My friend Pastor David Ramirez condemned Disney on FB, describing its staff as "groomers." I added the following comment:
As a child in the 1950s, my father--not a conservative but a Democrat--discouraged us from going to Disney movies, though he did not object to anything about Duckburg and its citizens. When, as an adolescent, I asked him about this, he said he disliked the gooey sentimentalism and lack of reality and he pointed out the contrast between the sappy world of Disney and traditional fairytales and Mother Goose rhymes, Greek mythology, Aesop's Fables, etc.
The one Disney production he encouraged us to watch was Treasure Island, which, though it was sentimentalized, did feature the fine actor Robert Newton. If he had been of my generation, he might have summed up Disney productions as "campy." While I disagreed with many things my father advocated, I sensed he was right on this and always ridiculed Disney, his movie and theme parks, to my own children.
My former colleague Allan Carlson used to say that a small number of men reengineered the American dream after WWII, and he named, among others, Walt Rostow, Henry Luce, and Walt Disney. I believe he admired all of them and their handiwork, but I used to argue, sometimes just to annoy him, that the world that Luce and Disney invented was a Potemkin Village, but, as it turns out, it was more like Fire Island.
This inspired a lively discussion, in which one commenter quoted Tolkien's refusal to have anything to do with Disney, and another quoted his forestry professor's statement that Disney had corrupted the American understanding of nature. In response, I recalled that my good friend Bill Mills, outdoorsman, poet, fiction writer, used to say that Disney not only ruined the way Americans think about nature but had also turned them into vulnerable saps who think lions and bears are cute. My father was also a great hunter and fisherman, and I only wish I were one tenth the outdoorsman that he was, but that too was one of his objections to the Disneyfication of America. As I watched Americans cowering in fear over a bloody virus, I could only imagine how they would face a night alone in the woods without iPhone, iPad, or GPS.
One of the commenters ruefully contrasted the world of the 1950's with our own dark days. Of course he is correct. For many people who have kept their eyes open, the past 60 years have been an ever-deepening nightmare, but we should not blind ourselves to the shaky foundations of 50's America. Marriage was already fragile, as the high divorce rates revealed, and the revolution that began in after WW I had been only temporarily stalled by Depression and War. Eisenhower had already fired the opening shots that initiated the second Reconstruction, making the hack lefty Earl Warren the Chief Justice, the assault on States Rights launched against Arkansas, etc.
People look for a single cause here and there, but anyone who had paid attention to Paul Goodman and Jack Kerouac or listened to the Southern Agrarians over the years or observed the changing trends in music and pop culture in general would have predicted some kind of earthquake.
Few of the so-called conservatives seemed to have a clue: An important exception was my old friend Russel Kirk, the Bohemian Tory, who praised Paul Goodman and endorsed Eliot's critique of modernism. Would I go back to that funny world dominated by petit bourgois hypocrisies? In a heartbeat, but was it a Golden Age? Hardly, it was the age of television, which Newton Minnow the FCC chairman famously described in a speech to American broadcasters: I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland."
What the prophetic Elliot, in his pre-Christian darkness, had glimpsed in 1922, the banal lawyer and bureaucrat saw enacted all day long on TV screens forty years later.