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From Walt to Woodstock

Douglas Brode
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    From Walt to Woodstock
    Book Description:

    With his thumbprint on the most ubiquitous films of childhood, Walt Disney is widely considered to be the most conventional of all major American moviemakers. The adjective "Disneyfied" has become shorthand for a creative work that has abandoned any controversial or substantial content to find commercial success.

    But does Disney deserve that reputation? Douglas Brode overturns the idea of Disney as a middlebrow filmmaker by detailing how Disney movies played a key role in transforming children of the Eisenhower era into the radical youth of the Age of Aquarius. Using close readings of Disney projects, Brode shows that Disney's films were frequently ahead of their time thematically. Long before the cultural tumult of the sixties, Disney films preached pacifism, introduced a generation to the notion of feminism, offered the screen's first drug-trip imagery, encouraged young people to become runaways, insisted on the need for integration, advanced the notion of a sexual revolution, created the concept of multiculturalism, called for a return to nature, nourished the cult of the righteous outlaw, justified violent radicalism in defense of individual rights, argued in favor of communal living, and encouraged antiauthoritarian attitudes. Brode argues that Disney, more than any other influence in popular culture, should be considered the primary creator of the sixties counterculture-a reality that couldn't be further from his "conventional" reputation.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79841-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction Disney’s Version/Disney’s Vision The World According to Walt
    (pp. ix-xxxiv)

    Woodstock; Summer 1969. What follows is a modern urban legend that, if only apocryphal, remains true in spirit. One longhair, passing a toke to a companion, studiously observes the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll around him. Smiling wryly, he sarcastically comments: “Can you believe these kids were raised onDisneyfilms?” His friend, while attempting to inhale, chokes on his own laughter.

    End of story; beginning of book . . .

    My purpose withFrom Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created the Countercultureis to remove any trace of humor from that statement. The argument here is that Disney...

  5. 1 Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll Disney and the Youth Culture
    (pp. 1-26)

    In 1954, Bill Haley and the Comets, a Texas-based white group, scored several successes with a style previously written off as “race music,” played only on Negro-oriented stations. White disc jockey Alan Freed had already begun to popularize the emerging sound, first dubbing it the Big Beat. After playing two Haley hits—“Rock around the Clock” and “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”—back to back, Freed spontaneously created the term by which the new music would thereafter be known. White suburban kids lapped up rock ’n’ roll, particularly after Elvis Presley, the unchallenged superstar of an emerging sound, made his first...

  6. 2 Little Boxes Made of Ticky-Tacky Disney and the Culture of Conformity
    (pp. 27-52)

    As a boy in rural Marceline, Missouri, young Walt noted that “everything was done in a [spontaneous spirit of ] community help.”¹ Years later, he included the notion of human goodness deriving from communal activity inSo Dear to My Heart(1949), a theme that continued to his final study of small-town America,Those Calloways(1965). In live-action and animated films, denizens of isolated areas, living as rugged individualists for most of their lives, in the end rally around one of their own when he or she proves unable to overcome adversity alone. Such a political attitude is identical to...

  7. 3 The Man Who Says “No” Disney and the Rebel Hero
    (pp. 53-76)

    In satirizing raw aspects of capitalism, Disney firmly placed himself (however unconsciously) at the epicenter of a radical artistic movement. “American society,” as Henry Steele Commager noted, “may have been habituated to money standards, but it found few literary spokesmen to justify . . . business enterprise of the acquisitive society.”¹ With the exceptions of certain popular writers (John Hay, Booth Tarkington) producing slick stories for glossy magazines and the Book-of-the-Month Club readership,

    most authors portrayed an economic system disorderly and ruthless, wasteful and inhumane, unjust alike to workingmen, inventors, and consumers, politically corrupt and morally corrupting. This all but...

  8. 4 Toward a New Politics Disney and the Sixties Sensibility
    (pp. 77-102)

    In our popular mythology, the sixties began on an optimistic note, with the election of a youthful president, the creation of the idealistically named Peace Corps, and a firm belief that, thanks to the space program, an exciting new area had opened for us to explore and, in time, conquer. Then, with the assassination of John Kennedy in late November 1963, we learned Yeats had been right: The center could not hold; things fall apart. The constantly escalating war in Vietnam, violent ghetto burnings at home, the emergence of an ever-expanding hard-drug culture, a rash of assassinations (Dr. Martin Luther...

  9. 5 My Sweet Lord Romanticism and Religion in Disney
    (pp. 103-127)

    When Murray Head’s recording of “Superstar” first appeared on radio airwaves early in May 1971, the religious right reacted with expected outrage. This was perceived as the ultimate insult to traditional values; the hippies now dared to mockingly portray Jesus Christ in the guise of a rock star. A mere five months later, after the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musicalJesus Christ,Superstar! made its bow on Broadway (October 12, 1971), those of conservative morality reversed their position. Rather than being denounced as a burlesque of Old Time Religion, the rock opera was accepted as an effective means of making...

  10. 6 Gotta Get Back to the Garden Disney and the Environmental Movement
    (pp. 128-150)

    As a contemporary issue, environmentalism—always present in American thought, particularly after the Theodore Roosevelt administration created our national park system—rose in the public consciousness following World War II. An age of scientific “enlightenment” led to ever more ambitious biological engineering applied—if not for the first time, then with a new seriousness of intent—to agriculture, through the use of DDT and other pesticides. Outraged by potential dangers, Rachel Carson, a former marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, set to work in 1958 on a series of revealing articles. Popular magazines, with the exception only...

  11. 7 “Hell, No! We Won’t Go!” Disney and the Radicalization of Youth
    (pp. 151-174)

    From its opening hours, the decade of the 1960s was marked by “the growing desire among students to make a difference in the world.”¹ Equally important was the oft-overlooked fact that “the student move-ments of the 1960s were, in one way, simply the reappearance of an ageold phenomenon. The difference was in the precise issues now raised, and in the size and intensity of the response.”² As to that “size and intensity,” they naturally grew from the suddenly burgeoning number of young people now attending college, youth exposed in ever greater numbers to controversial ideas.

    Such a situation could not...

  12. 8 Providence in the Fall of a Sparrow Disney and the Denial of Death
    (pp. 175-200)

    The celebration of life that (at least in our popular mythology) characterized the mid-sixties, culminating in Woodstock’s three days of peace, love, and music, appears far removed from anything so dark as death. In fact, every element of the youth culture existed as a reaction to the ultimate event in all our lives. For essential to the 1960s social revolution was the Vietnam War: Hippiedom coalesced as a result of collective horror at daily body counts in a faraway land, reported by the modern Cassandra, television news. A sixties syndrome of tuning in (to the war-reality), turning on (to drugs,...

  13. Conclusion Popular Entertainment and Personal Art Why Should We Take Disney Seriously?
    (pp. 201-228)

    However much Disney’s attitudes reflect those of England’s Romantic poets, the British bard whom Walt’s life-journey most resembles is Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892). A post-Romantic, Tennyson ad-mired the works of those controversial literary rebels who preceded him, emulating their style and substance in his art. Despite that, he has always been perceived as a far more conventional figure.

    Like the young Disney, Tennyson was born in a rural setting, raised by a strict father who lapsed into fits of violence. As with Walt’s partnership with Roy, he collaborated with his brother Charles, as well as a friend—Arthur Hallam—...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 229-238)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 239-252)