THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO DISNEY’S MAGICAL KINGDOM
Pendulum swings revealing radical pop culture changes are easy to trace. But on our post modern cultural maze so many--too many--simply respond to any voice raised against negative cultural shaping forces. But we are too critical and legalistic just to watch entertainment; we should rather critique what we see and hear.
The English poet, William Wordsworth (1804) captured a sense of optimism and hope among the youth of Europe (French Revolution: as it appeared to enthusiasts at its commencement, lines 4-5, as at all radical turning points in history, the French Revolution had shattered the tired old religious and political framework of Europe, sweeping away its outdated tradition, authority and practices and beliefs and opening the way to a bright new future. The new era (like the post modern era and the counter culture of the 1960s, e.g. 1980s to 2002) seemed to be at hand, promising to usher in an era of hope and opportunity--“Bliss was it that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.”
Here was something new (we don’t live in Kansas anymore, Toto), something liberating, which repressed and disillusioned youth could embrace. The future seemed to belong to them. This attitude was redividius in the counter culture of the 1960s. Into that maze pop culture develops as never before in history.
Into this milieu enters the wonder world of Disney. He just celebrated his 100th birthday (he was born December 5, 1901 in Chicago). What Disney used to be is not the postmodern Disney conglomerate that gives millions of dollars to left wing projects especially the homosexual and lesbian agenda.
In Disney’s long creative history he produced Oswald Rabbit (1927) and in 1928 created Mickey Mouse and with his third mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willie” he entered the world of Hollywood success. From this success he released, “The Three Little Pigs” and the hit song, “Who’s afraid of The Big Bad Wolf?” (1933) Disney soon became a Hollywood success story and produced a whole zoo full of characters, including Mickey’s future wife, Minnie, Goofy, Donald Duck and Pluto.
Soon, Disney attempted two full-length animated presentations, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia. Fantasia created the debate with the classic music conservatives. The film was judged to be a distortion of classical music through a popular media (for the historical analysis of changing contexts see Perucci Ferraiuolo, Disney and The Bible (Horizon Books, 1996); Richard Hollis and Brian Sibley, The Disney Studio Story (NY: Crown Pub., 1988); and Marc Eliot, Walt Disney, Hollywood’s Dark Prince (NY: Carol Pub., 1992); Marc Eliot, “The Dark Side of Uncle Walt,” Los Angeles Magazine, vol. 38, no 5, May, 1993).
The cultural wars are inseparable from any understanding of Disney’s influence. The implication of pop culture is inseparable from our immediate concern. Pop culture is concerned with popular tastes, not any metanarrative from which any Christian critique could be feasible. There is almost an ad infinitum of works, though not necessarily requiring any Christian analysis. In the context of the counter culture of the 1960s there unfolded post Fordism pornography, post Marxism, post colonialism, post feminism, post modernism, post structuralism, post capitalistic democracy, et.al.
Post Modernism deflects attention away from the singular scrutinizing gaze of the semiologist (contra World Views, metanarrative, etc.) and asks that this be replaced by a multiplicity of fragmented and frequently interrupted “looks.” (See Roland Barthe’s, “The Death of The Author” and “The Rhetoric of The Image,” Image Music Text (London: Fontana, 1973 p. 142); also U. Eco, “A Guide to the Neo-Television of the 1980s Framework” Framework, 25:18-27).
The texts or the single richly coded image gives way to the textual thickness and the visual density of everyday life. The Semiologist is, by the 1980s, out of tempo with the times. Therefore, there is increasing inability to make tangible connections between the general conditions of life today and the practice of cultural analysis. There are clearly signs of a crumbling culture where progress is in question and society seems to be standing still. No, we can’t go home again. The postmodern modes of representation that politicizes in a kind of straightforward “worth-while.” We are presently experiencing the enforced fragmentation of impermanent work and low career opportunities. Michael Medved’s brilliant work on Hollywood’s influence on our culture can be an excellent guide for Christians to understand the influence of Hollywood, including Disney. We have moved from the “critical theory,” which is held by classical modernists as Foucault, Joyce, Artand, Huyseen, et.al.; “Pop” culture in the broadest sense was the context in which a notion of the post modern first took shape. It combined images with performance, music with film or video and pin-ups with magazine form itself. Rock and pop performers today have to speak in multi-media tongues.
