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Andrew Brett

Disney, Politics and Ideology

2009 –2010

In partial fulfilment of the Limerick School of Art and Design (LIT)

Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Design

Visual Communications
Special thanks to Dr. David Brancaleone

for showing me the door.


List of Illustrations p. 4

Introduction p. 5

Chapter One, Ideology of Disney p. 9

Chapter Two, The Spectacle and Détournement p. 22

Chapter Three, Hyper Politics p. 34

Conclusion p. 45

Bibliography p. 49

1.   Walt Disney Comics, http://toonsatwar.blogspot.com, accessed 10/11/09

2.  Simba, http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2519/3955101471_22be335a8a.jpg, accessed
3.  Simba Two, http://www.mylionking.com/resources/site_images/lk_storyboard1_053.
jpg, accessed 03/04/09.
4.  Scar, http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/dvdreviews/lionkingcap.jpg, accessed 07/04/09.
5.  Scar Two, http://media.photobucket.com/image/scar%20nazi/angelpod315, accessed
6.  Triumph Des Willens, http://www.nazi.org.uk/index_files/image015.jpg, accessed
7.  Triumph Des Willens Two, http://rubens.anu.edu.au/htdocs/bytype/film/riefenstahl/
triumph/12931.JPG, accessed 26/01/10.
8.  The Little Mermaid, screenshot taken from The Little Mermaid, Walt Disney Produc-
tions, 1989.
9.  Mickey’s Image, stills taken from Manifestoon, downloadable from http://www.you-
tube.com/watch?v=NbTIJ9_bLP4, accessed 28/01/10.
10.  Mickey’s World, stills taken from Manifestoon, downloadable from http://www.you-
tube.com/watch?v=NbTIJ9_bLP4, accessed 28/01/10.
11.  Scrooge McDuck, stills taken from Manifestoon, downloadable from http://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=NbTIJ9_bLP4, accessed 28/01/10.
12.  Looney Marx, stills taken from Manifestoon, downloadable from http://www.you-
tube.com/watch?v=NbTIJ9_bLP4, accessed 28/01/10.
13.  Main Street U.S.A., http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v470/bananaphone5000/
GORILLLAS/MainStreet3-23-60.jpg, accessed 02/01/10.
14.  Sex Pistols Pencil Case, http://www.ukrockshop.com/acatalog/SexPistols_God-
Save_PencilCase.jpg, accessed 29/01/10.
15.  Champ Camp, http://disney.go.com/healthykids, accessed 04/01/10.
16.  Master Of Books, http://moviedatalist.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/kniga-
masterov-header.jpg, accessed 04/01/10.
17.  The Secret Gourd, http://www.deshow.net/d/file/movies/2009-02/the-secret-of-the-
magic-gourd-380-2.jpg, accessed 30/01/10.


As globalization brings the worlds markets closer together, communication

on a cross-cultural level becomes of the utmost importance for those

involved. The ability to communicate one’s messages effectively, is

essential to the successful execution of any business or politics. The result

is those who utilize effective cross-cultural communication, see a direct

relationship between the success of their communication and the success

of their organization or the realization of their goals.

  It is this interest in globalization and communication that has led me to

choose The Walt Disney Company as the topic for my analysis. ‘The Walt

Disney Company’ is a title representing many subsidiary companies.1 With

profits to be made in four major areas of the global market, successful

communication on a cross-cultural level is of the utmost importance

to The Walt Disney Company. The aim of this thesis is to conduct an

investigation into the communication of The Walt Disney Company and

assess the impact of its influence and ideology on the global political


  Alan Bryman describes Disneyization as “a lens through which the

nature of modern society can be viewed.”2 Bryman goes on to point out

that all modern societies have begun to exhibit features that are closely

associated with Disney theme parks. Such features include: theming,

hybrid consumption, merchandising, control and surveillance and

1  The most prominent of these being: Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation
Studios and DisneyToon Studios, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax Films, Disney Theatrical
Productions, Disney Live Family Entertainment, Disney on Ice, Disney Music Group, Walt Disney Records,
Hollywood Records, Lyric Street Records, Pixar, Disneyland Park, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Clubs,
Adventures by Disney, Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Resort Paris, Hong Kong
Disneyland, Disney Consumer Products and affiliates, Disney Publishing Worldwide, Disney-ABC Television
Group, ESPN Inc. and The Walt Disney Internet Group which consists of Disney.com, Family.com, Movies.com
and mDisney mobile entertainment. The full list of subsidiary companies can be found at http://corporate.disney.
go.com/corporate/overview.html, accesed 06/11/09.
2  Alan Bryman, The Disneyization Of Society, London: Sage Publications, 2004, p. 162.

performative labour. He argues that with the implementation of these

features on a global scale, Disneyization can be seen as a fundamental

aspect of globalization.

  As the whole of the corporate world seems to be learning from the

success of The Walt Disney Company, I examine the features that

Disney exhibit now, as a means of keeping on top of the game. To do

this successfully, I explore the link between the aims of Disney and the

communication which it produces. This is then considered with reference

to the theories of Karl Marx such as the alienation of the individual and the

domination of mass thinking, through market forces and ideology. This

referrs largely to Disney’s animated films of the 1990s, an era which is

considered ‘The Golden Age’ of Disney. It is films from this era which are

most familiar to the global demographic.

  The second chapter investigates the theories of Guy Debord and The

Situationist International, drawing heavily on Debord’s book, The Society

Of The Spectacle (1967), which explains and condemns the functioning

of the capitalist system. Drawing largely from the writings of Marx,

Debord puts forward theories on how the relation between individuals is

mediated by a mass accumulation of images. From here, I make the case

that The Disney Company can be seen as the epitome of the spectacle. I

then explain how Disney has in fact appropriated some of the subversive

methods of The Situationist International and utilized them to further

promote its own ideology. This is demonstrated through analysis of the

workings behind Disneyland, and also the company’s acquisition of art

house film producer, Miramax.

  The final chapter investigates the actual political power and impact of

The Walt Disney company. Applying the political theories of Paul Virilio

and others, I show how The Disney Company has matched contemporary

criteria to function in the political sphere.

