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The Disappearance of Disney Animated Propaganda: A Globalization Perspective

Gerard C. Raiti
Animation 2007 2: 153
DOI: 10.1177/1746847707074703

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The Disappearance of Disney Animated

Propaganda: A Globalization Perspective
Gerard C. Raiti

Abstract This article examines Disney animated propaganda of

the 1940s from the perspective of globalization literature, media
studies, sociology and communication studies. Using examples
from September 11 and the War in Iraq, the author shows how
changes in media corporations, technologies and politics have
limited the use of animated propaganda since the Second World
War. One of the factors influencing this change is the absence of
a mass audience caused by the fragmentation and proliferation
of media from cinema to television to the internet. In addition,
electronic communication is facilitating a more democratic
exchange of information, thus reducing the influence of nation-
states over their citizens. Animated propaganda exists today in
other forms such as simulations on news broadcasts and internet
caricatures, and adopts a more grass-roots approach on main-
stream websites and cable television channels.

Keywords animation, Disney, globalization, national identity,

propaganda, Second World War


After dominating the big screen from the silent films of the 1920s
through the post-Second World War films of the 1950s, American
animated cartoons have occupied a miniscule place in popular world
culture over the last half century (Smoodin, 1993: 2). While many of the

animation: an interdisciplinary journal (http://anm.sagepub.com)

Copyright © 2007 SAGE Publications (London, Los Angeles, New Delhi and Singapore)
Vol 2(2): 153–169 [1746-8477(200707)]10.1177/1746847707074703

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154 animation: an interdisciplinary journal 2(2)

major Hollywood studios produced popular animated shorts during

that time period, Disney and Warner Bros. became the bellwethers or
main protagonists. In recent decades, however, the popularity of
commercial animated shorts has declined, particularly in the USA, even
though short-length animated films have continued their tradition of
being art pieces at film festivals, particularly across Europe where many
nations subsidize funding for both the arts and animation. Although the
last decade has brought a reprise in cartoons in the wake of feature films
by Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, nothing rivals the prestige which
surrounded the pre-1960s animated shorts of Disney, Warner and
MGM. This article focuses on The Walt Disney Company because it
remains the paragon of capitalistic feature-length animation, including
both its catalog of classics and new films through its acquisition of
Pixar. Over the last 30 years, many scholars have taken issue with the
rise of Disney into one of the world’s largest media conglomerates
(McChesney, 1998) because of the types of ideologies present in the
company’s content. One of this article’s main arguments is that there
is some correlation between the rise and fall of Disney cartoon shorts
and the oftentimes propagandistic ideologies within them.
My analysis will contribute to the body of scholarly animation
research by examining not only why Disney cartoons played an influ-
ential role during the Second World War, but also how that degree of
political ideology and influence no longer exists in mainstream
American animation. This analysis draws upon literature from media
studies, animation history, communication studies and sociology.
In today’s age of globalization, one set of Disney cartoons is especi-
ally germane to issues regarding nationalism, propaganda and global
identities. The wartime propaganda which Disney produced during
the 1940s under the aegis first of the National Film Board of Canada
and then of the US government becomes a prime case study for the
historiography of animated propaganda (Shale, 1982[1976]: 21–4).
The argument made here is that the sociopolitical zeitgeists that
guided art and animation in the 1940s have been so radically reconfig-
ured by globalizing forces that the creation of mainstream American
cartoon propaganda today is nearly impossible. This article begins by
demarcating how animation as a medium facilitates propaganda. Next,
it critically summarizes why Disney joined the war. Animated media
from September 11 and the War in Iraq serve as the antithesis to the
1940s’ cartoons.
I then construct the argument around three posits. First, the frag-
mentation of media from cinema to television to the internet has
reduced the efficacy of a mass audience, which is a prerequisite for
propaganda. Second, there is a free-flow of electronic communication
that is eroding nation-state boundaries (Rosenau, 1990; Beck, 2000).
Third, societal construction has been recalibrated from a national level
to both an individual identity and global identities.
This article concludes that globalization has rescinded the

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Raiti Disappearance of Disney animated propaganda 155

traditional ‘one-way flow’ (Nordenstreng and Varis, 1974) of media,

thereby negating the production of mainstream cartoon wartime
propaganda for film and television yet bolstering grassroots, cultural-
jamming animations on the internet. Rather than textually analyzing a
handful of examples, as Dorfman and Mattelart (1975) do with comic
books in How to Read Donald Duck,1 this article instead evaluates
the significance of the Disney wartime shorts in comparison to
present-day animation.

