November 2017
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the mouse is a trap: Disney stole magic and then sold it back


If you haven't seen NLC Net's series about Chinese workers in Disney sweatshops, you might be unaware of how Disney exploits its workers. If you haven't seen "Mickey Mouse Monopoly" you might be unaware of the ways and intensity to which Disney shapes the thinking of children. If it isn't within your experience and you haven't read intersectional critique you might be unaware of the ways in which Disney's films are racist and sexist. But most of the people I know -- even those who otherwise care deeply about resisting oppression -- just don't want to think about it. Somehow Disney is the one clearly exploitative part of life that people I know are most resistant to acknowledge and work against. It has trapped people's thinking, and I know why.

Disney has co-opted magic. It has packaged and licensed and sold it, defined it and locked it up. Its first theme park was the "Magic Kingdom," which in two words creates a border that magic cannot cross and establishes it as a place that is ruled by a rich male. It has created the idea that magic is made of sparkles and swirling light and air, that it is a visual thing, a tactile thing. It made magic into a binary of good and evil, something with clear and easy to understand edges, something with obvious consequences. It stole magic from us and then sold it back, and if you want more you have to keep paying: you have to buy movie tickets and theme park tickets and merchandise. Magic becomes a thing that you cannot access without an intermediary.

I think in some ways I was lucky that my family was poor and controlling. I saw my first movie at age 8 and didn't watch TV until I was 19; my childhood magic was found in nature and books. But others' first exposure to magic may have been Disney, or they may have grown up disallowed magic and found that the only kind that was allowed was the kind validated by billion-dollar sales: Disney. Disney's magic may be the only kind that allows them to feel wonder as an adult -- because at Disney's parks you're SUPPOSED to feel wonder and see magic. If you go through your daily life noticing and feeling awe at magic (like moss in the sidewalk cracks), your social status will drop; if you do it at Disney, it's okay.

So while I feel wounded at the suffering that I know goes into and comes out of Disney, I also feel that it is, for some, their only access to magic, and I have a hard time discussing it. I hate telling my lover that no, I cannot go see the latest Disney because I do not want to support a corporation that I know causes harm. I hate being silent and uncomfortable when other people describe their deep connection with a Disney film; I will tell people my thoughts when they ask but most of the time I stay quiet. I understand how it must be well-nigh impossible to cut off a source of magic (even if it is problematic) when you don't know another source. I don't have an alternative to offer them, and I understand the need for magic. I feel trapped.

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Comments
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bunnika ══╣bunny: wheelchair╠══
For me, Disney was the one happy part of a tumultuous childhood. My mother suspended life for us for two weeks every year, where we got to go to Disney World and I could be a normal kid. I got to see other children (something disallowed in my normal life), be as boisterous as I naturally was without harsh reprimand, act my own age for two glittering weeks in 50 more of misery. To this day Disney brings back all the happy times, and makes me feel like maybe I was a little bit loved, at least two weeks a year.

I don't really think any mainstream corporation is without moral decay. Media is saturated with bigotry, and if we avoided it wholly, we'd be left with nothing to consume. It doesn't excuse anything, but it's where I think a line gets drawn for me wrt personal enjoyment. I won't condemn a person for liking problematic things, I just wish them to know the realities of what they're supporting. (I'm not 100% sure if that's where you're coming from as well?) I drink milk, and I know the horrors of the dairy industry. I shop at Goodwill when I know how they pay disabled employees pennies. I shop at stores that source from sweatshops. I don't even know how I'd avoid all of this if I tried. Avoidance is often a luxury only the wealthy can afford.

I think what I'm trying to nail down is that it's not just about not finding magic anywhere else. I think Disney is whimsical as all hell, but it's not magic; magic is in the redwoods and crashing waves and dripping rainforests. I've never sensed magic in anything packaged and marketed. But that whimsy helps me be a kid again, just for a little while, and helps me feel like maybe my entire childhood wasn't wasted. Maybe I can still live bits and pieces of it and get back all those years I spent lonely and suicidally depressed. I was cut off from the world around me for seven long and lonely years, and the only peek I had into the outside world came through my television set, and through my trips to Disney World. Maybe it's just a description of a really pathetic life, but I've still gotta cling to the little bits of happiness I had. They were few and far between, but they came very largely through the Mouse.
belenen ══╣magical╠══
Yeah that's mostly where I am coming from. I like some problematic things too; what is important to me is to reject the problematic things that I can afford to reject. I can reject Disney because the meaning it held for me has crumbled. I think the thing that bothers me is not when socially-aware people use Disney products, but when they recommend them to others without caveat. I agree that avoidance is often a luxury only the wealthy can afford.

Disney may not be magic to you but I know it is to at least some others, and I know it held magic to me as a kid. Magic comes in many forms, I feel. A sense of childhood joy and wonder is something I would call a kind of magic.
bunnika ══╣╠══
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frecklestars ══╣╠══
bunnika ══╣╠══
frecklestars ══╣╠══
bunnika ══╣╠══
raidingparty ══╣╠══
bunnika ══╣╠══
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Linkdump
classical_wolf ══╣Liz Lemon╠══
If it isn't within your experience and you haven't read intersectional critique you might be unaware of the ways in which Disney's films are racist and sexist. - I knew about this, but I didn't know about the other social justice issues regarding Disney. Thank you for bringing those other issues to light!
belenen ══╣giving╠══
thanks for reading!
classical_wolf ══╣╠══
tonithegreat ══╣╠══
I sympathize with this so much! I am glad I am not the only one who feels this way! I try to politely tell my coworkers who rave about disney vacations that I'm not really a Disney kind of person when they ask me when I'll be taking my kids. People feel such personal connections to the dream that it seems like it will hurt their feelings if I really explain why I'm not into it.