  From here I then look to the writings of Konrad Becker who deals with

mass control in society, through what he refers to as ‘Hyper-Politics’.

The writings of Becker echo the 1920s work of Edward Bernays, who,

by manipulation of the unconscious desires of American citizens,

made democracy synonymous with consumerism. I then discuss the

more contemporary features of The Walt Disney Company such as it’s

expansion into the virtual space of the internet and also its merger with

ABC television. This merger alloted Disney several more outputs for the

channeling of its ideology.

  By application of contemporary political theories I argue that The Walt

Disney Company is now a fully functioning ‘Hyper-State’. I draw attention

to the company’s most recent activities regarding politics outside of

American democracy in Hong Kong Disneyland and even its abandonment

of the English language in foreign markets. This will portray the company’s

willingness to adapt in order to expand, and discard that which is no

longer of benefit to it. I argue, based on these examples, that Disney’s

ideological output is no longer synonymous with those of traditional

American democracy, and that the company has now become its own

autonomous, political entity.


Ideology of Disney

Daniel Chandler notes on ideology and myth, that “Recognition of the

familiar, in the guise of the natural confirms our conventional way of

seeing.”3 Slavoj Žižek asserts that “‘ideological’ is a social reality whose

very existence implies the non-knowledge of its participants as to its

essence.”4 Karl Marx, one of the key socialist thinkers to influence the

twentieth century, noted in terms of ideology, that “the class with the

means of material production at their disposal, has control at the same

time of the means of mental production.”5 He expands that those without

the means of material production become subject to it.

  A brief historical overview brings to light the connection between

the communications of The Walt Disney Company and its relation to

ideology and politics. In the 1920s Edward Bernays developed the

concept of propaganda. He based this on the psychoanalytic writings of

his uncle, Sigmund Freud. In 1928 Bernays wrote his own book entitled

Propaganda in which he details his theories of controlling the masses. This

manipulation was carried out by linking consumers and their unconscious

desires. Bernays utilized and developed these theories to sell products

to consumers, an approach that quickly flourished and became the

cornerstone of the democratic free market. In 1927 it was remarked by

President Hoover, how consumerism had become the centre of American


  The Walt Disney Company’s alignment to these ideals of consumption

became apparent 1929 when Disney first began to merchandise its

3  Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 190.

4  Slavoj Žižeck, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso, 1989, p. 17.
5  Etienne Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx, London: Verso 1995, p. 45.
6  Curtis, Adam, director, The Century of The Self, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=895317227382599915
1# accessed 25/12/09.

products, by selling the Mickey Mouse image to a childrens writing tablet.

In this way we see can an increase in economic growth and efficiency

through synergy. That is, the joining of two corporations to produce a sum

greater that the two corporations could produce individually. The synergy

of corporations in this way is a clear sign of unification, another key

feature in the democratic ideals for America.7

  As early as 1931 Disney could be seen as a political symbol. In a

journal titled ‘The Dictatorship’ German critic Carsten Laqua denounced

Mickey Mouse as representing the profit-driven desires of “the American

commerce Jew.”8 The counter-critics in a sense agreeing with Laqua,

argued that Mickey Mouse be taken up as a “symbol of reason against

the swastika and persecution.”9 Walter Benjamin at this time described

Mickey as representing an anti-bourgeois (Nazi Socialist) ideal.10 The

interests of The Disney Company at this stage were arguably synonymous

with those of America and Edward Bernays.

  I argue that Disney’s views were reflected in Bernays, not only because

the company regimented itself as a cornerstone of consumerism, but also

because of its plentitude of support for the war. Bernays wholly supported

America’s participation in the war, professing “Make the world safe for

democracy.”11 During World War II The Disney Company halted production

of films and turned its efforts towards raising support for the war. These

efforts included appeals for finance, production of military insignias and

7  Democratic Party Platform of 1940, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29597, accessed

8  Esther Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands; Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde, London: Verso, 2002, p. 80.
9  Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands, p. 80.
12  Leslie, Hollywood Flatlands , p. 81.
11  Curtis, Adam, director, The Century of The Self, 2002

pro-war propaganda such as comics and cartoons.12 Below is an example

from a pro-war Walt Disney Comic (Fig.1) depicting a declaration signed

by American heads of military.

Fig.1, Walt Disney Comics

12  Collection of wartime cartoons, http://toonsatwar.blogspot.com, accessed 07/12/09.

  During the Cold War, Walt Disney himself, was a member of the Motion

Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Formed in 1944,

the alliance was dedicated to purging the industry of “communists,

radicals and crackpots.” 13 The Walt Disney Company can be seen to have

adhered to American ideals right up until the 1990s. This era is also known

as ‘The Golden Age of Disney’. It was in this ‘Golden Age’ that Disney

films achieved their greatest global impact, with films such as Aladdin,

Beauty And The Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Mulan and

Pocahontas entertaining audiences worldwide. This time was also the time

when the application of Disney’s neoliberal conservative ideology, began

to shine in a very subtle way.

  The Lion King was Disney’s largest earner at the box office and best

selling home video, selling over fifty-five million copies. It was translated

into forty-four different languages, which included the first ever Disney

dubbings in Zulu and Portugese. One key reason for the success of this

film on a global level lies in the medium of animation itself. Animation

is described by Marshal Mc Luhan as a cold medium ie. presenting

the interpreter with the opportunity to ‘fill in the blanks’.14 This is more

suitable for cross-cultural communication than, for example, a hot

medium, such as film, in which much more (what would be culturally

specific) detail is provided.15 This works on similar principles to those

of iconic representation, where the animations of The Walt Disney

Company are abstracted to the point where there is very little room for

13  The Motion Picture Alliance, Statement of Principles, http://www.terramedia.co.uk/reference/documents/

motion_picture_alliance.htm, accessed 08/12/09.
14  Marshal Mc Luhan, Understanding Media, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964, p. 24.
15  Mc Luhan, Understanding Media, p. 25.

mis-interpretation.16 Any pre-existing familiarity with these animals would

result in comprehension of these signs, perhaps, as argued by semiotician

Umberto Eco, even more so than if the same animals were signified

through film. “At a certain point the iconic representation, however

stylised it may be, appears to be more true than the real experience, and

people begin to look at things through the glasses of iconic convention”17

Hence, the animations continue to communicate effectively, regardless of

what translated language is dubbed on top.

