Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Disney, Militarization and The National Security State After 9/11 - Giroux!!! (my hero)

Disney, Militarization and The National Security State After 9/11 - Book Excerpt

bibliotecapleyades.net 



by Henry A. Giroux and Grace Pollock

23 August 2011
from Truth-Out Website

Henry A. Giroux
Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His most recent books include: Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009); Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (Paradigm, 2010); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Paradigm, 2010); The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence (co-authored with Grace Pollock, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2011); Henry Giroux on Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011). His newest books: Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang) and Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm Publishers) will be published in 2012). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.

Grace Pollock
Grace Pollock recently completed her doctoral degree at McMaster University and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Western Ontario. Her ongoing research interests include cultural and media studies, historical formations of the public sphere, social policy and community development. She co-authored with Henry Giroux the second edition of "The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence," (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010).


Learn more about Disney's creeping cultural hegemony - read "The Mouse That Roared," Truthout's Progressive Pick of the Week, partially excerpted below.


Walt Disney’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee on October 24, 1947 - in which he declared,

"Everybody in my studio is one-hundred-percent American,"

...while he also named a number of former employees who had organized a labor strike as "Communists" - signified the culmination of a long-standing relationship of collaboration between the Walt Disney Company and the American government.2

Disney told the committee that he felt the best strategy for safeguarding "all of the good, free causes in this country, all of the liberalisms that really are American" would be to uncover the "un-American" labor activists who had infiltrated the motion picture industry and had propagated their Communist "ideologies," which in turn were directly responsible for activities such as the 1941 strike at the Disney studio in Burbank, California.3

Meanwhile, other reasons cited for the strike, such as the company’s "arbitrary and manipulative pay structure" and the illegal firing of union activists working with the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild, were simply ignored.4

According to Walt Disney in 1941, individuals such as the labor organizers who had "called my plant a sweatshop" needed to be "smoked out and shown up for what they are" in order to "keep the American labor unions clean" and to preserve "good, solid Americans" from "the taint of communism." 5

Disney’s justification of the state’s use of repressive force in order to secure American freedom may not sound quite so unfamiliar today, following the events of September 11, 2001.

Since 9/11, several reports have emerged exposing a U.S. government that used illegal wiretapping with impunity, lied about the reasons for invading Iraq in 2003, sanctioned the torture of alleged terrorists, and imprisoned so-called enemy combatants - including children - denying them basic legal rights such as the right to a fair trial.6

Indeed, state repression and patriotic correctness at their most extreme became the normal state of affairs in a post-9/11 world characterized by domestic surveillance, the erosion of civil liberties, and an ideological and military campaign waged against the threat of "terrorism" that involved the construction of a vast secret and illegal apparatus of violence.

Despite the Disney corporation’s perennial claim that its products are simply about entertainment, Disney/ABC’s The Path to 9/11 (2006) and Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) both attest to the company’s endorsement of, if not active participation in, partisan political issues, especially the "war on terror" and the emerging security culture in the United States.

Disney’s history of making alliances with state power is not surprising, given its corporate interest in reaching large audiences and perpetuating dominant cultural forms, but not since its production of several films for the U.S. military during World War II has Disney participated in the dissemination of such overt political propaganda.

While the Walt Disney Company’s patriotic fervor during World War II has generated little critical response over the years, Disney’s productions since 9/11 have been more controversial, yet few critics have gone so far as to argue that the messages produced by The Path to 9/11 and The Incredibles do not support the status quo as much as they present a reactionary politics, which not only justifies U.S. military power abroad but also suggests deeply authoritarian ideas and practices are the best way to secure the ongoing domination of American cultural identity at home.

Both films solicit their viewers’ support and appear to occupy solid (and therefore unquestionable) moral ground by taking a critical stance that positions the lone protagonists outside repressive cultures dominated by mindless bureaucracies.

The films ultimately sacrifice an understanding of the systemic causes of war and violence in favor of blaming individuals who exhibit pathological behaviors that go far beyond character flaws or mere cowardice.

Of course, the demonization of the other and the representation of individuals who challenge institutional stagnancy as heroic are not new to those familiar with discourses of hyperindividualism, competitiveness, and jingoistic nationalism in the dominant media in the United States, but the justification of violence as the primary means to achieve these goals has not been asserted so boldly as before, except perhaps if one considers the history of Disney films.

At the onset of World War II, Walt Disney was not alone in his belief that film should play a dominant role in the teaching process or, as he claimed, in "molding opinion." 7

He was, however, at the forefront of a movement to recognize a "new aspect of the use of films in war": training industrial workers and soldiers.8

Some historians try to account for Disney’s participation in generating military propaganda by claiming that the studios were "taken over by the military as part of the war effort" 9 on December 8, 1941.