Postmodernism has entered into a more diverse number of vocabularies more quickly than most other intellectual categories. It has spread outwards from the realm of art history into political theory and on to the pages of youth culture magazines and record sleeves and the fashion spreads of Vogue and particularly “Cultural Studies.” This influence penetrated Western counter culture and Baudrillard (1985) has called this the “instantaneity of communication.” His analysis is possibly instantaneity of gloom, imaging in the trigger and the mechanism for new identification. But history is not so kind to this implosion into subcultures. In this malaise, fiction is often mistaken for fact! Images push their way into the fabric of our social lives. We are too often invited to participate in a series of visual puzzles. Billboard advertisers showing an image without a code impose themselves, infuriatingly on the most recalcitrant passer-by. The educational incorporation of most modern mass media represents something other than the simple consumption of images, but it is also part of the widening out process. People’s usage of and experience of media increases not just because there is more of it, but because it crops up in different places. Almost all the new educational models, arts, and social sciences make use of pop’s imagery, whether in adult education, in degree programs, or on project work with unemployed young people.
It is clear that “pop culture” has been of a homogeneously high standard. The invasive impact of these new technologies because they now occupy a place within these institutions, provide a basis for the product of new meanings, new cultural expressions.
Much of the power of “pop culture” (ala’ Disney) is its love of the unnatural of artifice and exaggeration. The heightening of reality becomes in turn a deadening unreality. Most pop culture signals a realism in which they have absolutely no investment. Here the audience, camp followers and consumers are often incapable of endorsing the real and material conditions of people’s lives. Most post modern images must be turned over to a computer/word processor (see my paper, “Lost Souls in Cyber Space”). The narratives of both right and left are often fragmented, schizophrenic consciousness verses--the metanarrative of classical Judaeo/ Christianity (the post modern culture unmodifiably rejects the metanarrative, therefore leaving only fragmented, schizophrenic, narcissistic “selves.” We are lost in a lonely crowd).
In this portrait of our cultural malaise, we now encounter The Gospel According to Disney’s Magical Kingdom! Here the moral panic of mass media is confronted via “imaging.” (See Larry Elder’s, The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America (NY: St. Martins Press, 2000) In his analysis of media bias (Its Real, Its Widespread, Its Destructive), he asks, “What is news? In the end, news is what men gatherers say it is. . .[can] the media unlike other human beings. . .turn on and off its emotions, prejudices and ideological biases? Its more like their worldview. . .frequently becomes part of the story.”
Disney also affirms that “Fable animals are not real animals. They are human beings in the guise of bird and beast. From his earliest beginnings, as his cave drawings eloquently attest, man has been telling many of his experiences and dramatic conclusions and comments through animal symbols.”
Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas unashamedly say that “We need terror by which to measure and enjoy our comforts.” A Los Angeles Times reporter wrote in 1992, “We need thrills to ameliorate the tedium. We need evil to locate our good. And evil is a concept that has been increasingly underevaluated and ignored.” (Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas, The Disney Villains (NY: Hyerion, 1993) quote from the preface. The Bible is consistently critical of he phenomena of evil from Genesis--The Cross/Resurrection/Atonement and The Revelation; (read Genesis 1-3, Psalms 34.12-14; Isaiah 1.4; 30.1; II Timothy 3.1-5; I Corinthians 5.6-7; Romans 6.12-13; Galatians 5.19-21)
Between the decade of 1950 to 1960 the Disney Organization prospered beyond all expectation. It produced Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Old Yeller, Kidnapped, and Swiss Family Robinson. Then an enormous success in Davy Crockett and Zorro. By this time Disney’s reputation was unfettered. He was declared a genius moviemaker in total control of a multimillion-dollar corporate fortress.
Disney’s influence is a major player in shaping America’s culture and individual image. From the brilliant developments from Mickey Mouse and Goofy, Snow White, Pinocchio to the Little Mermaid and Peter Pan he exposes the shaping power of imaging. The influence of Disney continues into the 21st century. The potential power of nihilistic imaging Film Noir continued from the Exorcist, Indiana Jones to Seinfeld. The world of Disney (et.al.) moves beyond good and evil and perpetuates perennial adolescence in the cultural journey in the quest from evil, banality of evil (and goodness) to normal nihilism. Dysfunctional families daily exist in semiotic hell.
Noted film reviewer Roger Ebert thinks Pinocchio is plausible to the average kid, unlike Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” “Kids may not understand falling in love with a prince,” . . . “but they understand not listening to your father and being a bad boy and running away and getting into real trouble.” (Microsoft Cinemania 95 (Redmond, WA: Microsoft 1995 compact disk).