That said, my daughters love Frozen in all it's imperfect glory, and I feel pretty good about singing along with them to it. It is so hard to decide where to draw the line.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
yessss I know! I feel like with problematic things, you can't avoid all of them so I just try to pick ones with strong good in them and then critique the bad.
left_harangue ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
There's some good stuff out there but you have to really search.
jem0000000 ══╣╠══
*hugs*
belenen ══╣hypnotiq╠══
thanks :)
jem0000000 ══╣╠══
wolfteaparty ══╣╠══
I will admit that I've always enjoyed Disney's movies and theme parks. I feel really sad and ashamed to learn of these workers being exploited!

I feel fortunate that I have always had, and still have, the ability to feel awe at nature as well, and don't need to watch a movie or go to a theme park to experience magic.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
Yeah it sucks that they care about profit so much more than people. Fuck capitalism :-[

I feel ya, my favorite magic is trees.
x_disturbed_x ══╣╠══
I can't say I'm surprised about Disney doing this because this is something a good amount of corporations do. Still... I can't help but love Disney. It had a big influence on me as a child.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
Yeah. I do love a lot of Disney's art, I just hate the messages that always come with it.
baxaphobia ══╣╠══
This is really thought provoking. Disney is so engrained in our culture that it's hard to ignore. Nicely done!
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
I agree, very hard to ignore! I don't know a person my age or younger who didn't see a Disney movie as a child. It's so formative.
wildrose ══╣╠══
kiwi ══╣╠══
I have a friend who's the exact same way, to the point where she accuses those of us who question things as "princess shaming" and takes personal offense. I completely agree with you.
belenen ══╣╠══
kiwi ══╣╠══
Boy, Disney can be polarizing, can't it?

I was a weird kid, I guess - I remember the first movie that I saw in theaters with my family (it was a Disney movie - Oliver and Co) and the second movie I saw in theaters with my family (years down the road, also a Disney movie - Lion King) and I saw magic. But not because of the stories - the stories were no different than anything I'd read or had been told at that point. Because I was amazed that cartoons could look like that. My brother was even more flabbergasted than I was. He's now a graphic designer...go fig.

I'm glad you posted that link and it was a good read. I do think some of the issues brought up in the link isn't exclusive to Disney - the "Twilight" series is an example that pops to mind, as is "Memoirs of a Geisha". But I'm also not defending Disney. I like to think that some things are getting better - but I seriously struggle to tell if that's the optimist in me. (BTW, I watched the link within the link of the cut scene from Lilo and Stitch re: racism in Hawaii and I kind of wish it had been left - when we visited the islands a few years back, my spouse was asked by a couple of Caucasian males what luau he found me at. No joke.) I'm going to challenge a friend of mine who thinks Disney can do no wrong to read the link and see what she says.
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
Yeah! the art is the best part! I loved Lion King and probably saw it 60+ times. I loved the art of Pocahontas too, so much that I (as a teen) forgave it for being wildly inaccurate.

I totally agree that it's not just Disney -- these are the same problems you see everywhere. But I think it is WORSE because this is fantasy marketed to kids -- teaching kids how to dream! Dreaming of white supremacist patriarchy is shitty!
kiwi ══╣╠══
kajel ══╣╠══
Nicely done.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
thanks!
karmasoup ══╣Camo Teddy╠══
I’m with you, growing up, my magic was books. Lewis and Tolkien and Poe and Burroughs and Terhune and Doyle and Stout and Christie. How magical could this world ever have been without them?
belenen ══╣bluestocking╠══
I did love Tolkien, though not as much as Tad Williams! The best was the Oz series but they were hard to find. (the Wizard is the boringest of them)
suesniffsglue ══╣╠══
I loved this. I agree with your sentiments completely here
belenen ══╣aquarius╠══
glad you enjoyed!
halfshellvenus ══╣╠══
Really interesting take on the prompt, and the thought that the "Mouse" has trapped us more than the reverse.

I have happy memories of Disneyland and going there with my kids, but I'm also of a generation before "Disney Princesses" became a thing, and I struggle with how that has co-opted a lot of little girls' imaginations as well as warped stories in favor of creating princesses to be worshipped.

I don't know that my daughter ever had a favorite princess, because it would never have occurred to me to ask. She didn't get to watch and TV or movies until she was 4, and even then very sparingly. I think she was pretty lucky, really.
faerie_spark ══╣╠══
I really love this take on the commercialization (not to mention oppression) of Disney. Really solid
I also really love this paragraph.

Disney has co-opted magic. It has packaged and licensed and sold it, defined it and locked it up. Its first theme park was the "Magic Kingdom," which in two words creates a border that magic cannot cross and establishes it as a place that is ruled by a rich male. It has created the idea that magic is made of sparkles and swirling light and air, that it is a visual thing, a tactile thing. It made magic into a binary of good and evil, something with clear and easy to understand edges, something with obvious consequences. It stole magic from us and then sold it back, and if you want more you have to keep paying: you have to buy movie tickets and theme park tickets and merchandise. Magic becomes a thing that you cannot access without an intermediary.

Such a wonderful use of words and cadence.
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on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.