But Richard Shale has meticulously documented Disney’s much earlier attempts to court contracts with the aircraft industry, the U.S. Council of National Defense, and Canadian military supporters.10

Indeed, despite a "popular (and frequently quoted) misconception" that the relationship between Disney Studios and the U.S. military was "unexpected or unsolicited," Shale observes an explicit shift in Disney’s focus from "entertainment values to teaching values" that occurred before Disney acquired his first U.S. military contracts in December 1941.11

For instance, in 1940 Disney approached the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation with the idea of generating a training film on flush riveting.

And in the spring of 1941, with Canada already engaged in war, Disney convinced the commissioner of the National Film Board of Canada, John Grierson, that animated films were better positioned as teaching tools than documentary films because of their "capacity for simplifying the presentation of pedagogical problems."12

Grierson then bought the Canadian rights to Four Methods of Flush Riveting and commissioned Disney to produce an instructional film that taught soldiers how to use an antitank rifle and four short films that encouraged Canadians to purchase war savings certificates.

Then, in the fall of 1941, Walt Disney toured South America at the bequest of the U.S. Office of Inter-American affairs, which was attempting to establish good relations and,

"hemispheric unity as explicated in Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy."13

With material collected on the trip, Disney proceeded to generate two feature films, Saludos Amigos (1943) and The Three Caballeros (1945), both intended to celebrate Latin American culture while accentuating its similarities with North American culture (and downplaying or ignoring issues like national politics and poverty).14

Born out of U.S. fear of a Nazi alliance with countries like Argentina, the films aimed to,

"enhance the Latin American image in the United States," while also "enhanc[ing] America’s appreciation of Latin American Everymen."15

Yet, in making The Three Caballeros palatable to white Middle America and American imperialism less threatening to southerners, Disney more often than not caricatures Latin American culture as a voluptuous, exotic female who is fleeing the attentions of a libidinous, but comically ineffectual Donald Duck.16

There is little doubt that a relationship between Disney Studios and the U.S. government had been fully cemented by 1943, when 94 percent of the footage produced by Disney was under government contract.17

From 1941 to 1945, the Disney Studios produced dozens of short educational films, with their subjects ranging from aircraft and warship identification to dental hygiene to the household conservation of cooking oil for the making of military weapons.

The studio also produced a number of anti-Nazi short films, including,

  • Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)

  • Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi (1943)

  • Reason and Emotion (1943),

...two of which were nominated for Academy Awards.

In these shorts, Hitler is depicted as waging a mind-control campaign over the German people based on the manipulation of emotions such as anger, love, fear, sympathy, pride, and hate, while also occasionally employing force, regimentation, depravation, and false rewards.

Of course, the success of the films’ efforts to expose Nazi propaganda overwhelmingly relies on the use of comic devices, caricatures, and stereotypes to make Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito seem irrational and absurd.

Demonizing the enemy, according to Disney historian Leonard Maltin, "relieves aggression."18

This claim, suggesting that the films function to disperse rather than focus emotional energy, clearly sidesteps the multiple ways in which the films, much like the propaganda they critique, attempt to shape their audience’s emotional responses, such as when Donald Duck, clad in starred-and-striped pajamas, croons to the Statue of Liberty,

"Oh, boy, am I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America!"

Most significant about the techniques used by these Disney shorts is how they embody animation’s capacity to draw clear, simple lines and present a selective representation of an otherwise complex reality.

Through the use of comedy and comedic violence, in particular, Disney films are often released from the expectation that they might be attempting to do more than entertain. Viewers wooed by animation’s unique capacity to create novel images through exaggeration, distortion, and aesthetic style are easily absorbed into an imaginary world that quite deliberately focuses their eyes on a constructed reality to the exclusion of other possibilities.

The value of the anti-Nazi short films for today’s audiences lies in their obvious attempt to win the hearts and minds of American viewers through clever visual and ideological manipulation, while ironically issuing repeated warnings to viewers not to allow emotion to short-circuit their critical faculties.

A historical perspective on the subject matter sets in relief how Disney’s critique of propaganda using the medium of animation inevitably ventures into the realm of propaganda itself.

During the war, a significant number of the studio’s resources were devoted to making another feature-length propaganda film, Victory through Air Power (1943).

The film, based in part on a book written by Major Alexander P. De Seversky, advocates the development of airplane and weapons technology as the means to win the war against the Axis powers.

We are told the airplane will not only,

"revolutionize warfare" but is "the only weapon of war to develop such usefulness during peacetime."

Dramatic music punctuates scenes that explore new models of airplanes with increased bombing potential.

The United States as the "arsenal of democracy" is represented as a giant heart comprising factories that pump "war supplies" through "the arteries of our transport lines over distances that actually girdle the globe."