Animation as a medium facilitates propaganda

American wartime animated propaganda was not limited to Disney

alone. As Norman Klein (1993: 186) concludes, most of Hollywood
took to supporting the American patriotic efforts during the Second
World War. Culver City’s First Motion Picture Unit at Hal Roach Studios
produced more wartime animation than any other Hollywood studio.
All the characters across the various studios appeared in some pro-
military content including Tom and Jerry, Bugs and Daffy, Superman,
Snafu and, of course, Donald Duck (p. 187). This is not to say that
propaganda during the war reached its zenith through animation, but
that the wartime period created a moment where animation facilitated
the proliferation of propaganda.
Animation historians advocate the uniqueness of animation as a
medium (Bendazzi, 1994; Wells, 1998). Some specific elements of
cartoons make them conducive to propaganda, notably the way they
encompass many humorous styles and visual devices. Since animation’s
inception, its crux has been to bring the fantastical to life (Crafton,
1993[1982]). In the early days, whether it was Emile Reynaud’s Autour
d’une Cabine (1895), James Stuart Blackton’s Humorous Phases of
Funny Faces (1906), or Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908), pioneer-
ing animators crafted animation as a means to express action and
movement outside of the physics of reality. Berthold Bartosch’s 30-
minute L’Idée (1932) was one of the first animated films to have a strong
ideology about freedom versus communism while the fantastical
representation of ideas through images still abounded. This was a
tradition in the character shorts of Felix the Cat and those of early
Mickey Mouse (Crafton, 1993[1982]: 327) that became more stylized.
According to Paul Laswell’s (Schechter, 2004[1927]: 25) canonic study
of propaganda from the First World War, propaganda requires a
medium that exaggerates and hyperbolizes actions. So, like Felix’s
anthropomorphic tail or Mickey’s clever use of inanimate objects in
Plane Crazy (1928) and Steamboat Willie (1928), the ability to mold
reality in unreal ways facilitated the use of animation as an apt medium
for propaganda. As Shull and Wilt (2004) state, ‘Crass humor, with
origins in burlesque, was [animated propaganda’s] trademark’ (p. 13).
The animated short was in its golden age by the Second World War,

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156 animation: an interdisciplinary journal 2(2)

and the Donald Duck and Looney Tunes shorts exemplify a wide-
spread slapstick humor that cut across most of America in the 1940s.
According to University of Southern California historian Christine
Panushka, animation was an effective medium for propaganda because
people associated cartoons with something whimsical and jocular;
people ‘let their guard down’ when they saw cartoons because they
were expecting to be entertained, not recruited for war. Using Disney
characters to advocate serious patriotic messages was successful
because the characters are traditionally non-threatening. So, fusing
Disney characters with patriotism created a unique juxtaposition over
audience expectations.
The animated short is essentially dead today, as Klein (1993) notes.2
Few short-length cartoons in the last two decades have universally
captured the hearts of the American public, especially adults. Shull and
Wilt (2004: 13–14) reiterate that animated propaganda’s role was not
to incite and manipulate opinions, but for Hollywood to represent
supposedly preexisting, widespread beliefs and to achieve this
through humor. ‘When you fight a war, there is a need to create and
maintain ties of sentiment between soldiers and citizens. There is a
need for popular mobilization and media support’ (Schechter, 2004:
25). The animated short had a different function in pre-Second World
War society, as did all films, as Braudy (2004) elucidates:
So the social practice of watching films was hardly so ignorant of the way
films were made and the fictions that made them possible. Both critics and
audiences took films not as self-enclosed worlds but as in some way
connected to their daily lives. (p. 28)

Today, without animated shorts in the USA that provide tongue-

in-cheek commentary of modern events in everyday life, the US
government propaganda machine no longer uses animation as a
medium of choice. Everything was different back when Disney joined
the war.

Why Disney joined the war – 1940 and beyond

Disney is undoubtedly part of Americana (Wasko, 2001). One can

attribute this association to many factors, including the narrative
content of Disney films which promotes optimism and nostalgia for an
imagined version of the Midwest (Baudrillard, 1988) as well as the
blatant patriotism of the wartime propaganda. As much as Mickey
Mouse and Donald Duck are global characters, they are understood at
present as American characters within a global context. With two
small exceptions, the highly branded Mickey Mouse has not graced the
big screen for nearly 50 years. One must question how a character
who resides as the mascot for a brand only in merchandise and logos
still espouses itself as a symbolic commodity for America. There was