  Another reason for its success, is its use of animals as a vehicle for its

narrative. The use of animals as a vehicle for narrative, has been common
practise for thousands of years, in both Eastern and Western cultures.

This is an age old example of a near universal myth, where human culture

is presented in the guise of nature. It is arguably this ability to portray

narrative, which has indeed separated us from the animals which we

describe. As Kerstin Dautenhahn points out

  The evolution of communication in terms of narrative language,

  was an important factor in human evolution that has shaped the

  evolution of human cognition, societies and human culture.18

  Genre is a system of codes which, conventions and visual styles which

allows the audience to determine the narrative on offer.19 Because of The

16  Iconic representation is the use of a sign which bears physical resemblance to its signified object. Iconic signs
are said to be highly ‘motivated’ as the understanding of such signs requires less learning of an agreed convention,
as opposed to symbolic signs which are arbitrary and culturally assigned. Chandler, Semiotics The Basics, pp. 39-41.
17  Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics, p. 39.
18  Kerstin Dautenhahn The origins of narrative, Essay, downloadable from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/do
wnload?doi=, accessed 29/01/10.
19  Graeme Turner, Film as Social Practice IV, London: Routledge 2008, p. 119.

Lion Kings pre-determined genre of ‘family entertainment’, the viewer

is immediately made subject to Disney’s communication. That is, the

viewer is positioned as the ideal viewers or readers.20 One may expect

an animated narrative involving talking animals to be capable only of

delivering a morally sound message for children, but as explained by the

definitions of ideology, we should never underestimate this power inherent

in signs such as this, to groom its viewers. We need only look as far as

George Orwell’s Animal Farm to see how politically charged an apparently

innocent narrative can be. In Animal Farm the Russian Revolution and

proceeding events are portrayed through the guise of an innocent story,

about animals on a farm.21

  The temporal structure of any narrative involves both a beginning and an

end, to convey this successfully a syntagmatic structure must be in place.

That is an agreed convention on how the text is to be read sequentially.22

For a sequence to be correctly interpreted across a global audience these

conventions, or codes, must be shared by all sign users. This is where

animation or film becomes particularly useful. Generally speaking in most

animation and film, what happens first on screen, as in real life, is taken to

represent the beginning and what follows, is logically assumed to happen


  The same message communicated through animation, could not be

applied succesfully to a series of images in sequence along a line for

example, as members of different cultures would read syntagmatically

20  Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics, p. 188.

21  A full summary of the plot and themes in Animal Farm can be accessed at http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/
animalfarm/, accessed 03/03/09.
22  Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics, p. 83.

in different directions. It is due to inhereted conventions that those in

Western culture read written text from left to right, contrasted with, for

example, Arab cultures in which you read from right to left. Even at this

fundamental level we can see ideology at work in The Lion King. There

is one point where the rate of time passing is increased dramatically

through a song, this is made quite clear by the rapid growing of Simba

as he becomes a adult lion. This transition takes place as Simba walks

from left to right across the screen, naturalising Western conventions of

progression to the future.(fig.2) This is reinforced when Simba decides

to return to the Prideland, ie. a return to his past, he is shown running

through the desert from right to left.(fig.3)

Fig.2, Simba

Fig.3, Simba Two

  There are also in The Lion King elements of propaganda as it is typically

considered. This is matched with evil dictatorship presented in the form of

the king’s brother Scar, (fig.4-5) who rallies the hyena troops through self-

promotion and promise of better times. The scene accompanying scars

propaganda song ‘Be Prepared’ is modeled directly from a scene in Leni

Riefenstahl’s 1935 classic, Triumph des Willens, (Fig.6-7) one of the best-

known examples of Nazi propaganda. What we see here is a depiction

of a struggle for power between good and evil, where the bad guy is

equated with Nazism and a regime of Fascist dictatorship. Levi Strauss

argues that binary oppositions such as this are universal and fundamental

to the very process of narrative.23 Taking on board the Sausseurian model

of linguistics, we can see the opposition to Nazism is equated with good

because it is ‘not bad’.24 Outside of the text we are familiar with the role

America played in opposition to Nazism and Facism, this hence naturalises

through myth the association of America and good.

Fig. 4, Scar
Fig. 6, Triumph Des Willens

Fig. 7, Triumph Des Willens Two

Fig. 5, Scar Two

23  Turner, Film as Social Practice IV, pp. 104-105.

24  Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1974, p. lvii.

  The most significant representation of Disney’s conservative views

however, is the concept of ‘the circle of life’. This is the most prominent

theme on both the denotative, being the most direct or obvious, and

connotative level. Even though a serious change takes place in the

narrative, that is, the new evil system of rule over the land, by the

conclusion of the narrative, it has returned to normal. The status quo

is maintained and the circle is complete. This is presented as good and

natural by association with actuallt natural concepts such as birth and

death and the food chain. It is through tropes such as these that The Walt
Disney Company, has by connotation, subtly naturalized their conservative

worldviews, whilst systematically influencing the views of those subjected

to their signs.

This ‘Golden Age Of Disney’, began precisely on November 15th, 1989,

with the U.S. premiere of The Little Mermaid.25 On analysis of this film, it

seems unlikely to be a coincidence that it was released in the same year as

the fall of the Berlin Wall. Arial desperately desires to be part of the human

world which can be seen to represent the consumption-based, capitalist

West. The promotion of the capitalism over communism is implied by

Arial’s collection of goods from the human world. This is re-enforced

by her singing “I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore… but who cares,

no big deal, I want more!”26 This can be seen to promote the desire for

consumption, which we know to be fundamental aspect of the capitalist

system and its ideology.(Fig.8)

25  Eleanor Byrne and Martin McQuillan, Deconstructing Disney, London: Pluto Press, 1999, p. 20.
26  The Little Mermaid Script, http://www.meeko.org/disney/mermaid/script.html, accessed 30/01/10.

Fig.8, The Little Mermaid

  Marx’s outlook on capitalist ideology is that it is the “alienated existence

of the relation between individuals.”27 One of Marx’s key concepts, still

largely relevant today, is the idea of the fetishism of the commodity.

