Oh God. It makes me gag. ‘Progressive Disney,’ the glittery McPlayPlace ideologues, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee-approved neckerchief Ivy League storytellers. They’re so… wholesome!
Diversity and multiculturalism are relatively new trends in Hollywood, and they’re paying off well $$$. Largely celebrated in this age of Trumpizm, amid increased anxiety and xenophobia of all particularities, it can’t be bad… or can it? In such a desperate, scary atmosphere it’s more difficult to be a leftist cynic. Although I think it’s always necessary, you always need that asshole in the audience, the one who doesn’t buy the attempt at all. We play a role as superego in the collective consumption of images.
And well, today, I have to be that asshole. And I relish it, deep inside I am the mad hunchback, slowly stroking my hands and laughing maniacally over the prospects of ruining your Disney sponsored consumption. It feeds my soul. But before we begin I should remark that I don’t give a shit about films, I don’t watch them. I don’t go to the movies. I don’t watch TV. On the rare occasions that I am forced to, I can physically feel a dull pain in the front of my brain, where they say the neural activity corresponding to critical thinking occurs. Huh? Weird…
The liberal in you is saying, come on Niko, don’t be such a bastard. At least they’re trying. Maybe they’ve even hired some minorities in some of their production teams. This is good. Or at least not bad. No, friends. Anything that is ‘not bad’ in a society like ours is immediately suspect. And normally we find a hideous underside, a hidden function that is insidious and dangerous… This is my job. My college degree is pretty much this.
I was subtly coerced into watching that star wars reboot, the one that came out a little while ago, by a nostalgic childhood friend.
I realized slowly that our usual white male lead was missing. He was relegated to the role of good ol’ handsome sidekick. Okay, cool, this is 2017 after all. Our main character was a boygirl with a generalized ‘European’ accent, our male lead a tall, handsome, dark, black man. (I would just like to note that this was really the only change, everything else was cut and dried and copy-paste. The plot was the usual uncreative pseudo-mythopolitical Starwars shit, the typical American imagination of ‘rebels’ and ‘empire’ and blah blah.)
But there definitely was conversation about the identity switch up later on. Most of friends made the casual, unconscious ‘I’m-not-racist-for-noticing, Am-I?’ remarks, acutely commenting on our main characters. It made a splash, brought up some conversations, better than nothing.
But I’m noticing a new shtick. I didn’t watch these films, Frozen, and Moana, but I stumbled upon a few commentariat articles remarking on the progressive values imbedded in the plot and dialogue. Apparently Frozen is a feminist Disney project, with two women as the main characters and a Bad Man. Moana throws overboard many tropes of the American fairytale for a tribal aesthetic, brown characters, and respectful representation. She doesn’t even want a prince. Right on. I read somewhere that they even did anthropological research on particular Pacific Islander communities to make sure they were being accurate.
This is quite a phenomenon then. It is easy enough to color your characters a different shade or give black actors a leading role. And that’s cool, that’s good. But when Disney spends money on anthropological research, you know some shit is going on.
Disney is a good barometer for cultural America. They are accepted by many to be standard bearers of American culture. “Yupp, that’s us!” more or less unconsciously they lurk in your deepest childhood memories. So this new trend runs deep in American veins. They are doing what is required of them, in this age of ethical, enlightened neoliberal capitalism. Despite the fact that everything, from foreign policy to work contracts, is getting more brutal and harsh and barbaric, all the façades must stay pretty and clean and proper and ‘fair.’
Perhaps I’ve just read too much snobby French social critics to accept this trend at face value. (I say ‘trend’ though maybe it’s something more). I recognize that my critique is useless and only exists because of Disney’s progressive efforts. But I must say that we should be careful and more demanding. Doesn’t something about their progressive efforts feel forced, self-conscious? You can feel it through the screen, the boardroom of stiff, mayonnaise white guys patting themselves on the back, already planning the next film to feature South American characters and locality, it’s their turn next. The Awkwardness of the guilty liberal is at work. Common picked up on it:
And that’s just a superficial comment. There is something hypocritical about ‘social change’ delivered to us as something to consume. What we need to change is life itself, the activities of our existences, not the packaging of the products we passively ingest. That is, of course, the social function of Disney and Hollywood in general, to provide, for a steep fee, the consumption of feelings so that we don’t feel the need to act on them. It is a defusing of possible tensions in society. Reverse-catharsis, an injection of sedatives instead of a release of energy. Get it? Think about it.
The movies also functions, on a more obvious level, to dazzle and delight you, and keep you enamored with the society that produces such spectacles. ‘Look how free we are, when ANYONE can be a Disney Princess™!’
This all fits in with a larger trend of #OscarsSoWhite and certain campaigns centered on boycotting children’s toys which feature tall, blond, and white dolls only. On this whole neoliberal phenomenon, I nod in agreement with the words of Chris Rock, which I paraphrase: “In the sixties we didn’t protest the Oscars, we had more important shit to talk about.”
Maybe it’s a blessing that things have come so far, that the struggle for equality is primarily over the packaging of cultural commodities. But I think not. Rather this is a safety valve feature, a safe arena. It is easier to talk about cultural representation than economic inequality. One is image, one is reality. We shouldn’t be distracted by the talking picture shows.
And yet, I feel like I’m being a dickhead. I know that this is important. Millennials are generally the least racist/sexist/homophobic generation, and most of us are curious about the world and life. We are hungry for truth and change, like Obama so poignantly exploited. But I know it matters, in a way, on the level of images. The younger kids seeing these progressive movies will not see black men as thugs or criminals, they will see men who are heroic, stoic, positive. They will respect a woman as a human being, a subject in herself, with every right to go as she pleases and do as she wills.
So, in the end, right on Disney. I don’t buy it wholesale, I keep my asterisk* of social critique, and I will continue hoping for real revolutionary art to come up in these strange, somewhat terrible times, but I applaud your attempts, you anti-communist fuckers. (: