Must Disney's theme park be politically correct?

Mona Charen

November 17, 1993|By Mona Charen

THE Disney Co.'s decision to open a theme park dedicated to American history is most welcome -- not least because it proposes to build the park a 45-minute drive from my house.

But dealing with America's past is not, alas, the straightforward matter it might once have been. One is reminded of the lament by a Soviet historian during the Gorbachev liberalizations. "I know the present. I think I know the future. It's the past that keeps changing on me."

Ownership of America's past, or at least the definitive interpretation of it, is currently contended for by the agents of political correctness. They easily dominate many leading universities, tutoring the very brightest American youngsters in the unredeemed evil of white, male, European civilization as well as the pristine perfection of native cultures -- and now their attention is drawn to what Disney has in mind.

At the press conference announcing the new park, a Disney representative was asked, "Will 'Disney's America' include the issue of slavery?"

Now, this is a little like asking whether a program about skiing will include snow. The question of slavery is the central drama of the first 100 years of this republic. More Americans died obliterating it -- and defending it -- than for any other cause. The existence of slavery was a standing rebuke to the principles spelled out in the founding documents of the nation -- and that tension largely defined our history through the Civil War.

But I can guess why the question was asked. The multiculturalists believe that slavery is not just a great moral blot on our history -- they believe it defines our history. They can see the blot but not the rest of the page. For them, racism, sexism and homophobia pretty much sum up our civilization. (Imagine what fun a politically correct theme park would be!)

In fact, one of the most objectionable things about ideologues like the politically correct is their depressing dullness. The great tapestry of life, with all of its complexity, is lost on them.

Of course Disney will include slavery in its theme park. But let's hope it will include other truths as well, like the fact that some free blacks owned slaves themselves or that some white indentured servants lived as miserably as black slaves.

Let's hope that when the Disney people paint the history of slavery, they give credit to the Christian churches that motivated and directed the abolitionist movement. And let's further hope that they give some attention to the incredible contributions and accomplishments of free blacks after emancipation -- instead of reproducing the politically correct version of black history which paints a false picture of unrelieved degradation and backwardness until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Peter Rummell, president of Disney Design and Development, said, "An intelligent story properly told shouldn't offend anyone." Oh, yes, it will. But hurray for Mr. Rummell anyway. Let the agents of multiculturalism whine. Disney will no doubt hear from so-called women's groups who want the "plight" of women to be portrayed their way, as well as from Hispanics, Asians, homosexuals and God knows who else.

The only answer to such people is the truth. Disney is planning features on the industrial revolution, the Civil War, the family farm, military history, American Indians and immigration. It should take as a model the fine "living" museums that already exist in places like Mystic Seaport, Connecticut and Plymouth Plantation, Mass., museums that offer a glimpse into the daily life -- technological, political and cultural -- of our forebears.

Above all, Disney should not be defensive about presenting a basically positive picture of American history. Yes, American history is stained by slavery and racism, cruelty to Indians and injustice to the Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Nevertheless, this nation has been more successful than any in history at providing security, prosperity and freedom to a great melting pot of peoples from everywhere on earth. We are blessed with the wisest constitution, the most beautiful natural endowment and the most generous people in the world. It's a history well worth celebrating.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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