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Raiti Disappearance of Disney animated propaganda 157

undeniably some point in history, clearly before the opening of Disney-

land in 1955, when both Mickey and Disney changed from beloved
characters into brands engrained in both American and global cultures.
By dint of Disney’s connection to family life in the USA, Disney was
able to serve as an emissary of propaganda in the Second World War.
As most accounts of Walt Disney elucidate, Disney himself was a
visionary but often unwilling to maintain a financial budget to see his
ideas to fruition (Thomas, 1976). Consequently, Disney put his studios
at the verge of bankruptcy on myriad occasions (Shale, 1982[1976]).
A notable instance was his production of Fantasia (1940) where
Disney spent over four times his allocated budget during production.
The film grossed a measly sum at the box office and garnered even
fewer dollars internationally. After Fantasia’s failure, the Disney
Studios endured a strike that left fewer than half the employees on the
payroll by the end of 1941 (Shale, 1982[1976]: 21). The Disney Studios
were also in proximity to military manufacturing behemoth, Lockheed
Martin, and this physical closeness opened the door for the US govern-
ment to parlay with the studio.
The fixed-rate government contracts for American nationalistic
propaganda allowed Disney to salvage his studio during the war years
and to endear his marquee characters into American patriotic culture.
‘Demonstrating the link between patriotism and the profit motive, all
of the major studios were happy to contract work for the government,
particularly during a period of relative financial uncertainty’ (Smoodin,
1993: 80). Production became factory-like where artists and animators
worked in specified roles as on a production line. The Disney Studios
produced the first 20 shorts and educational films for $4,500 each – a
rate that was 18 times Disney’s standard production rate (Shale,
1982[1976]: 23). If it wasn’t for the US Military, The Walt Disney
Company may not exist today; and, as will be argued later, if it wasn’t
for the Disney Studios, there may never have been an air strike on
From 1941–5 the US government practically bought the Disney
Studios, and Disney produced approximately 32 short films as well as
numerous educational and instructional films. The most notable of
these is Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943) which depicts a dream sequence
of Donald Duck living in an apocalyptic, Nazi-ruled empire.3 The
animated short won the Academy Award for Best Short Film, Cartoon.
Disney also released one wartime feature film, Victory Through Air
Power (1943), which adapted Major Alexander de Seversky’s book on
the necessity of aviation in battle. According to an interview with Roy
E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, Victory Through Air Power aided in prompt-
ing President Roosevelt to commit US military forces to a full-scale
aerial attack (On the Front Lines, 2004). Ironically, until Disney
released a boxed-set DVD of the wartime shorts and Victory Through
Air Power in 2004, most footage had never been aired since the
Second World War because the studio felt that the public would not

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158 animation: an interdisciplinary journal 2(2)

take kindly to Disney’s patriotic propaganda, making the re-release of

the cartoons unprofitable. As Karl Cohen (1996) notes, if viewed out
of historical context, audiences may find some of the racial represen-
tations in early Disney shorts, like the Japanese caricatures, to be
racist. Nevertheless, one cannot understate the importance of Disney
animation during the war years.
Animation and propaganda have an interconnected history. As Shale
(1982[1976]: 12) explains, one of the earliest animated works was
propaganda for the Spanish–American War, James Stuart Blackton’s
Tearing Down the Flag (1897). Similarly, Winsor McCay’s The Sinking
of the Lusitania (1918) demonstrated anti-German sentiments despite
being dubbed a documentary. There was nevertheless a decision on
Disney’s part to seek out contracts to make propaganda films that not
only ensured the survival of the studio during the war, but also moved
Disney from a quality-oriented studio to a ‘price and schedule’ one
(Carl Nater in Shale, 1982[1976]: 24). The overarching point remains
not so much what content Disney produced and how Disney
produced it during the war years, but that a tradition of wartime
animation propaganda reached its apex at the Disney Studios during
the Second World War. Since federal money was a driving force behind
the wartime shorts, part of why Disney no longer makes overt propa-
ganda is because the government has no longer offered to fund the
company for government-sponsored productions. Disney understood
that supporting one’s country (while making a profit) was in the
studio’s best interests. If the US government had offered the Disney
Studios money during the Korean War or the Cold War, it is likely that
a series of cartoon propaganda would exist for those wars as well. The
government understood that animation facilitates propaganda.