Sorcery is exposed in the Bible as being an expression of Satan. Sorcery is also expressed in the recent, non-Disney success, Harry Potter, which exposes its continuing power of attracting audiences (over 125 million dollars so far). That the scriptures are consistently opposed to all forms of witchcraft is crystal clear. But in our post modern culture these categories have been reduced from mythological superstition to expression in television programs such as The X Files, Touched By An Angel, Dark Angel, Smallville, Tarot card readers and movies like Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings.
After Disney’s death the corporation was soon in disarray. Rumors of both friendly and unfriendly take-over abounded. The “Junk Bond King”, Michael Milken, and the notorious wheeler and dealer, Ivan Boesky, became the fourth largest stockholder of the organization. The moral decay continues almost unabated (the biblical attitude toward Satan and evil - I Chronicles 21.1; Satan’s counterfeit miracles - II Thessalonians 2.9; see especially Robert Morey, Satan’s Devices (Harvest House, 1993, esp. pp. 50-51)
On September 22, 1984, Michael Eisner enters the sacred confines and begins to revamp the entire Disney operation. Many staff members were asked to resign and others were fired on the spot. The Disney citadel was attacked and conquered by the dominant Hollywood aristocracy. Soon the new sexual images began to appear. Under the tutelage of Eisner and Katzenberg’s watchful eye, Disney became Touchstone Pictures, which became a central voice in adult oriented movies. An additional postmodern influence appeared with the arrival of Richard Frank who was responsible for Entertainment Tonight and Solid Gold and the most successful sitcoms of the 1980s, Golden Girls. Their cute antics were hardly innocent. Rue McClanahan related one sexual conquest after conquest with America’s living room her unwitting accomplices. The show assaulted biblical family values. Christianity fared even less well. Blanche’s daughter used artificial insemination to conceive a child, winning her mother’s support (Michael Medved, Hollywood vs. America (NY: Harper, 1992, p. 143). His book is filled with similar examples.
Michael Medved declares that Hollywood has clearly demonstrated an uncompromising hostility to the classical/biblical values.
. . . The music industry shamelessly promotes promiscuity, motion pictures focus relentlessly on family dysfunction and divorce, while television programs broadcast the deadly message that kids know better than their doltish and irrelevant parents. In other words, the contrast between private contentment and public pessimism that shows up in major polls mirrors the huge chasm between our view of the world and Hollywood’s, between the relatively happy real life experience of most American families and the grim and poisonous visions that regularly emerge from the entertainment industry. Those anti-family images have become so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness that few Americans can summon the courage or the strength to dismiss them as the destructive distortions that they are. (Michael Medved, Hollywood vs. America (NY: Harper Perennial, 1992, p. 96).
Robert Knight of The Family Research Council points out the same picture.
When Disney changed hands from essentially family ownership to an insider group of Hollywood executives who already had long track records, the whole tenor of the studio changed and it became strictly a moneymaking enterprise. Even though Michael Eisner had pledged at the outset that Disney would keep its standards, they quickly began bringing Disney into the modern world of liberal standards; in other words, having Disney reflect the mores of the day rather than a timeless set of values. Before Eisner, Disney was in a liberal subculture. After Disney, Eisner used the kid culture to make adult films. Disney world is now an adult filmmaker, which unabashedly peddles immorality and licentiousness. (Of course, in the postmodern maze, these concerns are from “uneducated, prejudiced conservatives”! (Interview with Robert Knight in 1996 by Perucci Ferraiuolo)
The Disney corporation and the Hollywood elite have helped to bring a whole new standard of sexual ethics in our postmodern culture. In order to engage this sexual revolution Christians must understand the nature of our postmodern culture, which is controlled by the National Association of Education and the elite Hollywood media. The essence of post modernism is expressed by (1) the rejection of objective knowledge, (2) True Truth, (3) Rejection of all metanarrative, and the affirmation of (1) anti-science, (2) revisionist history, (3) social construction of all reality, (4) cultural and epistemological relativism (multicultural pluralism, diversity and tolerance). The implication of the culture shaping perspectives is the radical rejection of all classical forms of normative morality, leaving “power” as the only remaining factor to mediate alternative perspectives (e.g. Hollywood’s immorality or ben Laden’s terrorism or patriotism?)
