Walt​ ​Disney’s​ ​Renascent​ ​Political​ ​Vision

R.J. Lennon

In 1966 Walt Disney died of lung cancer and was, ostensibly, cremated in Burbank, CA. The lack of details and documentation pertaining to his death is commonly attributed to the veil of secrecy behind which he preferred to live his personal life, hence the proliferation of rumors regarding his cryogenic freezing and vague plans to return. This overplayed urban myth sounds tired without ample consideration of Disney’s motive for extending his tenure as the most influential media mogul in the country, a motive becomes clear when the disparity between Disney’s ambitions at the time of his death and his actually legacy is considered in its entirety.

The casual tourist could be forgiven for visiting Orlando without recognizing the robust political vision Disney pursued for the duration of his professional life. Disney was associated with the German American Bund, the American iteration of the Nazi party, in the late 1930’s, frequently attending meetings intended to garner the support of far-right leaning Hollywood elites. At the beginning of WWII Disney tacitly rejected the Nazi party by producing multiple anti-German propaganda films, at the behest of American leaders who capitalized on Disney’s sense of nationalism. Despite turning his back on the Nazi’s, Disney further embraced far-right politics during and after the war. Disney created a number of propagandist films on behalf of the American military and government. In addition to his career as a propagandist Disney colluded with Senator Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover to identify and prosecute employees of Disney’s studio suspected of harboring Communist sympathies. These extreme political views may seem inconsistent with the legacy of the purveyor of the American childhood but Disney’s political involvement represents a major facet of his life’s work.

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Disney’s practical associations with far-right political actors and organizations underscore the deep social conservatism espoused in his commercial films. Most prominently, “Pinocchio” depicts a masculine rite of passage as a process of circumventing the temptations of the sophisticated, possibly homosexual, urbanite, Honest John the Fox, before narrowingly avoiding the profitable schemes of Stromboli and the coachman, apparent avatars for the influences of Gypsies and Jews, particularly in the ghettoized sections of major cities. When Pinocchio finally realizes the error of his ways and rushes home to his father he is too late to prevent Geppetto from being ensconced in the stomach of a Whale while searching for his deviant son. Pinocchio joins his father in Monstro’s stomach and devises a scheme to get them out using his bravery, ingenuity, and other cliche, commendable qualities for which he is granted life as a “real boy.” Throughout the story the lone female character is literally cordoned off from the action by a celestial orb from which she reaffirms the value of domestic virtue. Aside from “Pinocchio,” the most successful films Disney produced in his lifetime were “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” both of which feature female protagonists who inspire the hatred of their female peers by virtue of their beauty, clean house with the best of them, and find liberation through marriage to wealthy men. Disney saw morality and social order centered around the main streets of small towns around the country where caucasian protestants could avoid the corrupting influences of urban culture and revel in the virtue of traditional values.

Disney sought the intersection of conservative domesticity and autocratic sociopolitical control through the foundation of idealized communities that would become the theme parks that ultimately immortalized his name. Shortly after Disneyland opened in 1955, Disney was dismayed as the park was surrounded by unaffiliated restaurants, seedy bars, and, worst of all, strip clubs, not to mention the diverse working class neighborhoods surrounding California highway 110.

In response to his heartbreak in Anaheim, Disney devised a more complex approach to his second park. Disney bought up excess acres of land and had a moat dug around the planned site for his second park in Lake Buena Vista, FL, near Orlando. He subsequently lobbied for the formation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Disney corporation that provides all the services generally managed by a public municipality, including but not limited to: security, utilities, infrastructure, and even a fire department on behalf of the Experimental Prototypical Community of Tomorrow or EPCOT, the nucleus of Disney World which has since grown to include three other theme parks and numerous additional attractions. RCID operates with essentially no oversight from either state or federal agencies, maintains strict control of non-union employees, and is administered by the mayor of Lake Buena Vista who is a resident of the park grounds as well as an employee of Disney World. The political situation in Disney’s largest park represents an unmitigated merger of political and economic power consistent with Disney’s vision for his parks and eventually the entire country.

Although Disney successfully lobbied to create the political petri dish in which his vision could succeed on a small scale he didn’t live long enough to see the opening of Disney World much less the broader adoption of his sociopolitical philosophy. However the tide may finally be turning for the world’s most renowned, artificially preserved captain of industry. Political and social conservatism is showing signs of resurgence in the United States and Europe while distrust of inefficient political bureaucracy has reached a fever pitch on all sides of the political spectrum. Meanwhile, the Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero, in coordination with his Chinese colleague, Xiaoping Ren, plans to perform the first ever human head transplant later this year. Canavero speculates he will be able to defrost cryogenically frozen brains and implant them in host bodies by 2020. Luckily for Disney, the technological advancements upon which the science of cryonics depends are coming to fruition as the world grows increasingly receptive to an alternative to cumbersome democratic bureaucracy.

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