Representations in Disney propaganda

While the next section discusses how changes in media affected the
types of propaganda produced, this section considers possible impli-
cations of racial representations in Disney films during and after the
Second World War. The research of Wasko (2001) and the authors in
Bell et al. (1995) demonstrates how ideological representations exist
in Disney films. Most of these films and cartoons contain latent ideol-
ogies whereby symbolic goods empower certain genders, races, or
classes. In addition to the overt propaganda of the wartime shorts,
Disney’s sixth and seventh animated feature films attempted to placate
the people and governments of South America through soft media
power. The films in question are Saludos Amigos (1942) and The
Three Caballeros (1945). President F.D. Roosevelt requested these
films be made on behalf of his Good Neighbor Policy (1933–45),
which advocated peaceful relations between the hemisphere neigh-
bors to encourage them to band together against common threats. The

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Raiti Disappearance of Disney animated propaganda 159

content of the films, which chiefly star Donald Duck in episodic situ-
ations around South America, introduces new characters José Carioca
and later Panchita Pistoles. The propaganda present in the films is
different to the participatory propaganda advocated in the Disney
wartime shorts. The South American films attempt to coax the
American public into fostering good sentiments for South America.
The films do not ask audiences to take action in the way that the
wartime shorts tell audiences to buy war bonds, support the troops,
and register for the draft.
The significance of these two films as well as (the slavery-inspired)
Song of the South (1946) is that they attempt to create positive
portrayals of misrepresented peoples, namely African Americans and
South Americans. The representations appear caustic at times and
damaging as much as they are beneficial. Like Booker T. Washington,
I concur that early representation is better than no representation. On
the other hand, Brode (2005) advocates how such stereotypical repre-
sentations and caricatures are not subversive. Although I agree with
Brode’s arguments, questions over the positive and negative interpret-
ations of representations are moot in relation to the fact that the South
American films demonstrate a different type of propaganda to the
wartime shorts. The South American films remain propagandistic
because they advocate a political agenda of cooperation through one-
sided messages. During the Cold War, Disney employed a propaganda
style that used latent ideologies in the style of Saludos Amigos. Never-
theless, as politics changed following the Second World War, Disney
chose not to alienate regions by making anti-communist feature films.
As Wasko (2001) and Brode (2005) elaborate, ideologies congruent
with capitalism and freedom pervaded most of Disney’s animated
feature films during the Cold War.

From the Second World War to 9/11:

how changes in media modified animated propaganda

After the Second World War, the changes in Disney’s propaganda style
were partly based on politics, but many changes are also attributable
to new types and new distributions of media. By the 1950s, television
began to change animation’s role. Before the war, character animation
including both the Disney and the Warner shorts were screened with
newsreels before films (Bendazzi, 1994). These early animated shorts
had universal appeal and were intended for adult audiences. They
contained humor that was risqué, especially some of the Fleischers’
cartoons (Crafton, 1993[1982]). The target audience for the Second
World War Disney propaganda was also adults (Shale, 1982[1976]). It
obviously would have been of little benefit to convince children to buy
war bonds as the Seven Dwarfs advocate in The Seven Wise Dwarfs
(1941). Following the war, television changed the animated short’s

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160 animation: an interdisciplinary journal 2(2)

role, and by the middle of the decade, the appearance of cartoons in

mainstream theaters was sparser. Animated shorts continued to prolif-
erate on television though, later typified by the rise of Hanna-Barbera
and the tradition of the ‘chase’ genre.4 By the 1960s, cartoons found
their home in the ghetto of Saturday mornings, and that led to the erro-
neous modern association of animation as children’s media.
Once cartoons were viewed as children’s entertainment, there was
little to no mainstream American animated propaganda for the wars in
Korea and Vietnam. As Caroline Page (1996) explains, American
propaganda existed for those wars across various media, but anima-
tion was no longer a medium of choice. The cinematic mass audience
became fragmented, and such fragmentation continues to this day. A
mass audience is necessary for propaganda to be effective in order to
coerce the masses. Not only did television fragment the mass audience
into multiple audiences but the US population itself was more divided
in its support of Vietnam than it was over the Second World War (Page,
1996). Furthermore, sociopolitical changes that correlate to the
modern prerequisites for globalization occurred. These include the
rise of disposable income, more leisure time, and faster transportation
options. These periods brought forward the rise of individual lifestyles.
With a less politically unified populace, animated propaganda lost part
of its efficacy. The advent of television followed by cable, satellite, and
now internet video has led to a plethora of content and new viewer-
ship patterns (Harries, 2002). The fragmenting of media in addition to
other sociopolitical factors over the last half century have made it less
effective to produce and distribute mainstream animated propaganda.
Thus, without a mass audience, it would be disadvantageous for the
US government to fund propaganda, especially using such a costly
medium as animation.
During the Second World War, Hollywood became the emissary for
patriotism because visual media communicate in distinct ways from
oral and written media. As Robert Fyne (1994) explains:
Right after the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt cited Hollywood for
its role during this wartime period. Claiming that the motion picture was
the most effective medium to inform the nation, FDR promised no govern-
mental censorship and called for a continuous output of titles to keep the
public abreast regarding the War. (p. 9)