Another extremely popular Disney movie by Touchstone was the R rated drama, The Color of Money that was about a pool shark. Paul Newman was its director under the leadership of the legendary Martin Scorsese. He is perhaps best known for distorting the depiction of Jesus in the 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ. Christ was portrayed as a sexual pervert. A mob gathered outside Universal Studios in protest. Both media and movie moguls dismissed the demonstrators as a lunatic fringe of religious fanatics and right wing extremists who are “sour, fun-loathing people, the America’s ignoramus factor that is perpetually geeked up on self-righteous bile.” (M. Medved, op.cit., p. 44)
The sexual image projections in many recent Disney films are new age/occult/goddess imagination run wild. “Hollywood is known by the company it keeps.” “The pollution of our minds, our souls and our spirits” are the results of Hollywood’s influence, much of the sexual imagery seems to be a cross between Marilyn Monroe and the vampishness of Madonna. Hollywood (Disney/Touchstone) seems hell bent down a path of anti family, pro promiscuity in their films; of course, all in the name of First Amendment rights. Except those who protest have no first amendment rights. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto! (see Leonard Mosley’s book, Disney’s World (NY: Stein and Day, 1985, p. 252)
By the 1990s, the Disney complex had an emphatically anti-family, anti-Bible and especially anti-Christian entertainment syndrome. It is not enough merely to expose the contradiction between Disney Touchstone immoral agenda with the rather clear biblical message regarding sex and marriage (home/family) (some crucial passages of scripture are Hebrews 13.4, Revelation 21.8, I Corinthians 6.18-20).
Disney’s worldview is clearly that of post modernism. In 1988 Eisner called another Paramount guru, Richardo Mestres, to take charge of Disney Corporation’s newest studio, Hollywood Pictures. In 1990 Hollywood pictures produced another enormous hit, “Pretty Woman” in which Richard Gere had a weekend fling with a prostitute, played by Julia Roberts. Hollywood street walkers are not often as wholesome and clean as Julia was. The bodies of young prostitutes still litter the back alleys of large cities; their life stories do not often end up as clean as that of Gere and Roberts. Most often the “prince charming” does not rescue Snow White from her environment. Note the paradox--Gere did not want Julia to do drugs, but promiscuous sex is politically correct--what? Into the 21st century prostitutes are fair game for predators. Demographic data supports the deadly consequence of this life style, as half of the prostitutes in major cities have HIV. “Pretty Woman” fails to expose this fact! The theme lines of “Pretty Woman” are adulation of sex and profanity all wrapped up in a passage of a successful power broker.
The story of Hollywood’s amoral lifestyle continues in Eddie Murphy’s movies, “The Distinguished Gentleman” and “Consenting Adults” as wife swapping in suburbia. We’ve come a long way from Mickey Mouse and Snow White (available again in 2002 digitalized format). The anti-Christian bias intensifies with each new production (e.g. “Chasing Amy”, “Priest”, “The Advocate,” “Power”).
From Disney to Scorsese to Salva, the worldviews have radically changed from the original Disney productions. Now there is Disney/Miramax to market the unrated shocker “Kids.” Even the Cannes (France) Film Festival in May, 1995 was shocked! What? How can the Cannes Film Festival be morally shocked? This kiddie porn exposed sexual seduction in graphic details. Through sexual conquests the boy is infected with HIV, which is a virus that causes AIDS. This film is not only sexually explicit, it is sexually deviate. Yet American Christians did not seem in the least shocked, as millions have participated in the deviate orgy by buying tickets!
Note the consequences of our cultural chaos as many millions continue to patronize Disney World in California and Florida. How can millions think that Disney would still champion biblical family values? But as to be expected, all those Christian groups who have boycotted Disney theme parks have been characterized as “red necked, illiterate, conservative Republicans--God forbid! (See Michael Medved, “The New Disney: Offenses Grow,” in Citizen Magazine, December 1995, p. 2)
The Disney Organization has come out of the closet. Yet it merely reflects the enormous impact of post modernism on our culture of the 21st century. When there is no “True Truth” nor meta narrative (world view) there is no “objectivity,” and “all of reality is socially constructed.” (See my essays, “Whatever Happened to True Truth?” (Rorty, Lyotard, DeMann, Eco, Bernstein, Fish, et.al.); and a “Critique of the Sociology of Knowledge Thesis.”) (The Bible is clear in its message about sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, lesbianism and other postmodern deviate behavior pattern, but our post modern audiences are shaped by media and multicultural education. Outcome Based Education is shaped to be receptors of the new message of tolerant/diversity, which acknowledges no norms, i.e., rejection of Biblical norms. Therefore the work of Michael Medved, James Dobson, James Kennedy, Ferraiuolo, et.al., is rejected intoto.)
