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Julian I. Taber, Ph.D. is a retired clinical psychologist who specialized in the treatment of addictive behavior and is a recognized authority on problem gambling having published a number of research reports in professional journals over the years. He received two national awards for his early work with problem gamblers. His book, In The Shadow of Chance, was published by members of Gamblers Anonymous and is used in professional training workshops. Taber is currently at work on several nonfiction books related to psychology as well as satirical novellas, short stories and non-fiction articles. His articles, stories and essays have appeared in Ultralight Flying, USA Today, Editor and Publisher, The Las Vegas Review Journal, an anthology on September 11 by Sands Publishing, and in a Cup of Comfort Christmas Anthology offered by Adams Media. His essay on autobiography was published in Fulcrum Poetry 2005. Taber lives on Whidbey Island north of Seattle with a Siamese cat named Elsie.

Great American Dumb Ideas: Disneyism

 article about disneyism
In the 1920s, Walt Disney started a uniquely American religious cult that I call Disneyism. It has never stopped growing.

Faith is accepting something as fact when there is no evidence or logic to support the belief. This is what both religion and Disneyism do. Disney creations use every fictional device to capture and alter the consumer's feelings. The very young are especially prone to accept these fantasies as reality, and they generalize them to all of life. Disneyism becomes a way of thinking, a distorted view of the world. As McDonalds food is to good nutrition, so Disney is to mental health.

In the beginning: Back in the 1920s, Walt Disney began to produce silent, black and white cartoons shown in movie theaters. His signature character, Mickey Mouse, made its début in 1928. No question about it, Disney was a hard working, creative artist who became a skilled organizational leader. But, the monster he created is eating away at our culture.

The appeal: For any religion, it is essential to recruit kids early in life since, as children, our minds are open to indoctrination. As critical thinking skills develop later in life, we may learn that we have been lied to, but we retain a warm spot in our hearts for the old joys and mysteries of childhood. As if the appeal of Disney magic were not enough to capture the belief of children, something called The Mickey Mouse Club, The Mousketeers, was a television show that began in the 1950s and was revived in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. It was Disney's Sunday school for millions of kids watching television.

The principle upon which Disney based his dream world is anthropomorphism. This error in thinking applies human qualities to animals or inanimate objects. Children and primitive people are especially prone to the anthropomorphic error. Much as we would like to think so, mice do not wear clothes, stay faithful to one life partner, speak, make plans, or experience the range of human emotions.

Walt Disney wanted to make people happy, and he succeeded magnificently in his cartoons, movies and theme parks. But, is this a healthy and harmless happiness or an expensive and misdirected attempt to feel good, an addiction? People love to symbolize conflict, intrigue, and dangerous human characteristics in safe targets such as animals and evil figures. We love anthropomorphism because it is safer than dealing with real people and situations. Like any religion, Disney gets to the kids early and lets them accept fantasy as real life.

Disney was very selective in which human attributes he ascribed to animals. Pluto the dog was a character in some 57 different theater cartoons. Although Pluto never wore any clothes, he appears with no normal male dog genitalia. He can smile, cock an ear to a conversation, understand plans, but apparently he has no interest or ability in sex. Pluto is missing what any child can easily see on any large male dog. And so, like a religion, we have a conspiracy to ignore what is obvious, dangerous, and important in real life.

Most of the female Disney characters are rather flat chested. Poor Snow White is fitted with seven very unsuitable male dwarves as companions. Each dwarf exemplifies some human weakness that we are invited to find amusing. Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy . . . you know the gang from your own early exposure. Even Doc, the smart one, has some serious personality flaws. And even if he's smart, he's still a dwarf, ho, ho.

Disney fans are spared many human personality flaws except when a villain is needed. When a villain does appear, incredible violence often flows before our eyes.

The price: Money rolls into the Disney Corporation beyond Walt's wildest dreams. His company has invaded every aspect of human affairs going far beyond simple cartoon entertainment. If a man takes his wife and two kids to visit a Disneyland Park, it can cost hundreds of dollars in tickets, meals, and lodging. And Disney Corp. is there to sell it all as you go along.

But theme parks all over the world are only the beginning. Exact numbers are hard to track down, but Disney Corporation owns at least five movie studios and a major radio/television network along with about ten television stations, a number of music labels, book publishers, fifteen magazines, eight cable television channels, a chain of Disney retail stores and even a growing luxury cruise line. Disney, then, is often there when you have no idea who owns the stuff you're looking at or listening to.

Making money on it: You're not going to be able to compete very well with this monster, although there is always room for another bright, hard working Walt Disney type who comes along with a good dumb idea. If your idea is promising, Disney will do what it usually does: buy you out or place political obstacles in your path to limit you. They are, after all, rich enough to buy the kind of legislation they need.

Is there a better idea? If all else fails, we might try teaching kids the truth about nature. We might try introducing kids to the incredible world of real animal behavior. We do have the Discovery and the Science Channels, but they can't complete with Disney's saturation of the media. We should be teaching young children the skills of critical thinking. Of course, we might have to ask how we can make money on truth and on good education. Unfortunately, it is often easier to make money on lies, exaggeration, and magic than on science, logic, and truth.

How can we compete with a company that convinces people that even cars can talk and feel and scheme? Is all we can provide one more entertaining lie? There is a relatively small core of bright, productive people who make fortunes on producing things for a better life, things such as computers, medical innovations, and incredible labor saving machines—all the things Disney does not do. The herd, however, labors in go-nowhere jobs spending its money on dreams, entertainment and magic. And Disney is always there to sell feel good lies.

We even elect Disney-like heroes to high office, and then we get our reward when they turn out to be Disney-like villains.

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