President Roosevelt’s confidence in the power of film was not

unfounded. Animated propaganda was more mainstream and effective
during the Second World War because the dearth of the cinematic
medium provided film and theatrical animated shorts with what was
essentially a mass audience.
To argue that there is no longer mainstream American cartoon
propaganda is somewhat tautological because changes in media have
affected how, when, and why audiences consume American cartoons.
Comparing Steamboat Willie and an episode of SpongeBob

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Raiti Disappearance of Disney animated propaganda 161

SquarePants5 is problematic because the medium’s roles have

changed. What used to be a rare cinematic treat is now available
anytime today in any number of flavors. To have an animated short be
a precursor to a feature film is quite different than to have a cartoon
TV series where advertisers pay millions to have audiences see their
products during commercial breaks. The venue for the animated
medium changed ever since it moved into the home. While main-
stream cartoons are seldom used today for propaganda, animation
itself appears in much political and news footage. Animation conveys
to audiences depictions of missile attacks, paths of enemies and points
of insurgence. While these animations are not character-driven Disney
cartoons, they convey propaganda against Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
These images become the means of depicting motions for actions
where there is no footage available. So rather than create something
fantastical, if one is to focus still on The Walt Disney Company, the
search for current animated propaganda points more readily to
animated simulations and reenactments on Disney subsidiary, ABC
News. Animation as an ancillary tool to mainstream television and
internet news elucidates how animated propaganda still exists today
but no longer in the mainstream American animated cartoon format
championed by transnational corporations like Disney.

How the erosion of nation-states

diminishes animated propaganda

American propaganda cartoons are less prevalent now because of

changes to the conceptual construction of nations. Several factors
have led to what Hall (1997: 25) refers to as the ‘erosion of the nation-
state’. ‘At the beginning of the 21st century the conditio humana
cannot be understood nationally or locally but only globally’ (Beck,
2002: 17). The rise of the global over the national exemplifies the stark
shift from Disney wartime animation during the 1940s to no Disney
animated propaganda following September 11 or the War in Iraq. What
has led to globalization and why have these forces affected the relation-
ship between animation and government?
The introduction of electronic media and communication led
McLuhan (1994[1964]) to argue in the 1960s that the world was
becoming a ‘global village’. Thanks to the telegraph, telephone,
airplanes, radio, automobiles and television, it was possible shortly
after the Second World War to transfer messages, ideas and content
across time and space at previously unknown rates. Harvey (1993)
correlates this ‘time–space compression’ to a shrinking of the globe.
Consequently, the rise of more global political bodies like the United
Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International
Red Cross and the European Union (EU) has led to a reduction in the
nationalism (Beck, 2000) that fueled both World Wars. Moreover, the

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162 animation: an interdisciplinary journal 2(2)

increase in capitalistic democracies has reduced governments’ control

of citizens. Through the beaming of news and entertainment content
around the world, satellite television has helped cross artificial bound-
aries between nations. State-run media like the BBC and RAI have
come under pressure in the last decade from commercial networks
because they do not offer the same types of entertainment dramas and
sitcoms which often garner more ratings. But why has this affected the
type of animation which studios produce during wartimes?
The fundamental patriotism for propaganda fades as one’s concep-
tion of the nation diminishes. While such a relationship seems
obvious, events in the early 21st century have less linear and causal
explanations. After September 11, patriotism was visibly at its highest
levels since at least 1991’s Gulf War; the commodification of patriot-
ism through automobile flag-bearing, souvenirs, and bumper stickers
became hyperbolic (Banet-Weiser, 2004). Disney animation, however,
played no part in a move towards national solidarity. Although a
propaganda-type cartoon featuring Mickey or Donald could have
appeared on American broadcast TV via The Wonderful World of
Disney, Disney kept its content discrete from its political views.
Although it is problematic to survey all content that Disney produced
across its myriad divisions after September 11, what is certain is that
no feature-length film like Victory Through Air Power came to
fruition. The question regarding what has changed since 1945
becomes paramount.
There were several animated responses to September 11, but they
existed in alternative media like Comedy Central and in what media
pundits call ‘culture jamming’ (a form of public activism which is
generally in opposition to commercialism and the vectors of corpor-
ate image). For instance, South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone)
lampooned Osama bin Laden’s hiding in an Afghani cave, which
demonstrates a latent style of propaganda compared to the overt prop-
aganda of the Disney wartime animations, according to Smoodin
(1993). He writes: ‘The militarism of American culture, and the
blurring of distinctions between commerce and government, took
place within a context of new interest in the possibilities of propa-
ganda’ (p. 81). Although one could argue that propaganda animation
has evolved from mainstream venues during the 1940s like movie
theaters (and eventually broadcast television), by placing animated
propaganda today in less widespread media locales, production
companies and distributors indicate that such politically incendiary
topics must be hidden from the mainstream. National responsibilities
become ancillary to capitalistic market forces. In other words, while
there is some limited use of propaganda for animation in the 21st
century, the US Military does not sponsor it, and Disney has shied away
from patriotic animated content.6 More than anything, without Walt
at the company’s helm, the obligation to safeguard the brand of
beloved, capitalistic characters like ‘The Mouse’ and ‘The Duck,’