The Disney voice is propelling us into another Gomorrah. Our culture does not sit gentle to the rantings of “Dooms Day Prophets” but we are faced with one of the most powerful cultural shaping force in the past half century. (The other most powerful force is “The National Association of Education”--the Multicultural tolerance and diversity agenda from the womb to the tomb.)
Trends and Triage: (1) Biblically based family values are attacked and ridiculed. (2) Occultism, Satanism, Eastern religions and New Age Pantheism are promoted. (3) Sexual perversion is modeled and applauded as an acceptable alternative lifestyle and (4) Consumer demands are not only being satisfied, they are being generated and created. (Perucci Ferraiuolo, ibid., p. 151). These trends represent rejection of the scriptures, but of course this is the very issue. In our post modern anti-science, revisionist history and that reality is merely socially constructed dominates all levels of communication in the 21st century. Perhaps the most fundamental challenge is--What is the relationship of “Popular Entertainment” to the Christian world view? What is wrong (if anything) with entertainment (from Roman circuses to Pop Culture)? But in our post modern preoccupation with relevance we have often destroyed the Gospel in an effort to contextualize the Christian message in order to make it relevant to post modern audiences (see Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death and my paper, “Culture, Symbols and Media: The Road to Deconstructionism”--located in the library archives; read carefully Romans 12.1,2; 16.19b; II Corinthians 6.17-18; 7.1; Philippians 4.8; II Timothy 2.22).
Our Biblical mandate in both the Old and New Testaments is clear. There are at least two factors we must keep in mind--(91) Understanding that evil/Satan is contagious (I Cor. 5.6,7). The unrestrained evil through media (films and TV) and hostile educational environment, especially through Disney corporation must be understood and Biblically critiqued; (2) Biblical history is linear, not cyclical--it is going somewhere and there will be a day of judgment and accountability. Post Modern culture is heading for destruction. Our present challenge issuing from Disney’s influence is that Christians must understand the times and know what His people must do!
Principalities and Powers in Disney’s Magic Kingdom: Perhaps our crisis and opportunity in our present hour is presented in Ephesians 6.10-20:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Walt Disney brilliantly expressed our 21st century plight:
“The motion picture has become one of the marvels of all time; a true Wonder of the World in its magical powers. But what is wrought on the screen for every man and his family to see. . . has been even more wonderful.”
Disney’s “Fantasia contains a total glorification of witchcraft, sorcery and Satanism set to classical music. (P. Ferraiuolo, Disney and The Bible (Horizon Books, 1996, p. 27)
Bob Moorehead is correct in saying that Ferraiuolo risked his life by calling into question the morality level of the Disney empire.
For Biblical oriented Christians, the home and family is one of the great graces from God. But only the uninformed would fail to realize the radical redefinition of the family and marriage since the 1960s. We have too often been bamboozled by Spoch’s child-rearing revolution. Just trace the reimaging of the family from “Life With Father” to Archie Bunker and Seinfeld and the dysfunctional significant other relationships on Soap Operas and prime time T.V. (HBO/MTV) programs.
For further study the following works would be most helpful.
Perucci Ferraiuolo, Disney and The Bible (Camp Hill, PA: Horizon Books, 1996).
Michael Medved, Hollywood Vs. America (NY: Harper, 1992).
Richard Hollas and Brian Sibley, The Disney Studio Story (NY: Crown Pub., 1988).
Marc Eliot, Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince (NY: Carol Pub., 1993).
Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas, The Disney Villain (NY: Hyperion, 1993).
Roberto Rivera, Editorial in “Christianity Today” Feb. 5, 1996, p. 13.
Quentin J. Schultze, “Superstitious Christianity” in Moody Magazine, March/April 1996.
L.F. Armington, World Proofing Your Kids (Crossways Pub., 1997)
Thomas S. Hibbs, Shows About Nothing: Popular Culture from Exorcist to Seinfeld (Spencer Pub, 1999).
David McCallum, The Death of Truth (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996).
James Strauss, essays, “The Gospel According to Peanuts,” “The Gospel According to The New York Times,” “The Gospel According to The Simpsons,” and “The Gospel According to Disney’s Magical Kingdom.”
Microsoft Cinemania 95 (Redmond, WA) and Cinemania Baselines, Encyclopedia of Film, CD Rom.
James D. Strauss, Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656