Marx explains this as “a definite social relation between men themselves

which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between

27  Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx, p. 56.

things.”28 Marx describes the commodity as an object and representation,

it is an object already in the form of representation.29 That is, an object

with a use value, but also has the representation of its exchange value, ie.

value- based on the fetishism of such an object. All products of The Disney

Company can be seen as a commodity in this way. The use value of any

Disney product exists only in its functionality, its exchange value exists

because it has been branded by Disney, and is therefore deemed to be

worth more.

  In terms of ideology, Marx explains that “In the ideological domain, all

production is denied or sublimated and becomes free creation.”30 This

allows for ideological domination. In terms of fetishism, all production is

subordinated towards the reproduction of exchange value. In Marx’s view

ideology is actually a theory of the mode of domination inherent in the

state. Fetishism is the subjection of the world of subjects and objects in

the organization of society as market and its domination by market forces.

  Throughout this thesis I will show how The Walt Disney Company

has simultaneously merged and fulfilled both these roles, yet not for the

benefit of the state, as Marx understood, but for its own specific gain.

In the next chapter I will investigate the theories of Guy Debord and The

Situationist International who stood against capitalist society and its

application of ideology, which was theorized as ‘the spectacle’.

28  Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx, p. 56.

29  Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx, p. 67.
30  Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx, p. 42.


The Spectacle and Détournement

Society’s apparent desire to consume such messages as those produced

by The Disney Company, should be placed under a Marxist question of

historical ideological structure, rather that individual choice. In response

to this social conditioning, revolutionary thinkers Guy Debord and Asger

John, founded the Situationist International in 1957. These ideological

structures are what Guy Debord has referred to in his 1967 synopsis,

The Society of the Spectacle. In it he explains how the relation between

individuals has now become mediated by images, thus diminishing the

quality of life and replacing it with consumption.

  Elaborating on the condition, he points out that the consumption

of such spectacles is actually masking the diminished quality of life by

passifying the spectators. “It is easy to see how the very principle of the

spectacle- non intervention- is linked to the alienation of the old world.”31

Here he refers to the experience of everyday life as opposed to a life of


  Although disputes eventually occurred between The Situationists,

resulting in the formation of different branches, a common ground was

the proposal of situations as an alternative to the capitalist system. The

situation is theorized as a utopian moment of life, deliberately constructed

by the collective organization, with the intent of creating a unitary

ambiance. It leans heavily towards the implimentation of user activity and

subjective experience, primarily through the free creation of events and

games. Play and pleasure were essential concepts for The Situationists.

Situationist Raoul Vaneigem noted that play in the capitalist system is

31  Guy Debord, Towards a Situationist International, ed. Ken Knabb, 1957, accessible at http://www.cddc.vt.edu/
sionline, accessed 20/10/09.

merely the use of pacifying objects that can never fulfil one’s desire for

play.32 He also states that “Subjectivity subverts roles and spectacular lies

to its own ends: it re-invests its appearances in reality.”33 Subjectivity is

one of the key concerns of all branches of Situationism.

  Originally the situations were intended to be created through

psychogeographic research and theories of Unitary Urbanism.

Psychogeography involved the experimental design of environmental

surroundings and the monitoring of their effects on the individual.34 This

led to experimentation with Unitary Urbanism where individual districts

would be designed to create a distinct harmony, this would advocate also,

a state of permanent transformation and reconstruction of the individuals

position. This was seen as a critique of capitalism’s manipulation of cities

and their inhabitants. In other words, this was seen by The Situationists,

as détournement of Urbanism.35

  The concept of détournement is the taking of certain signs of the

dominant ideology and recontextualizing or modifying them to subvert

their original meaning. It is the flexible language of anti-ideology. The

Situationists use of détournement adheres strongly to their outlook

on creativity itself, where “Creation is not the arrangement of objects

and forms, it is the invention of new laws on such arrangements.”36 As

expressed by Debord, détournement can take the form of any sign which

32  Raoul Vaneigem, Revolution of Everyday Life, ed. Donald Nicholson Smith, London: Rebel Press, 2000, p. 164.
33  Vaneigem, Revolution of Everyday Life, p. 150.
34  Guy Debord, Introduction to a critique of Urban Geography, 1955, accessible at http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/
urbgeog.htm, accessed 30/01/10.
35  Atilla Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem, Basic Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism, 1961, accessible at
http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/6.unitaryurb.htm, accessed 29/01/10.
36  Tom McDonough, Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents, Massachussets
Institute of Technology, 2004, p.43.

communicates, with the operation of détournement in everyday life

being described as ultra détournement.37 An illustration of this concept

is Attila Kotányi’s proposal for a glossary of détourned words in 1961,

some examples include the word ‘neighbourhood’, which would be

read as ‘gangland’, ‘culture’, which would be read as ‘conditioning and

‘education’, which read as ‘premediation’.38 The manipulation of signs in

this way, was seen by Debord as a starting point towards the realization of

Situationist ideals and the destruction of capitalist ideology.

  The critique and perpetual re-creation of the totality of everyday life,

  before being carried out naturally by all people, must be under taken

  in the present conditions of oppression, in order to destroy these


To this end Vaneigem proposed the implementation of diversion, of a self

critical language which would evolve constantly.

  In terms of subversion, détournement has proven to remain a popular

tool. A more contemporary example is Jesse Drew’s 2001 subversive

animation, Manifestoon. In it we see a montage of popular cartoons,

including some of Disney’s. The détournement here, comes in the form

of the soundtrack, which is a reading of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Communist Manifesto. The selected animations are cleverly arranged

as to illustrate appropriately the key points made in the manifesto. This

37  Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman, A User’s Guide to Détournement,1956, accessible at http://www.bopsecrets.
org/SI/detourn.htm accessed 30/01/10.
38  Ewen Chardronnet, History Of Unitary Urbanism And Psychogeography at The The Turn Of The Sixties, 2003,
accessible at http://www.socialfiction.org/psychogeography/unitary_urbanism.html, accessed 30/01/10.