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Raiti Disappearance of Disney animated propaganda 163

outweighs desires to serve the government at a financial profit. Such

decisions are in contrast to Walt Disney who often gave the FBI a place
of stature on certain days in Disneyland (Smoodin, 1993: 160–2). This
is not to say that propaganda or patriotism is better than capitalistic
responsibilities, but some sociopolitical matters have clearly changed
since the Second World War.
In addition to South Park’s response to September 11, propaganda
appeared in one of animation’s cousins – comic books. The effect of
diminishing the nation-state’s value does not correlate as well to
comics as it does to animation because DC and Marvel still have the
majority of their marketplace in North America. After September 11,
Marvel comics added an icon of the Twin Towers draped in a US flag
to the covers of all of its comics for one year. Marvel also created three
new series under the auspice of The Call of Duty which focused on
real-life heroes like firefighters, police and EMS (Raiti, 2002). Indi-
rectly, the War on Terror entered stories of Captain America, Spider-
Man, and Batman, among others, where some villains became jihadist
terrorists instead of the usual slew of the Joker or the Green Goblin.
This is congruent with the comic book vilification of Nazis during the
Second World War. Nevertheless, comic books serve as a counter-
example to the decrease in mainstream animated propaganda because
DC and Marvel pushed patriotism through their own brand of
Since Marvel and Disney both have highly branded global charac-
ters, it appears counterintuitive that Marvel would align its characters
with US propaganda while Disney did not. A key reason for this
difference relates to Marvel’s role in the globalizing economy: the
majority of comic-book revenue comes from North American markets,
unlike Disney’s broad international revenue. While the erosion of the
nation state has marginalized the ability to produce mainstream
American animated propaganda, other mainstream media still propa-
gate nation-state political agendas.
A progressive undercutting of national government has occurred
since the Second World War. Political corruption appears ubiquitously
in addition to a reduction in the values of time, space and place due
to faster communications technologies (Beck, 1999). Scandal is
synonymous with politics; the actions of both President Nixon
through Watergate and President Bush in his search for Weapons of
Mass Destruction exemplify the distrust in government authority.
Trust in the national government is nowhere near pre-Second World
War levels, and one could argue that an outpouring of non-government
controlled media is responsible, particularly with the proliferation of
television and cable news, and now grassroots internet blogging.
Nevertheless, when Walt agreed to the US Military contracts in 1941,
the country was split over whether the USA had a place to enter the
war (Shale, 1982[1976]). Even after the attack on Pearl Harbor, there
was no consensus as to whether the USA should attack Nazi Germany.

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164 animation: an interdisciplinary journal 2(2)

On the other hand, the months after September 11 showed record

support for President Bush and a nearly unified nation; yet, unlike the
Second World War, one could not bifurcate the villains to a particular
nation. While Al Qaeda and the Taliban were responsible, equating Al
Qaeda to the nation-state of Afghanistan was not possible. Although
the Second World War could easily be reduced to a battle between
nations, the so-called War on Terror is a battle against economic and
radical beliefs not bound by place, whether it is Afghanistan or Iraq
(Nacos, 2005: 50–6). So, while there may be less clout to nationalism
in an age of globalization, would-be targets of propaganda are no
longer encompassed by imaginary, constructed national borders

