Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Walt Disney Is Christian Grey

After watching a PBS documentary on Walt Disney, one of my facebook friends - on one of her posts HERE (note to self mostly) - noted that the man was, ummm, not always such a nice person. Of course, a sentiment was expressed that this was unfortunate, since he brought joy to so many. Someone else in the thread noted that he was "very much a business man." This is my response.

One could make a rather strong case that there is no actual joy at Disney. And whether or not he was a butt hole makes little difference.

"The...concept of 'hyperreality' was...coined by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation. Baudrillard defined 'hyperreality' as 'the generation by models of a real without origin or reality', it is a representation, a sign, without an original referent. Baudrillard believes hyperreality goes further than confusing or blending the 'real' with the symbol which represents it; it involves creating a symbol or set of signifiers which actually represent something that does not actually exist, like Santa Claus. Baudrillard in particular suggests that the world we live in has been replaced by a copy world, where we seek simulated stimuli and nothing more."

This would be less important to point out or comment on if it (hyperreality, i.e. Disney) weren't an icon of the world we live in.

"Italian author Umberto Eco explores the notion of hyperreality further by suggesting that the action of hyperreality is to desire reality and in the attempt to achieve that desire, to fabricate a false reality that is to be consumed as real. Linked to contemporary western culture Umberto Eco and [others] would argue, that in current cultures fundamental ideals are built on desire and particular sign-systems.....Hyperreality is significant as a paradigm to explain current cultural conditions. Consumerism, because of its reliance on sign exchange value (e.g. brand X shows that one is fashionable, car Y indicates one's wealth), could be seen as a contributing factor in the creation of hyperreality or the hyperreal condition. Hyperreality tricks consciousness into detaching from any real emotional engagement, instead opting for artificial simulation, and endless reproductions of fundamentally empty appearance."

Both of the above quotes are from the wikipedia article on hyperreality, which kind of doesn't do the idea justice, but gets the point across well enough.

The person who noted the joy brought to so many by Disney, with a number of tell tale signs of a modern worldview along with a misunderstanding of hyperreality, had this to say in response:

"You're missing the point, Jason. As someone who grew up in the early Disney era, I've got to point out that his work -- while certainly enjoyed by adults -- was oriented toward children and childhood. And children love beauty, and mystery, and a strong concept of 'good and bad.' Disney conveyed all of these things through his animated feature films. He also taught us a love of science and the natural world through his documentary films and 'Jiminy Cricket' science specials. Was his visualization of those subjects simplistic and romanticized and "hyperreal"? Sure! But remember, he was aiming at children, and you can't foster and grow awe and appreciation in children by presenting them with dry facts, statistics and cynical philosophy."

To that, I say this:

No offense to the Disney lovers, but I'm not missing anything. Those of you who grew up with the rise of Disney also grew up in the dawn of consumerism. No coincidence. To that end, Disney helped shape you and the rest of us into consumers. Hyperreality isn't just about how a story is depicted. It's about a story that never was creating a fantasy that shapes our desires that will never be fulfilled but will drive revenue (including Disney's). And, when I say it will drive revenue, I mean the pursuit to fulfill the created and unfulfillable fantasy becomes the revenue. The revenue stream doesn't end, because there is no underground spring in the first place.

In other words, I am not saying that Disney tries to force us against our will to buy things we don't really want to buy. I'm saying Disney shapes the will in the first place at a level as deep as our very identity. That's why, in consumerism, we ARE consumers.

And, have you read any of the original tales on which the Disney fairy tales are based? That is a more relevant comparison than Disney to "dry, cold facts."

As for kids, what does it do to the imagination when there is not only no more distinction between the real and the imaginary, but when you actually inhabit the imaginary (that has no original basis in reality in the first place)? Then what reality does a kid grow up into?

And, maybe even more importantly, then what of the imagination is left for the adult? 50 shades of Grey?

Anastasia left Grey because there was no real life. She got consumed by a false fantasy. Sound familiar? And, she also left Grey because the fantasy in which she had been caught up didn't account properly for the pain and suffering that would be inherent in the real, actual life once the fantasy was "fulfilled." Pain, suffering, and violence are generally the missing elements of fantasies, right? They are certainly missing - or sterilized - at Disney. But they are neither missing nor sterilized in the original stories that generated Disney's fantasies. And, back to my original point about a lack of true joy at Disney, Anastasia got consumed by a false fantasy that ended up including no real joy.

More on how the story is depicted. Actually, for Disney, the depiction of the (non)story integrally supports the fantasy implicit in the fairy tale. The depiction is not an extra added element of the product that constitutes or designates a Disney product as hyperreal. The depiction is as it is precisely because of what is (not) being depicted.

For a possibly more accessible version of what I am saying, why are we no longer a society of producers but of consumers? Because there is nothing to produce! There is no reality to drive production, so what is left is the drive to consume a fantasy. Reality has been subsumed into - some say eclipsed by - its copy or representation, which is the substance of the fantasy we inhabit. Remember that this fantasy is inhabited with our identity as consumers! In other words, what is produced at Disney other than a consumed unreality? What is produced by 50 Shades other than a widely consumed fantasy? What was consumed first: 50 Shades or the fantasy that produced it?

And, for clarity, my original comment - along with Baudrillard's and Umberto Echo's discussion - on Disney, was more in reference to the theme parks. By extension, though, I think the idea applies to Disney's other products, as well.

So, to bring all that together, Walt Disney is Christian Grey - creating false fantasies that generate the necessary desire to drive consumption (revenue) coupled with a cold, calculating business ethic of misplaced love. I wonder how many 50 Shades readers also love Disney?

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