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Disney IS America.. so DeSantis will rue burning down the House of Mouse

The Florida governor has taken on a formidable foe in a battle for the heart of American childhood

April 1968: A young girl shakes hands with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, California, during the 40th anniversary of his creation by Walt Disney. Photo: Alan Band/Keystone/Getty

It was impossible during my childhood to escape Disney. I’m talking here about the mid-1950s and the 60s – but especially the 50s, when the US was trying to get back to “normal” after the second world war. “Normal” meant milk and cookies after school, that imperial world of mom and dad.

“Normal” was watching dancing kids on that big box in the living room, the almighty TV set. We all, every one of us with a TV, sang along with them. And no matter what creed or colour or ability, you were 100% into it.

We, too, joined those kids on the Mickey Mouse Club and sang along, with our own mouse-ears caps on our heads, wishing that we, too, had our names emblazoned on t-shirts like they did: “Annette”; “Tommy”; “Sharon”.

They sang every day of the week, stuff like: “Today is Tuesday. You know what that means! We’re gonna have a special guest! So prick up your ears like good Mouseketeers…”

I was a Warner Brothers cartoon fan myself.

Maybe that’s because I grew up in a big-city environment, and Warners’ stuff had kind of an edge to it. I liked that. It reflected the humour of the gangs I grew up around. But the World of Uncle Walt, of Disney, no matter where you encounter it, is set in a suburban world. Suburbia. And you became suburban once you joined it, no matter where you lived or who you were.

That world, in the American imagination, is dad with a regular job, mom at home cooking, washing, raising kids; the white picket fence; church on Sunday. Regularity, order, and joy. Utter and sheer joy and optimism.

This was the American Dream at the end of the second world war. It was the core of the American Dream, too, of the immigrant on the boat passing the Statue of Liberty at the end of the 19th century.

Walt Disney grabbed hold of an integral part of the American psyche and fashioned it into a plucky mouse. The ultimate Little Guy Who Wins.

Then, at the end of WWII, he got the idea of theme parks as a way to finance his films, and maybe, too, to lock down this American Thing.

“Build it and they will come.” Build it in sunny southern California, the archetype of an American paradise.

“It never rains in California,” the Mouseketeers used to sing. And it never did as far as most of the US saw or knew.

Then, before he died, the man we kids called “Uncle Walt” chose another sunny place for another theme park.

Disney has a covenant with the state of Florida, a draconian relationship which enables it to have a kind of fiefdom vis-a-vis taxation. Florida has its own “Magic Kingdom” as a result.

There are whole areas in south Florida that owe their very existence and livelihood to this California-based conglomerate. Disney pays millions to Florida in taxes, and carries itself like a state within a state.

Then along came the new governor, former congressman Ron DeSantis. He signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially known as the Don’t Say Gay bill. It bans teachers from discussing sexuality with children up to third grade, ie roughly five- to ten-year-olds.

It fits in with the unstated and deeply embedded idea of America as a safe haven for childhood itself. Not just any childhood. It’s a safe space for “milk and cookies”; of church on Sundays. Of a mythical childhood. A childhood in which mom is a biological woman and dad is a biological man. And he’s the head of the house. Head of it all.

Buy into all of that 100% and you can stay a little kid, no matter how old you are, in America. “A dream is a wish your heart makes…” goes one old Disney cartoon song.

Disney slammed DeSantis’s bill. In retaliation, the governor pulled together a new board in order to make a new covenant, telling his supporters that Disney simply had too much power and no right to go against the will of the people.

But Disney knows “The People”. The American People. Disney helped construct them.

One of my favourite things about all of this is that the temporary board co-signed an agreement with Disney, along with a covenant, which includes the following clause: “If the perpetual term of this declaration is deemed to violate the “Rule Against Perpetuities” or any similar law or rule, this Declaration shall continue in effect until twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration”.

The last survivor (or descendant) of King Charles at the time of the signing of the agreement is his granddaughter, Princess Lillibet Diana of Sussex, born in June 2021.

In slowing DeSantis down, I suppose that you could say that Lillibet is a true Disney Princess.

While major corporate entities shifted after the police murder of George Floyd, changing the business landscape to an extent, it takes a lot to take on Disney, a force so deeply embedded in the American subconscious. Just like Uncle Walt wanted it to be.

You can ask “what is America”? What does it really mean?” and you can come up with all sorts of tropes: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Sometimes I ask myself what I miss about it; also what is still American inside of me? It is not a belief in winning etc. I guess it is a belief in the happy ending. That no matter how messed up things get, your own and the collective happy ending do and can exist.

And so, the World of Disney, at its core, is the attainment of the happy ending. It is the realisation of a kind of order that only the US can bring; that only America can restore and no matter the hardship, no matter who dies – the US will win in the end.

Because it is Happy. And It Believes.

Without question, Ron DeSantis has taken on a formidable foe: in the House of Mouse.

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