Global identities and animation

In the 60 years following the armistice, the world has changed dramat-
ically in its construction of societies and how citizens view themselves.
Anderson (1983) theorizes on this in his nostalgic construction of
‘imagined communities’, which argues that a person builds an identity
for any community, via media, where it is impossible to meet all
members. For example, an American citizen considers himself or
herself to be American without ever having been to all parts of
America and without having met all people in America. Anderson
argues that nationalism is the harbinger for national boundaries and
the reason why armed forces are willing to sacrifice their lives for a
nation. The emergence of imagined communities coupled with the
aforementioned erosion of the nation-state has facilitated a rise of
global identities. Within a global identity context, producing animated
propaganda after September 11 and during the current War in Iraq
becomes polemic.
Although Anderson sees media as a means of fostering nationalis-
tic imagined communities, Arjun Appadurai (1996: 33) adapts the
theory to a global level where he writes of ‘imagined worlds’. He
argues that modern people find identity despite constant movement
through time and space. Media, whether animation or live-action,
create a sense of global identities through various representations of
people, places and ideas. Although there is no global-run, top-down
political control which typically guides nationalism, it is thus still
possible for world citizens to have a sense of place through communi-
cations, media and shared responsibilities like those of the environ-
ment (Beck, 1999). Animated propaganda therefore needs to satisfy
global wants.
What media, democracies and capitalism have all facilitated is a
consumer-based global culture, and Disney has been a perennial leader
in fostering consumption (Wasko, 2001). Consumerism now defines,
in part, what it means to be a citizen (Banet-Weiser, 2004). To produce

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Raiti Disappearance of Disney animated propaganda 165

propaganda is to limit potential audiences to consume products.

Without a nationalistic mindset in the USA, propaganda extends its
arms to individuals rather than to collective bodies. Again, globalizing
forces are attributable to these sociological changes. Akin to these
changes is the rise of public relations departments at corporations,
specifically global media conglomerates. According to Nancy Snow
(2003) and Danny Schechter (2004: 26–8), there are now more public
relations (PR) personnel than journalists in the USA. Snow argues that
over the last half century, propaganda has changed from an overt
lampooning of widespread beliefs towards a corporate subversion
where traditional journalistic practices of fact checking are seldom
followed by PR firms. In other words, press releases function in the
public sphere as news regardless of whether they are written from the
aegis of self-promotion rather than alleged journalistic objectivity.
Recently, the Becks (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2001: 22–9) wrote
on the advent of ‘individualization’ in a post-1990s ‘second modernity’.
Democratic societies via capitalism and consumerism have moved
away from communal social approaches to individual ones. The larger
social forces now foster a sense of need for people to individualize
themselves, so as to define a meta-narrative or ‘biography’ for their
own lives (Tomlinson, 1999). Consequently, matters that affect the
community are subordinate to those that cater to today’s more
personalized lifestyles. One can sense a growing apathy among Amer-
icans over matters beyond the local. Consumption of propaganda
does not generate personal pleasure. Disney propaganda today would
probably be ineffective because the message in Disney shorts such as
Donald’s Decision (1942), is for citizens to do their part as a collec-
tive. It is the idea of the individual uniting with the collective. Now
the focus is on the individual, though not necessarily in the selfish
Within the typical narrative of Disney films, there is a quest for self-
awareness and personal fulfillment. It is the Victorian notion of
heroism. Donald Duck exemplifies this in many of his wartime shorts,
such as Donald Gets Drafted (1942). His self-sacrifice puts him in ardu-
ously comedic situations, yet his dedication to country makes less
sense in an age of consumerist individuality. This is not to say that indi-
vidualization is akin to selfishness. The continuing digitalization of
culture, a process which had not yet begun during the Second World
War, has allowed people to reallocate time to individual schedules.
Time-shifting with devices like TiVo typifies this phenomenon.
Government sentiments play little part in the everyday life of the indi-
vidual. Consequently, a government’s sponsorship of propaganda
builds upon traditional economic models of social structure: state,
family, class and church. Yet, due to globalization and individualiza-
tion, the connection between the individual audience and the govern-
ment is severed. If Disney were to make propaganda now, it would
satisfy national needs, thereby abandoning the current needs of the

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166 animation: an interdisciplinary journal 2(2)

individual. Hence, there was no mainstream animated American prop-

aganda after September 11 and the War in Iraq.