39  Guy Debord, Perspectives for Conscious Alterations in Everyday Life, Internationale Situationniste, May 1961

increases the power of the text in two ways, firstly by reinforcing the

monologue with visual stimuli, and secondly by physically referencing the

application of bourgeois ideologies through the cartoons. (fig. 9-12)

Fig.9, Mickeys Image Fig.10, Mickeys World

Fig.11, Scrooge Mc Duck Fig.12, Looney Marx

In 1955, we saw the realization of Walt Disney’s consumption based

vision of utopia, Disneyland. It could be argued that Disney have utilized

similar approaches to The Situationists in the design of Disneyland,

such as psychogeography and their appropriation of signs to convey

new meanings. This can be seen through the application of theme to its

buildings and streets.(Fig.13) Here a theme of the past is applied to the

buildings which are modelled on Walt’s home town Missouri at the turn

of the twentieth century. This is a prime example of the Disneyization

of history, that is, again, the masking of truths such as class struggle

and conflict in the name of creating a consumption-friendly zone. These

appropriated old style buildings often contain inside shopping areas which

do not correspond to their outward disguises. The reality is false, but the

consumption is real.

Fig.13, Main Street U.S.A.

  While the Situationists attempted to reject the spectacle’s mediation

of society and masking of truth, contemporary theorist Jean Baudrillard

claimed in the 1980’s, that the truth no longer exists. He explains this

through his concepts of simulations and simulacra. A simulacra, he

describes, is a copy without an original. It is the hyper-real. “Hyper-

realism is an integral part of a coded reality, which it perpetuates without

modifying.”40 Disneyland, by professing to fantasy and enchantment,

confirms its own falsehood. It is in this way that Disneyland portrays itself

as the core of hyper reality. Baudrillard uses Disneyworld to demonstrate

all the orders of simulacra. He points out how he world is tricked into
believing because Disneyworld is imaginary, that the rest is real. It is in

this way The Walt Disney Company can be seen as the epitome of the

spectacle, or as Umberto Eco puts it, “the quintessence of consumer


  Contrary however, to Baudrillards arguement that there is no longer any

truth, Žižek, drawing on the theories of Jacques Lacan, points out that thre

is still the order of the Real (which Lacan differentiated from the standard

word real by applying a capital ‘R’). He describes this order of the Real as

a ‘hard kernel of truth’. “The Real designates a substantial hard kernel that

precedes and resists symbolization and, simultaneously, it designates the

left-over, which is posited or ‘produced’ by symbolization itself.”42 It is the

order of the Real from which the symbolic order draws its interpretations.

This is explained as being the order, which essentially encompassed all

40  Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900-2000, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003, p. 1015.
41  Umberto Eco, Travels In Hyper Reality, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Publishers, 1986, p. 43.
42  Žižek, Tarrying With The Negative, p.23.

that is understood and represented through language.43 The Real is that

which exists before language, and also what is left when language is

finished interpreting and labeling. The very notion of the hyper real can be

seen as being that which is fully embraced by the Symbolic Order. All that

is constituted by the spectacle is hyper real.

  It is in this light that we can truly see Walts vision for utopia, that is,

the objectification of life through the symbolic order. This can be seen

as standing exactly in opposition of Vaneigem’s theories of radical

subjectivity as a means of achieving utopia.

  Žižeck however, also points out how the use of détournement actually

creates space for ideology to operate. “By attacking and distancing

oneself from the sign-systems of capital, the subject creates a fantasy of

transgression that ‘covers up’ his/her actual complicity with capitalism

as an overarching system.”44 Debord himself explains, that the ruling

ideology ensure that the subversive are trivialised and sterilised, after

which they can be safely spectacularised.45 This can be seen clearly in

the case of punk rock, which was originally a radical expression and to a

certain extent détourning elements from the mainstream, yet eventually

became sterilised and took its place back in the system. The proof

below shows a Sex Pistols pencil case, available to purchase from www.


43  Sean Homer, Routledge Critical Thinkers; Jacques Lacan, New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 40.
44  Slavoj Žižeck, Tarrying With The Negative, U.S.A: Duke University Press, 1998, p. 216.
45  Guy Debord, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Modern Culture, 1957, accessible at http://www.bopsecrets.
org/SI/report.htm, accessed 02/11/09.

Fig.14, Sex Pistols Pencil Case

  It appears now, that corporations such as The Walt Disney Company,

remain unscathed by détournement or subversion of this nature. However

instead of only trivializing and sterilizing attempts at subversion, Disney

have also appropriated the approaches and methodologies of The

Situationist International, as a means of strengthening its position, as the

purveyor of spectacle.

  One such appropriation is that of détournement. This can be seen at

Disney’s theme parks where The Walt Disney Company has created its

own glossary of détourned words. These incidents of détournement, in

keeping with its the law of the spectacles, mask the reality of life in the

capitalist system. Examples include replacing of the word ‘uniform’ with

‘costume’, ‘crowd’ as ‘audience’, ‘que’ with ‘pre-entertainment area’ and

several more.46

46  For a full list see Bryman, The Disneyization Of Society, p. 11.

  We can see how Disney have cleverly, in manners similar to those of

the Situationist International, appropriated and manipulated existing signs

in order to communicate a new meaning. This was not done through

the creation of something completely new, but indeed through the

application of a new framework for the use of old forms of architeture,

aesthetics and words. By recontextualising these aesthetics and forms

of architecture, Disney can in a sense be seen as using détournement to

promote rather than subvert the bourgeois ideology, that is, consumption

through entertainment. Ironically this can be seen as détournement, of

détournement itself.
  The détournement of signs in this way, has remained a trademark of The

Walt Disney Company right up to modern day. A more discreet example of

this was taking place during the 1990s when Disney acquired independent

production company, Miramax. The company was founded by the

Weinstein brothers, Bob and Harvey, in 1979. They marketed foreign and

‘art house’ films as mainstream, and aimed them at the American market.

After Disney’s acquisition of Miramax in 1993, the company immediately

began to market its films on a global level.

  Like Water for Chocolate, The Postman, Chocolat and Chocolate and

Strawberry were all released in a period when relationships with Cuba,

Chile and Mexico and the U.S. were under negotiation. At a time when

N.A.F.T.A. (North American Free Trade Agreement) was of high concern

these films (Water For Chocolate and Strawberry) were released.

