Friday, August 29, 2014

The Disneyfication of history, culture and everything

 "When Paradise Arrived" (1988) Charcoal on Paper by Enrique Chagoya 
To see more work of this artist click here

Ever since Emperor Trajan ordered his famous column depicting his triumphs in the Dacian wars, erected in 113 AD, the history of art has focused its attention in making narratives out of events from mythology, religion and human history in general. Of course history painting and sculpture existed long before 113 AD, but this column certainly foretold things to come, mainly the art propaganda. 

 Emperor Trajan's Column, 113 AD

As we all know, the retelling of a story comes with an agenda and after all, history is written by the victors. Throughout the age’s kings, popes and the powerful elite decided what was going to be created and celebrated in art and today is no exception. Every artwork is subject to the economic forces of its own time. Any successful artist that pretends to live off his art, knows this and often has to paint or sculpt for a patron the ideas that indirectly of directly promote the power structures of their time. 

                                        "Chac Mool"  (1999) Stone scultpture by Nadin Ospina
                                           To see more work from this artist click here

Of course there is space for dissent and revolutionary art but as soon as this art is discovered, accepted and adopted by the powerful and elite, the art itself is transformed, re-packaged and redistributed by the same institutions it once voiced against and therefore the meaning of it is irrelevant as it becomes just another empty commodity. This is self evident in mainstream contemporary art. A good example of this in music is hip-hop, which once represented the voice of the marginalized urban communities; it then became corporately owned and as much of the mainstream music today is influenced more by the market than by pure creative spirit.

Pinocchio Heroin By Jose Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros
To see more of the artist work click here

It is not so different with the all too well known Disney re-telling of ancient legends, myth and Grimm brother’s tales. By this re-branding of the classics, Disney becomes the owner of its content, stripping the recorded place, event or person from its original meaning.  By repackaging and disseminating their own sanitized versions of the stories of Hercules, Pocahontas and Aladdin they sell a product that removed or waters down any vestige of the original narrative in question. In doing so they replace it with an empty shell deprived or any thought provoking content, serving a corporate driven agenda that intends to homogenize and generate passive consumption and cultural perceptions on all level of our society and at a global scale. Its success lies in the fact that they make beautiful pictures easy and pleasant to grasp that reach out to the masses in ways traditional literature or art cannot compete with.

 "Disneyfication of a Hero" (2010) Oil painting on canvas by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Acquired by the  Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Its magic resides in its manipulation of beauty and distortion of values consolidating patriarchal gender roles, perpetuating racist views and always elevating the rich, glamorous and vain over the poor, disenfranchised and different, despite its claims to the contrary  with its "updated" revisions. It preys on the innocent spectators as well as on their parents who give in to the power of persuasion while selling us a “family oriented” experience or product. It is also not hard to find evidence of the mind stupefying strategies utilized by the corporate giant as it controls a big chunk of the mass media conglomerate and has been actively involved in political propaganda since World War II and disseminating its anti-socialist comics in Chile during the 1970's (How to readDonald Duck).

Disneyfication is a global phenomenon occurring not just in our understanding of history but at all levels of culture and society, from the suburban way of life to our consumer habits and what we watch on screen. The metaphor that comes to mind is that of the evil witch offering Snow White the poisoned apple. But an even better metaphor for this corporation is that of the magician apprentice played by Mickey Mouse in 1940's animated film Fantasia. But as those who have already seen the film know, the magical act turns against the mouse as he foolishly multiplies his "cleaning" operators and everything gets out of control in the end. 

 Disney's Fantasia: The Sorcerer 1940

A lesson we can learn from ancient Roman history is that every empire has its fall and it often comes with over-expansion and disintegration from within. Who knows how Disney will fall but be sure of it, It will fall. Perhaps future tourists will visit Disney's Cinderella castle but get a similar tour to the one we get today while visiting Trajan’s Column, and admire this powerful propaganda monument for what it really is.