Conclusion – the dangers of propaganda

In addition to the three overarching sociological reasons outlined in

this article for the disappearance of Disney propaganda, the most
obvious reason is the democratic realization that propaganda is iniqui-
tous. Although Snow (2002[1998]: 40) believes that propaganda’s
denotation is not inherently negative, propaganda still connotes the
eradication of Jews during the Holocaust. Propaganda’s mainstream
definition is one of audience manipulation towards an ideology. This
ideology is often political in nature, designed either to sustain or
oppose a ruling class’s hegemony (Gramsci, 1985). Such government-
sponsored propaganda through private businesses like Disney today
seems socialistic. Since media conglomerates are now more global,
producing content like Victory Through Air Power would alienate
certain audiences, thereby decreasing international revenue. Disney
exemplifies a corporation whose diversity makes it so interconnected
to different facets of culture, politics and economics that such a risk
towards its branding is too great. As Giddens (1990) discusses, a conse-
quence of late modernity is a reliance upon ‘expert systems’ of inter-
connection, and Disney today is both a manufacturer and a subscriber
of such structures. Propaganda uses stereotypes of the ‘home’ or the
‘other’ (Hall, 1997) in ways which inadequately represent differences.
Irrespective of degrees of nationalism and the rise of individualism
within a global identity, a post-Second World War awareness exists that
labels propaganda as malevolent.
While the 1940s’ wartime efforts of the Disney Studios may have
had direct effects on American citizens and government officials, such
an era of large-scale, government-sponsored cartoon propaganda is
over. As much as society and global politics have changed since the
armistice, Disney as a company is radically different. With theme
parks, internet, film, animation, television, merchandise and numerous
other divisions, the small-team setting of patriotic animators that Walt
led during the 1940s no longer exists at The Walt Disney Company. It
does not need federal dollars for the studio’s subsistence. The
company is too large to have one division present messages that
diverge from the company’s ethos. For this reason, propaganda after
September 11 and the War in Iraq went to less traditional media and
forms of animation.
By using the example of Disney wartime propaganda, this article has
considered how globalizing forces have made it problematic for a media
conglomerate like Disney to produce government-sponsored cartoon
propaganda. Animated propaganda exists today in other forms such as
simulations on news broadcasts and internet caricatures. This article

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Raiti Disappearance of Disney animated propaganda 167

began with an outline of why Disney joined the war movement in the
1940s while establishing the economic rationale behind Walt’s
decisions. Consideration was given to changes in media, the erosion of
nation-states and the rise of individualism. Propaganda’s auspice is one
of manipulation and demeanment – of parody, exaggeration and stereo-
type. Economically speaking, the Disney brand is too engrained, not
only in American but also in world cultures, to risk adversely affecting
the synergies of its branding. As media continue to fragment towards
mobile devices, the cartoon short will find itself serving more niche
audiences, and propaganda requires mass audiences to be effective.
Animated propaganda may still serve a valuable role in political
persuasion, but the government’s sponsorship of such activities will
remain limited. Mainstream studios like Disney can avoid aligning with
federal sponsors because the soft power of media’s influence is often
more powerful than political decrees. Disney is now so profitable that
federal funding is marginal compared to commercial sponsorship.

My thanks to Patti Riley, Sarah Banet-Weiser, Christine Panushka and Dina Matar,
as well as Shan Wickramasinghe, Stacey Malo, Jean Miller and my mom.

1 How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic is a
seminal and caustic textual analysis of Disney comic books in Chile. The
Marxist text was written during the Chilean revolution during the 1970s. It
was subsequently banned for its incendiary observations.
2 Both Pixar and DreamWorks animation are hoping to revitalize theatrical
cartoon shorts as was the case in The Incredibles and Over the Hedge.
3 We had planned to include images from Disney Enterprises, Inc. in this
article, yet after receiving rights for print publication, we were not granted
online rights and could therefore not use the images in the parallel online
version of the journal.
4 A similar argument could be made today about Flash animation on the
internet as a result of continued media fragmentation.
5 SpongeBob SquarePants is the most commercially successful cartoon
character of the 21st century. The lucrative, daffy hit has helped guarantee
Nickelodeon dominance in a number of territories around the world in terms
of advertising dollars and consumer product sales.
6 The US Military does support a different type of animation through the
sponsorship of certain videogame titles.

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Gerard C. Raiti holds an MA in Global Communication from The

Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern
California, an MSc in Global Media and Communications from the
London School of Economics, and a BS in English and Music from
Vanderbilt University. His dissertation was titled ‘Cartoon Network and
the Glocalization of Children’s Media’. Currently, he is the Virtual
Studio Collaboration Coordinator at DreamWorks Animation. He has
contributed to publications on animation including Animation World
Magazine and KidScreen. Since 2003, he has helped run publicity and
marketing at independent animation studio DUCK, home of Kozo the
Hippo. He is a classical pianist as well as the creator of Periwinkle
Twinkle. His current research focuses on race and minority represen-
tations in global children’s media.
Address: 10760 Rose Avenue, Apt 304, Los Angeles, CA 90034-4477,
USA. [email: GRaiti@alumni.usc.edu]

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