Coinciding also with the topic of the effects of Mexican emmigration

on the U.S. was the film Water For Chocolate. The Postman in mid 1995

coincided with a push to get Chile involved also in NAFTA.

  In Like Water For Chocolate, Chocolat and Chocolate and Strawberry,

we see the commodification of Latin American ‘otherness’ as a series

of sensuous, sexual consumable objects. We can see the application of

the neo-liberal aesthetics through the use of the universal human stories

ie. Love and Sex. Each film is taken from a literary text with the political

edge toned down. As we have seen this a common trend in The Disney

Company’s corporate activities, that is, the sanitization of history and of

locations. The success of Water For Chocolate can be attributed to its

apolitical treatment of the Mexican revolution and its commodification of

Mexican culture, mostly food, as being sensuous and sexual. This is all
bound together by an eroticized love story which all nationalities can relate

to and enjoy.

  U.S. film goers, aswell as film goers from other nations, rely on these

films for the bulk of information on the countries which they depict. By the

détournement of these supposedly foreign films, through the application

of neo-liberal aesthetics, spectators are subjected to the view that America

is the powerhouse for culture, both nationally and internationally. It is

interesting to note here that not only does The Walt Disney Company,

through its many faces, promote apparently American ideologies to the

rest of the world, but now also through the détournement of foreign films,

actually regurgitates its ideology back into the un-suspecting American


  In his writings on pedagogy, resistance and culture, Henry A. Giroux

Describes this exact process. “Dominant cultures seize upon the dynamics

of cultural power to secure their own interests while simultaneously

attempting to make the political context and ideological sources of such

power invisible.”47 This is the essence of what Konrad Becker discusses in

his writings on mass control and society where he dubs the term ‘Hyper-

Politics’. Applying such theories in the next chapter shall ground my

argument, that The Walt Disney Company is now virtually operating as a

political entity.

47  Henry A. Giroux, “Reclaiming The Social”, in Film Theory Goes To The Movies, Jim Collins, Hilary Radner and
Ava Collins, New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 37.


Hyper Politics

In the previous chapter I illustrated methods of subversion which were

derived by the Situationist International, for use against the capitalist

system. I also demonstrated how The Walt Disney Company has utilized

methods similar to these, but for the opposite reasons, that is, increasing

its own power and ideological domination. Up to this point it has become

apparent how Disney have fulfilled criteria derived by Karl Marx to

dominate according to state ideological apparatus, whilst simultaneously

dominating through commodity fetishism in the market. In this final

chapter I will argue my case that The Disney Company has now become

its own autonomous, political entity.

  A discernable trait of The Walt Disney Company is the consistant pursuit

of new channels of reaching the consumer. In 1967 the State of Florida

permitted Walt to set up the Reedy Creek Improvement District, with

special leeway to run as its own municipality. This vision was to become

The Disney Company’s own corporate town, Celebration. Celebration,

again like Main Street U.S.A., was modelled on a nostalgic vision of

old style community in America. It was widely open to comments from

contemporary critics who noted that realistically these areas were only

available and appealing to white, middle-class Americans.48

  Along with this town Disney also implemented its own privately run

educational facility, which met with disdain not only from critics, but also

the population of Celebration. Eventually, after much controversy with

the citizens of Celebration, The Walt Disney Company pulled out of both

the school and the town. It would seem that Disney’s decision to pull

48  Bryman, The Disneyization of Society, p. 49.

out of these operations was to avoid negative publicity which may have

developed to tarnish its cloak of innocence. Speaking with regards to the

Disney-owned school, Henry Giroux argued that during the 1990s, the

corporate assault against public schooling was part of a broader project

to dismantle all public spheres that refuse to be strictly governed by the

instrumental logic of the market.49 He saw these privatised schools as a

means of shaping model citizens who woud adapt to the world they were

presented with, rather than question it. What we can gain from these

ventures is that they were a strong indication of Disney’s efforts to gain

stronger influence in the political sphere. That is, the attainment of another
division through which it may channel its ideology. The yielding of these

endeavors did not however deter Disney from seeking alternative routes of


  Echoing the writings of Bernays, Konrad Becker explains how in

contemporary society “Information is increasingly indistinguishable

from propaganda, defined as the manipulation of symbols as a means of

influencing attitudes. Whoever controls the metaphors controls thought.”50

Becker refers to communication in this way, towards an unwitting mass,

as ‘Hyper-Politics’. A clear example of this can be seen on Disney’s

‘Champ Camp’, an interactive health and fitness website for kids.(Fig.15)

  This particular branch of Disney cannot be completely condemned, as

knowledge on healthy living for kids is distribubed and tested through

games. In the section titled ‘Cool Parents’, however, there are a number of

49  Giroux, The Mouse That Roared, p. 64.

50  Konrad Becker, Tactical Reality Dictionary, Introduction, accessible at http://world-information.org/trd/ accessed

snacks (healthy and unhealthy) from other various brands, which through

synergy are now themed with Disney characters. The conscious desire

of parents to ‘be cool’ and to give their child a healthy lifestyle is not

only likely to encourage them to purchase these goods, but also to make

a subconscious link in the minds of both parents and children between

products branded with Disney, and a healthy way of life.51

Fig.15, Champ Camp

51  http://disney.go.com/healthykids/ accessed 05/12/09.

  Becker goes on to explain that “A typical move for a political influence

group would be to set up news services for metadata-manipulation and

subpropaganda.”52 This is exactly what Disney did in 1995 after their

acquisiton of A.B.C. (American Broadcast Channel) which they developed

into ‘Disney - ABC – ESPN Television Group’. This conglomeration consists

of eleven channels and one radio station, including family entertainment,

children’s channels and the twenty-four hour live news channel, ABC

News. Although only one of many divisions of the overall company, the

power of The Disney Company’s influence has greatly increased with this

acquisition, offering several more channels to reach the public. Each genre
of channel complete with its own advantageous guise, for the delivery of

propoganda to particular sectors of the demographic.

