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Disney Studies: Entertainment, Architecture, Ideology

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Jeff Clapp

on 9 January 2017

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Transcript of Disney Studies: Entertainment, Architecture, Ideology

Disney Studies: Entertainment, Architecture, Ideology
Why Disney?
Disney Before Mickey
Walt Disney was born in 1901 and died in 1966.
The animation studio he founded in 1928 has become the most influential media corporation, and perhaps the most influential corporation, not only in American history, but in world history.
This class is largely about how Walt Disney's tiny entertainment business grew in national and global influence, from the 1920s to the present.
The Corporation
Like any major multinational, Disney corporate history is extremely complex, but we can break down a few eras, like this:
1920-1940: Through cartoons, films, and merchandizing, Disney becomes a dominant media company in the United States.

1940-1966: Through television and theme parks, Disney revolutionizes the entertainment and tourism industries in the United States.

1966-1984: Disney loses influence and goes steadily downhill.

1984-Present: Through a series of major film successes, new theme parks, and the acquisition of other companies, including Pixar and Marvel, Disney achieves unprecedented global dominance.
Walt Disney
While Disney himself is very important to our story in this class, we are not trying to prove that he was a genius.
The Mickey Watch is an iconic example of Disney branding,
first introduced by Kay Kamen in 1933
From the very beginning, he had important collaborators, like Ub Iwerks, who developed much of the style of early Disney animation, Kay Kamen, who introduced many of the merchandizing techniques, and Roy O. Disney, Walt's brother, who managed the corporation that bore his brother's name.
While he was certainly a unique individual, many ideas about Walt Disney himself are "Disney Discourse," produced by Walt or his corporation:
“Walt Disney” is also in a sense a social construction—a product of his own and others’ efforts at creating a public face and a personal biography that would serve his business's aims.” Bryman, Disney and his Worlds, 33
Disney Discourse
“We make the pictures and then let the professors tell us what they mean.” —Walt Disney
One of the most consistent ideas about Disney is that he and his corporation produce "just entertainment."
So in this class we will take him up on his invitation, particularly because, by 1937, it was already possible to say that he was the "Aesop of the twentieth century."
So, from Mickey Mouse forward, we will ignore the idea that Disney produces "just entertainment." Instead, we will treat his films, parks, and objects as what they are: tremendously powerful forces for shaping opinions, values, and ideas.
Disney Discourse
And in fact, particularly following his ascent to fame, Disney came to have a firm set of ideas that he wanted his products to convey.
"Like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, while celebrated for individual artifacts, Disney was actually the master of vast “technological systems”…Disney imagined his systems as blueprints for a future based on efficiency, conservation, and communal living." (Smoodin, Disney Discourse, 3)
By the end of his life, Disney was trying to build what he called an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" in Florida:
So this class will study "Disney Discourse" to understand what ideas Disney products convey.
Today, following Alan Bryman, we will divide "Disney Discourse" into two parts, Disneyfication and Disneyization.
the remaking of the world according to theming, hybrid consumption, merchandizing, and emotional labor
theming: the application of a narrative to an unrelated consumption opportunity, in order to differentiate products and experiences

hybrid consumption: the collection of multiple avenues or dimensions of consumption in order to keep customers longer, or even become a destination
merchandizing: the establishment of brands-within-brands that can support multiple avenues of product placement and licensing

emotional labor: requiring employees, as part of their jobs, to display particular emotions and to convey a sense of deep belief in the consumption setting and their role in it

: the shaping of stories for consumption and ideological purposes
Walz: the representation of "literature, myth, and/or history in a simplified, sentimentalized, programmatic way"

Ross: "a process of sanitizing culture or history"

Bryson: "control over the imagination," including in particular sexist, racist, or imperialist ideas
Some academic descriptions of Disneyfication
Pocahontas (
1995), colonists from England come to North America to plant a small colony and search for gold.

While they immediately come into conflict with the indigenous people living in the area, Pocahontas mediates between them and resolves the conflict, and the colonists simply leave.

The story is "Disneyfied" in at least two ways:

1) it is primarily focused on a love affair between Pocahontas and John Smith-- an affair that did not happen.

2) the conclusion of the film does not mention or imply that early contacts like these led directly to racial genocide in North America throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
A quick example
Using the term
"The “Disneyfication” of ABC News is complete....[their programs] took a major leap into the world of infotainment in 2013 compared to previous years and spent dramatically less time covering hard news than its competition....Tellingly, two of ABC News’s correspondents who got the most face time on “World News,” were Ginger Zee, whose beat is weather and Paula Ferris, who specializes in consumer features, according to Tyndall."
(Forbes, 2014)
Using the term
“The Chinese state appears to place no value on the Uighur way of life and traditions beyond the Disneyfied version it offers to tourists,” he said. “Every other aspect of Uighur life must be either destroyed, remodeled or neutered so as to prevent it from becoming a potential vehicle for Uighur ethno-national aspirations.”
(NYT, 2014)
This is primarily about parks, places, and objects.
This is primarily about the cartoons, films, and images.
Looking at Early Short Cartoons
Our goals:

1) to experience early animation and some turning points in the very earliest part of Disney history

2) To begin looking for patterns of meaning in Disney products, including, in particular, the binary relationships or antitheses in the Disney ideology: between good characters and bad ones, between good behavior and bad behavior, between safety and danger, between freedom and control.

3) Finally, to recognize a set of two "levels" within Disney's earliest films that we will track throughout....
Early Disney Cartoon Series
are the earliest Disney animations that were publicly displayed. They were not very successful, primarily because Disney only tried to sell them to local theaters in Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States.

As the Laugh-o-gram business failed, Disney took his remaining money and made the first
Alice Comedy
, which he took to Hollywood. Here he got his first distribution deal and became successful, on a very small scale, for several years.

As the popularity of the Alice Comedies faded, Disney developed an animated character,
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
. These were more successful--but then Universal Studies, Disney's distributor in New York, hired away all his staff. Because Universal held the copyright on Oswald, Disney had to start all over again with nothing.
Some Observations about Early Disney
Little Red Riding Hood (first full-length Laugh-o-Gram) (1922)

Alice's Wonderland (first Alice Comedy) (1923)

Trolley Troubles (first Oswald the Luck Rabbit) (1927)

"A film is difficult to explain
because it is easy to understand."
-Christopher Metz

I will fill these in with material from our discussion today.
Two Levels of Meaning
The Moral World
In the "moral world" of Disney films, characters learn lessons, mature, and achieve satisfaction, security, etc.
The World of Play
In Disney films, there is continual emphasis on humor, chaos, carnival, mischief and other aspects of a "world of play."
What is
What is
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