others. That, or just eliminate it altogether. As I think about it, if one is tolerant, responsible, creative, and has a sense of humor, the idea of individuality is somewhat redundant at that point.

So what do we got? We have a family, even counting Rene’ in a strange sort of way, of fierce individuals. They are who they are with no apologies. Whatever they want in life they attack it…with a vengeance.

This December, when my daughter Rose and her man, Nathan, come for their long awaited visit for a few weeks, the house will once again be stuffed full of strong creative and individualistic energy. Oh sure we will fight over where to eat, what time to go to a certain place, what meal to cook, what temperature to set the thermostat, the volume and movie choice on Netflix, to put the accordion and trumpet away, and even who gets the front seat.

I suppose that is the price to pay for four children who could all potentially change over the world.

So, like them or not, for better or for worse, we have identified our values and have attempted to consistently enforce them for about 25 years now.

And remember, there is no “i” in values. It only took a mere quarter century to figure that one out.