This organic, humanizing image of "the great industrial heart of America" contrasts with the mechanical image of a spoked wheel used to represent the Nazi war industries, which are also vividly portrayed in dark reds and blacks suggestive of a hellish inferno. Japan is represented as a deadly, black octopus extending its "greedy tentacles" over its "stolen empire."

We are told of the necessity for U.S. long-range bombers to strike at "the heart and vitals of the beast."

With the lethal combination of the "superior" American,

"science of aviation" and "science of demolition," the "enemy lies hopelessly exposed to systematic destruction."

At the same time, the film announces that "scientific bombing" will enable a "minimum investment in human lives," an oddly ambiguous use of language suggestive of two possible meanings in the context in which it appears:

the assertion that aerial bombing of enemy territories requires a "minimum investment" of American soldiers and, what is both more sinister and perhaps in need of such coded language, the claim that bombing the enemy entails such "total destruction" that no human lives requiring "investment" will be left in its wake.

Indeed, the film’s climax consists of a montage of exploding bombs among Japanese cities and factories, which begin curiously unpopulated and end utterly annihilated.

At the pinnacle of the climactic violence, the screen resolves into an image of a bald eagle descending upon and crushing the land-ridden octopus, which then dissolves into a dark cloud of smoke rising above Japan as "America the Beautiful" plays in the background.

Walt Disney believed that Victory through Air Power convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support to long-range bombing.19

For a contemporary viewer who has the benefit of hindsight, the unquestioned propaganda offered by Victory through Air Power leaves one with the eerie feeling that the perspective being shaped by the film would not only fail to question the use of technology such as the atomic bomb but even wholeheartedly celebrate it as the quickest and most effective way to win the war.

Indeed, it is precisely the film’s unflinching support of the development of bigger and better bombing technology, from small hand-dropped bombs to ten-ton delayed-action bombs and armor-piercing bomb rockets, that might seem most disturbing given the devastating effects of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the postwar escalation of arms development during the Cold War and the ongoing expansion of the military-industrial complex in the United States.20

But Walt Disney did not just support the development of larger weapons; he was a firm supporter of what might be called the atomic age and made the classic 1956 propaganda film Our Friend the Atom, which was also produced as a book and appeared as an atomic submarine ride in the Tomorrowland section of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

In this instance, as Mark Langer points out, Our Friend the Atom was designed to "counter opposition to the military use of atomic weaponry."21

The Magic Kingdom became an outpost for leading young people and adults to believe that an,

"Atomic reactor... is like a big furnace. An atomic chain reaction is likened to what happens when a stray ping-pong ball is thrown at a mass of mousetraps with ping-pong balls set on each one."22

Disney played a formidable role in convincing every school child that atomic energy was central not merely to winning the Cold War but also to preparing them for a future that would be dominated by the United States and its use of new energy sources, which incidentally could be instrumental in elevating the United States to the position of the world’s preeminent military power.

Mouse power easily and readily made the shift to celebrating atomic power and militarism while enlarging Disney’s role as a major purveyor of propaganda.

The Disney films discussed above alert us to the fact that Disney animators honed their skills and gained widespread popular appeal in the 1940s by first producing propaganda films for the U.S. government.

This often neglected reality underlying Disney’s origins as a cultural entertainment icon should make us all the more careful to heed Janet Wasko’s warning that Disney encodes preferred readings of both its animated films and its own brand image to such an extent that,

"one of the most amazing aspects of the Disney phenomenon is the consistently uniform understanding of the essence of ‘Disney.’"23

Attuned to Disney’s willingness to assume an overt pedagogical role during World War II, several critics of a more recent Disney film, Aladdin (1992), noted that the timing of the film’s production and release coincided with U.S. military efforts in the Persian Gulf war.

According to Christiane Staninger, Aladdin is,

"a propaganda movie for Western imperialism" that "shows the supposed unworkability of Middle Eastern traditions and the need for American intervention."24

Dianne Sachko Macleod takes this critique a step further, suggesting a link between Disney’s,

"revival of British and French colonial stereotypes of Arab traders, fanatics, and beauties" and the "storehouse of racial and cultural images" used by the Pentagon to justify the war.25

Macleod notes that regardless of the filmmakers’ intentions, the film had the general effect of "privileging the American myths of freedom and innocence at a time of nationalist fervor."26

Other connections between the film and the first Iraq war are not especially subtle: in addition to locating Aladdin in the fictional city of "Agrabah," it makes the villainous Grand Vizier Jafar look like a combination of Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini, while the two young heroes, Aladdin and Jasmine, not only look American - Disney animators made it publicly known that Aladdin was modeled after Tom Cruise 27 - but also, as Brenda Ayres suggests, display their heroism by,

"contesting (and changing) Arabian law and Islamic religious tradition."28

While it is impossible to discern the actual motives of the Disney animators, it is equally impossible to ignore the cultural context in which the American public viewed Aladdin.