  I will point out here, that through conglomerations such as this it must

also be noted that the very notion of democracy is diminished. “An

authentic democracy needs dialogue, and alternative media have long

provided the space for a multiplicity of viewpoints, excluded from much of

public debate.”53 The replacing of many voices with one is metaphorically

speaking, closer to the political agenda of a dictatorship rather than

that of democracy. The same thinking can be applied here which Noam

Chomsky applies in his propoganda model, where persons are presented

with options that ultimately are irrelevant to the dominant ideology.54

Essentially, conglomeration of media in this way, reduces democracy to

the level of decisions between insignificant matters.

52  Becker, Tactical Reality Dictionary, Introduction.

53  Mohammed el-Nawawy, “Al-Jazeera”, in Battleground The Media, Robin Andersen and Jonathan Gray,
Greenwood Press, 2008, p. 18.
54  Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, London: Vintage, 2003 pp. 333-335.

  It is argued now however, by Douglas Rushkoff, that in this

postindustrial age of information the propoganda model theorised by

Noam Chomsky has become slightly outdated. The media is no longer

in place to promote the ideology of the state, but rather has become its

own entity and communicates with its own agenda in mind.55 One such

example of this is the distribution by ABC of the ‘docu-drama’ The Path

to 9-11. This two part series initially advertised as a documentary, highly

dramatized and falsified the events leading up to the destruction of the

twin towers. The film was highly controversial and laid the blame for the

attacks largely on the Clinton administration. Claims were made against

ABC for the dramatization and falsifying of scenes which never happened.

It is here that we can see a new approach to the ‘Disneyization’ of a story,

where we can see ABC purposefully making use of controversy to raise

hype, therefore increasing the publicity and ratings of the documentary.

  Douglas Kellner notes that “In terms of political economy, the emerging

postindustrial form of technocapitalism is characterized by a decline of the

state and increased power of the market, accompanied by the growing

strength of globalized transnational corporations and governmental

bodies and decreased force of the nation-state and its institutions”56

Paul Virilio, in coherence with Kellner, tells us now that it is the time of

quasi-instantaneous communications, exchanges and data transfer which

defines the space or site of the polis. With this comes the politics of

electronic markets, global capital flows and the minimal state structure,

55  Andersen and Gray, Battleground The Media, p.78.

56  Douglas Kellner, Media Culture And The Triumph Of The Spectacle, Essay, this essay is featured in Geoff King,
The Spectacle of the Real, Great Britain: Intellect, 2005, p. 34.

which is necessary for the management of this virtual space of the

political. “The ‘place’ of politics is less the material space of urban terrain

and far more the virtual ‘place’ of communications and the temporality

of real time proper to them.”57 What Virilio refers to here is described as

chronopolitics, the regime of real time which governs what he terms the

global meta-city of information exchange.

  The Walt Disney Company now has several branches of real time

transmission at its disposal including a host of interactive social and

educational websites aimed at children and parents, along with the

interactive ABC News 24, Twitter and Facebook web pages. All these

virtual spaces possess the power to evoke what Virilio refers to as

‘democracy of emotion’ where, because of the speed of transaction,

viewers do not take the necessary time to think and therefore make

decisions based on emotion.58

  A shining example of this ‘democracy of emotion’ can be seen on

Disney’s Club Penguin. Club Penguin is a social networking site aimed

specifically at children. Under a section titled “Global Citizenship” in the

parents’ section of the website we are informed about a charity, called

“Coins For Change” which operates on a world-wide basis.59 Basically,

the charity involves children playing a game in this virtual world, in which

they can gain virtual coins. By choosing to donate these coins, The Walt
Disney Company then help various unfortunate people from around the

world. The return value of a social investment such as this, for Disney, is

57  Ian James, Routledge Critical Thinkers; Paul Virilio, London: Routledge, 2007, p. 97.
58  James, Critical Thinkers; Virilio, p. 103.
59  http://www.clubpenguin.com/global-citizenship, accessed 07/12/09.

outstanding. An instantaneous approval can surely be assumed of any

parent who views this. This positive response, then, not only gains further

confidence in the minds of parents, that The Walt Disney Company is

good, but also helps to ensure that children will spend more time playing

Disney games, hence subjecting them further to Disney’s ideology.

  Along with creating associations between Disney and charity in some

of the poorer parts of the world, this can be considered as very effective

promotion of The Walt Disney Company. This may even be considered as

advertisement at the connotative level, subtly ensuring trust and faith in

Disney at a fraction of the price of an advertisement campaign to do the

same. This is an exceptional move for a political organization, after all who

could distrust the charitable politician?

  A much more honest example of Disney’s politics was being transmitted

prior to Christmas 2009. It was an piece of animated communication on

the main page of The Walt Disney Company’s website. The interactive

question was raised “What’s been your best Christmas present so far?”60

Communication such as this carries the power to implant in the sub-

consciousness, instinctive concepts such as competitiveness through

consumerism. The only plausible response to communication such as this

is further desire for consumption- another metaphorical ‘yes vote’ for The

Walt Disney Company.

  As already pointed out, in concurrence with the theory of Rushkoff, the

media section of The Walt Disney Company is now its own autonomous

power. This political activity, however, is not only limited to the Disney -

60  www.disney.go.com, accessed, 05/12/09.

ABC – ESPN Television Group. It is very interesting to point out here that

the recently opened Disneyland Hong Kong is only forty-eight precent

owned by The Walt Disney Company, the other fifty-two percent is owned

by the Chinese government.61 On the 19th of September 2009 the Hong

Kong Disneyland Resort, together with the People’s Liberation Army’s

(PLA) Hong Kong Garrison gathered several young and old to celebrate the

sixty-year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The celebrations

were held between the Ngong Shuen barracks and the Hong Kong

Disneyland Resort. Zeng Quingnian, the Deputy Political Comissar of the

P.L.A. commented how meaningful it was that the Hong Kong Disneyland
Resort joined with the P.L.A. to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the

Communist Party.62 It truly is.

