Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Charlie Jenkins
If I told you someone was using century-old hand-crafted artisanal methods to adapt traditional folk tales into a quaintly obsolete art form from the American Golden Age that would sound like the most twee, precious, non-normie thing ever... yet I just described Disney animation. Disney’s pretty weird that way. Take the parks. They’re combinations of Coney Island and the World Fairs with this undisguised mid-century earnestness. These are places that get seriously psyched about the potential of novel transit modalities. And there's the theming: “Let’s look forward to the wonderful future of space exploration, celebrate our roots in farm towns and the frontier west, AND enjoy the exotic charm of the South Pacific and Old Dixie!” THERE IS A PAGEANT WHERE ROBOTS PAY TRIBUTE TO EXECUTIVE-DRIVEN WHIG HISTORY.
Oh. Oh. And. “The rides aren’t very thrilling, but your kids will love the chance to explore the worlds of all their favorite authors - A.A. Milne, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, Mark Twain, AND Lewis Carroll - while you’ll marvel at the exquisite background design.” (Sun-dappled Edwardian neoteny and obsessive set decoration. Wes Anderson makes movies like Walt Disney made parks.) And we’d recognize this all as a weird thing to exist in 2017 if we weren’t just used to it as the background noise of America.
I don’t really watch TV so I don’t see many commercials these days. They’re a trip in their own right if you’ve stopped taking them for granted. "Oh hey, for the next 30 seconds some of our best artists are going to use all their techniques and leverage all your emotions and desires and every social value in a masterful, unapologetic, and unforgettable bid for you to give us money, and then everyone will move on and no one will acknowledge this even happened.” But the Disney World commercials in particular! Notice they don’t really make a case for going to Disney World, or even really explain what Disney World is. Because they’re not pitching Disney World, they’re reminding you of Disney World. It’s not “hey, Disney World is a thing you could go to”, it’s “hey, maybe it’s time for this generation’s pilgrimage”.
Disney’s weird. It’s kind of a company, but also custodian of some of the cultic functions of American culture, something like the priestly colleges of ancient Rome. They actually and truly maintain sites of pilgrimage. I’m not saying this as a joke. Back of the envelope calculation (I did awhile back in an essay that I think I somehow deleted and will have redo), Americans go to Disney parks at a rate 7 times higher than Muslims go to Mecca. (The line between “tourist trap” and “religious site” has always been thin.)
Disney is the custodian of the national narrative. They pitch “continuity with mid-century small town and earlier frontier culture” as a fundamental, almost taken-for-granted aspect of Americanness with a confidence and charm you don’t often see these days. And I mean, hell, the Disney animated canon itself basically is to America what Grimm’s was to Germany.
And as custodians they curate that narrative. We joke about “you know your identity group’s made it in America when you get your own Disney princess”, and laugh at the people re-editing Disney character designs to look like their specific subgroup, but that only works because it’s really true, your identity group has made it in America when you get your own Disney princess. I know a guy who worked with Disney Channel casting, and they mix ethnicities with the same care, precision, and scale that Pfizer mixes drugs. And that robot pageant, the Hall of Presidents? Look at this history. It started out in the ‘70s as a celebration of consensus history and popular triumph, with character actors playing great men and Civil War tensions understood as a challenge to national unity. In 1993 it was reworked by Eric Foner to be narrated by Maya Angelou, use “regular people” unknowns to portray more vulnerable takes on historic figures and re-frame the Civil War in terms of slavery as a moral challenge. In 2009 they redid it again, mostly keeping the changes but bringing back some of the old Hollywood charm and putting Morgan Freeman as the voice of civic authority. And like, as a representation of how America understands itself and its history, that is correct. That is absolutely, in every way, 100% correct.
In the other direction, Walt Disney originally wanted to call it “One Nation Under God”, which...uh, interesting take, but you see what I mean about the power of Disney. The Knights of Columbus played their role as well. They say American copyright terms keep getting extended under pressure from Disney, who wants to keep hold of all their founding properties. I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be less of a corruption of the civic system to just carve out special protections for Disney in recognition of their distinct role in America. But… at the end of the day, it’s all just a strategy to maximize profits.
One of the tribal boogiemen of libertarians is the idea of a “Ministry of Culture” - a government that sees the national culture as its domain, to shape as it will, “as it will” meaning as it always does with governments “through the instrument of bureaucracy” - and that still rankles me, after all these years, its true. But what’s the alternative, though? You think about it and you realize it’s this - the national mythos rests in the hands of a publicly traded corporation. Recall the CIA going around giving grants to the avant-garde with a certain sense of “ah, that’s what they were doing”. Then you may start to appreciate WHY having your king as the head of your church once made sense as a symbol of liberty and self-determination. The American mythos has drifted far enough from the Anglo-Saxon Protestant one to make it hard to understand.
The long and short of this all is that we live in capitalpunk AU. The history of EPCOT deserves a mention, especially when you realize Walt’s entire motive to building it was to create a literal utopian society. In fact the purpose of the entire Florida branch of the park was because of this harebrained and downright disturbed ‘while only’ end-world scenario that he was rather obsessed with. Its all gotten discombobulated of late. Takes itself seriously less, more naked profiteering. But that also fits with the new mythology.
Tara Ann Thieke