Uncle Walt • 1930-1950: Disney becomes the most successful and celebrated animator in the United States • His rise is fueled by public perception of him as • An artist and storyteller • A master of technology • A captain of industry • He is seen as personifying the American Dream: Why?
Disney and the Media • Disney comes to be constructed by the media as a man of genius, solely responsible for the collaborative work he signs “A Disney Cartoon” • Though his workers are often seen at work in creative, interesting contexts, they disappear before the final credits • Why is this a problem inherent in a capitalist system? Where else do we see it in Hollywood movies?
Why was Disney so celebrated? • He entertains children of all classes and races, uniting them into a single group through laughter • Newspaper comics • Comic book novels • He reconciles art and commerce • “Movies are art, now more than ever.” • He brings together art and governments • “Hollywood [is] as busy as a league of nations,” bringing education to the free world (Walter Wanger)
What caused his popular decline? • He failed to keep reconciling oppositions • Labor disputes • Mixing of live action and animation too experimental for middle-class critics • His technical expertise came to be seen as a substitute for story and character • Actually, he failed to move with the times
What changed? • Television entered middle class life • Cartoon style moved from realism to minimalism and/or surrealism • Audience for cartoons got younger • Acceptable representations of race and of female sexuality gradually changed • Attitudes toward the rights of the worker became more labor oriented
The Media’s Influence Disney did become, at least for a while, an American symbol for • Benevolent business • Uniting classes and races • Within a rigidly maintained system of class and racial divisions • And a belief in US political and commercial superiority in the global context
Disney Diplomacy • Why Disney? He personifies • Cultural dominance • Commerce • Government policy • The purpose of Disney Diplomacy • Social control at home • Global preeminence for US government and industry
Good Neighbors • Office of Cultural Relations • Nelson Rockefeller, Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Relations • Counters German propaganda presence in South America • Argentina and Brazil major battlegrounds • Disney is instructed to make films positive about American achievements, but avoiding “anything which might indeed cause laughter at us, instead of with us.”
What did he forget to consider? • Cultural differences between the US and the South American countries • Differences between countries in South America • That South American countries were politically independent • They were not synonymous with the European conquerors whose languages they still spoke, and they might reject European culture in favor of their own traditional culture
The government assumed . . . . . . that Walt Disney, ‘a benign, entertaining, and educational presence,’ could, as a representative of the US, “tour a foreign culture, come to understand it in just a short time, film it, and then bring it back home with him, all with the blessing and thanks of the culture he had visited.” (Smoodin, p. 141)
OOPS “I tried to find a way of fixing it (Goofy Gaucho), but I found all my efforts so hopeless that I told them I didn’t see any way at all; such was the conglomeration of errors.” --Florencio Molina Campos
Doomed to Fail: Why? Conflict between: • understanding the culture and the need to sell these cartoons to American audiences • The ideas of multimillionaire businessmen and the revolutionary governments of many South American countries • The potential benevolence of a “good neighbor” and the need to maintain cultural and economic dominance over less developed countries • The need to counter Nazi propaganda and the racism inherent in US culture in this period
Meanwhile, back at the ranch • The films fail to establish any real dominance in South America • Disney still considered a “great man” by the US government, but conflicts exist: • FBI files • HUAC cooperation • The New Spirit • Interest in promoting the FBI, but increasing impatience at their attempts to censor his work
The New Spirit • Who found it an excellent use of taxpayers’ money? • Who didn’t? • Why is this significant? • What does it reveal about class and race assumptions in the US at the time? • Would the government even consider making a propaganda film directed primarily at the upper classes? If so, would it be a cartoon? • What do the contemporary responses to the cartoon reveal about the public, as opposed to the media, response to Walt Disney?