The insidious influence of Disneyism

June 02, 1995|By Todd Wanerman

San Francisco -- JUST ONCE, I decided not to play the preschool PC police officer and agreed to read the "Aladdin" paperback that one of my 3-year-olds brought in its special carrying case.

She looked so proud, and the other kids were coveting it so wantonly that I really had no choice.

Six pages later, Jasmin and Aladdin flee the boredom of palace life. The genie (I think), disguised as a parrot, stows away in their cart. When he is discovered, he offers to find them a flying carpet.

They consult a rug salesman, a loathsome caricature of a bumbling Middle Easterner, who drops wisecracks about running specials on winged horses.

The genie proposes to save them with a stolen jewel from Scheherazade's necklace, which backfires and lands them all in the middle of a story from the Arabian Nights.

If the kids minded the incoherence, it didn't show. The girls seemed content to scrutinize Jasmin's hair, clothes and accessories and cross reference them with the images on their socks, shoes and lunch boxes. The phrase "I have that" carried them along.

In a pique, I forced the kids to admit they had no idea what was going on. I lunged for a copy of "One Fish Two Fish" by Dr. Seuss. The girls filed off in disgust, while a few boys and I had **TC good laugh over Ned and his Small Bed.

Disney-bashing is nothing new, probably because it's deserved. The hero and heroine always get the white-bread voices, while the goofy, powerless or evil characters get to be foreigners or racial minorities.

And while it's true that they don't do Dumbo's crows with black voices anymore, the '90s window dressing of "Lion King" or "Beauty and the Beast" doesn't spare us from the classic Disney hard sell of absolute good vs. absolute evil.

But what really kills me about Disney is the runaway marketing that ensnares kids and their often unwilling parents.

Think I'm going too far?

Our child was given a Mickey Mouse rattle when he was just weeks old. By the time it broke three days later, he had received a Mickey bib and a Baby Mickey book, also written with a stunning lack of sensitivity.

Through rigorous effort, we have limited further Disney presence to a drinking cup and some books at his day-care center. Still, he learned to say "Mickey" pretty early on.

Give away the first dose, then bring them back to pay.

Consider the wording of Disney's TV ad for the "Snow White" video. "You only have a few more days to buy this beloved children's classic. After that it will be gone forever!"

Disney's books are particularly offensive. They are often overly long, garbled, unintelligible and peppered with references to adult culture that mean nothing to kids.

And, of course, the microchip revolution has allowed Disney to pioneer those books that burp out sound bites, replacing imagination with Pavlovian gratification.

Despite all this, I don't advocate keeping kids' lives Disney-free. It's not our kids' fault that the commercial sector is counting on them to prop up the economy.

The world of media and consumerism dominates the lives of children, and we can't punish them with our adult politics.

So I'll take my kids to Disney movies. At least they are made by the A-team.

But they're going to have to tolerate an earful of my liberal dogma in between. And I'm going to try to use this issue to teach my kids to critique the flavor of what they're being fed.

San Francisco writer Todd Wanerman is a preschool teacher.

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