  What this depicts is a critical example of change in political ideology for

Disney, as we can be sure that celebrating communism is not something

we could have expected from Walt Disney, nor any other vigilant believer

in a democratic society. What this suggests is the potential for The Walt

Disney Company to now adapt to any new systems and in the name of

expansion and opening new markets. Another case of this ability to adapt

took place recently in Russia, where Disney has just finished producing

its first completely Russian animated film, Kniga Masterov.(fig.16) This is

Disneys’s second film now fully produced in a foreign language, after its

production of Chinese film, The Magic Gourd, in 2007.(fig.17)

61  Marketwatch, “Hong Kong Disneyland reportedly adds to expansion plans”, article is accessible at http://www.
marketwatch.com/story/hong-kong-disneyland-reportedly-adds-to-expansion-plans-2009-11-29, accessed 05/12/09.
62  Sidney Sin, “Hong Kong Disneyland Resort joins the People’s Liberation Army to celebrate the PRC’s 60th
anniversary at the Ngong Shuen Chau barracks”, article is accessible at http://news-en.hongkongdisneyland.com/
PressReleases/PressReleaseDetail.aspx?AssetId=e82afa5d-0b83-4040-a785-c99d1c9fa34e, accessed 05/12/09.

Fig.12, Master Of Books

Fig.13, The Magic Gourd

  What all of this points to, the foundation of my argument, is that with

the opening up of a new technological space in the sphere of politics, it

is key players in the areas of media, market and communications who

will come to dominate. Such key players as The Walt Disney Company

and indeed many other corporate conglomerates, now have ample

opportunity to fill these new roles as virtual or ‘Hyper-States’. In the

case of The Walt Disney Company, there is a plentitude of evidence to

suggest its willingness pursue, adapt, retreat, and discard policies at its

own discretion, to maintain optimum levels of communication towards its

consumers. With an adaptable policy such as this it is hard to imagine a

place where the politics of The Walt Disney Company will fail to penetrate.

It seems now that the words ‘national’ and ‘citizen’ shall inevitably

replaced by the words ‘global’ and ‘consumer’.


This thesis began last year, as an investigation into the possibilities

of communication on a cross-cultural or even universal scale. After

an in-depth exploration of semiotics and various existing attempts at

universal communication, I came to the conclusion that the animation of

iconic signs is, theoretically, the most efficeint means of cross-cultural

communication. To apply my newly acquired theory, I selected Disney’s

The Lion King for semiotic analysis. I chose The Lion King as I knew

this is a world-reknowned animation. It was then, and only then that I

came to the realization of what was really at stake when dealing with

communication on a universal scale. Looking deeper into film theory and

its effects on society, I began to understand more fully the effects and

potential of signs and narrative as a means of producing and reproducing


  From here I was pointed towards Guy Debord and the Situationist

International and their vision for a radically subjective utopia, free from the

shackles of capitalism and the spectacle. Through further investigation,

it became apparent that The Walt Disney Company could indeed be seen

as the epitome of the spectacle. These thoughts were then reinforced on

studying the theories of Jean Baudrillard, who argued that the existence of

Disneyworld masked the fact that we are now engulfed in hyper reality.

  Contrary to Baudrillards theory of hyper reality, however, Slavoj Žižek

argued, based on the writings of Jacques Lacan, that there does exist an

order of the Real. The Real is that which exists outside of representation

and language. It became clear to me, that it is this order of the Real which

is masked by hyper reality, and hence masked by the spectacle also. The

revolution which the Situationists aspired to was a collective, radical

subjectivity which would interact with this order of the Real.

It was the shift towards researching more contemporary philosophers

such as Henry. A Giroux, Paul Virilio and Konrad Becker which led

me to a more complete understanding of our current political climate

and how corporate institutions such as Disney can utilize language

and representation to dominate ideologically, whilst simultaneously

dominating in the world’s market.

  Controlling consumer’s actions and thoughts in the ways demonstrated

here will allow The Walt Disney Company to shape, and continue shaping,

the world to its own means. If we take Baudrillard’s definition of the hyper-

real as a phenomenon hiding the fact that there is no longer any real, then
we can take Konrad Becker’s use of the term hyper politics as hiding the

fact that there is no longer any politics. At least not in the way which most

citizens assume politics to work. Becker’s theories of social control are

accurate reflections on today’s political space, which still faces the same

spectacular conditioning against which The Situationists strived.

  A consistent flaw in the approach of The Situationists however, as

pointed out by Žižeck, was that of attacking the system they wished

to destroy, through the signs of that very system. As expressed, the

symbolic order is synomous with hyper reality, which also encompasses

the spectacle. Zizek points out that the symbolic order is bound by the

signifying chain, “the law of the signifier” as he calls it.63 To use one sign

in a system, is to use them all. Hence, subversive techniques such as

détournement and diversion are inevitebly rendered impotent.

  Walt Disney aimed for utopia through complete objectivity. That is,

63  Myers, Critical Thinkers: Zizek, p. 22.

through the complete replacing of the order of the Real with the symbolic

order. According to Žižek, if the symbolic order and the order of the

Real were identical, the result would be the end of human existence.

That is, that we would cease to make decisions as individuals but rather

carry out pre-determined actions and existence based on an objective

understanding of reality. Although this may stand as a theory of utopia

for some, it is not achievable through a theoretical flaw. The spectacle

can only pacify our subjectivity, it could never completely remove it. Ergo

we will always make an interpretation of the given sign, thus negating

  It seems so, that the only true utopian balance can be achieved at the

opposite end of the scale, through complete subjectivity. As Vaneigem

pointed out, this would allow all things, to become all things, for all

people.64 For this to truly exist however we need to take it even further

than Vaneigem’s theories of radical subjectivity, which still left room for

the re-cognition of other subjects and use of diversion as communication.

The problem here this is that all communication exists, or will exist, in the

symbolic order. Regardless of if we employ a self critical language or not,

it is still a language. It will still bound by the law of the signifier, perhaps

even more so in a language of constant diversion.

  The only hope for a true revolution so, it seems, is to reject all existing

signs and codes. To abandon all which can mask the order of the Real.

Only then can we truly and fully experience our subjectivity. Theoretically,

it is only then that can we be truly free.

64  Raoul Vaneigem, Revolution of Everyday Life, ed. Donald Nicholson Smith, London: Rebel Press, 2000, p. 98.


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