At the time of the film’s release, the dominant media were aggressively promoting similar images of liberation from barbaric traditions in order to justify the United States’,

"right to intervene in Middle Eastern politics."29


Disney's Conservative Path

Despite the well-documented history of collaboration between the Walt Disney Company and U.S. military and state institutions, Disney has more recently claimed to have no interest in politics.

How Disney’s decision in May 2004 to block its Miramax division from distributing Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 might qualify as a nonpolitical gesture is uncertain.

At the time, a senior executive stated that,

"it’s not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle."30

Not only were a number of Disney’s top executives known to be campaign contributors to the George W. Bush administration,31 but then CEO Michael Eisner was reported to have said that any criticism of the Bush administration might,

"endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush’s brother, Jeb, is governor."32

Miramax arranged privately to buy Moore’s film and distribute it independently, and in 2005, the founders of Miramax, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, did not renew their contracts with Disney.33

As suggested above, the company’s alleged desire to remain outside politics contradicts the reality of Disney’s historical pattern of intervening in political matters. It is hardly surprising, then, that in the wake of the unprecedented success of Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary, Disney/ABC decided to produce its own account of the events leading up to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

A $40 million miniseries titled The Path to 9/11, originally touted as a docudrama "based on the 9/11 Commission Report" and later as the "official true story," constituted a blatant political move on the part of Disney/ABC.34

In addition, Scholastic, Inc., the educational distribution partner for Disney/ABC, sent one hundred thousand letters to high school teachers across the United States encouraging them to use The Path to 9/11 in the classroom curriculum and directing them to online study guides.35

The miniseries was billed by its self-labeled conservative writer Cyrus Nowrasteh as an "objective telling of the events of 9/11" 36 but faced severe criticism for its partisan depiction of events and actors.

The Path to 9/11, directed by evangelical Christian filmmaker David Cunningham,37 depicted members of the Bill Clinton administration as totally incompetent, having repeatedly ignored opportunities to capture Osama bin Laden and overlooked warnings of an incipient attack before September 11, 2001.

When prescreened to a select number of film reviewers before it aired on television, the miniseries was received with skepticism and outrage, not merely from Democrats and Clinton supporters.

Robert Cressey, a top counterterrorism official to both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, argued that a scene depicting the Clinton administration’s refusal to pursue bin Laden was,

"something straight out of Disney and fantasyland. It’s factually wrong. And that’s shameful."38

Nearly one hundred thousand readers of the online journal Think Progress sent protest letters to Robert Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, stating that the film inaccurately,

"places primary responsibility for the attacks of 9/11 on the Clinton administration while whitewashing the failures of the Bush administration."39

According to Tom Shales, writing for the Washington Post, the miniseries qualified as an "assault on truth."40

Shales added,

"Blunderingly, ABC executives cast doubt on their own film’s veracity when they made advance copies available to such political conservatives as Rush Limbaugh but not to Democrats who reportedly requested the same treatment... Democrats have a right to be suspicious of any product of the conservative-minded Walt Disney Co."41

A group of academic historians led by Arthur M. Schlesinger sent a letter to ABC calling for the network to,

"halt the show’s broadcast and prevent misinforming Americans about their history."42

The film presents a number of clichéd stereotypes of "big government" and bureaucratic incompetence, depicting paper-pushing officials as woefully indecisive at crucial moments, primarily because they are too self-interested to put their necks on the line.

Clinton, for example, is represented as not wanting to issue orders for military action against al-Qaeda because he’s too worried about the effect such decisions might have on the polls, that is, when he is not caught up in dealing with the fallout from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

In one scene, General Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, which waits for U.S. approval to go after bin Laden, asks in a scornful tone,

"Are there any men left in Washington?"

Individuals working on the ground who buck procedure and orders from their superiors are, by contrast, willing to "take the heat."

So, apparently, is George W. Bush, whose decisiveness in giving a strike-down order to the military after the 9/11 attacks really functions as the climax of the whole miniseries. One could imagine Bush political supporters cheering as this scene unfolded: finally, they could rest assured that there was a real man in Washington.

Meanwhile, several FBI and U.S. customs agents recognize the nature of the "new kind of war" being waged against America, and their appeals to racial profiling and domestic spying appear justified in the film.

For example, in a brief dialogue, one FBI agent states,

"Americans have the right to be protected from domestic spying," and the central protagonist of the film, FBI counterterrorism agent John O’Neil (portrayed by Harvey Keitel), replies, "Do they have the right to be killed by terrorists?"

Heroic individuals such as O’Neil are willing to bypass "red tape" and stand in stark contrast to,

  1. politicians who are too worried about public opinion not to bow to the pressures of "political correctness"

  2. uncooperative CIA officials who jealously guard intelligence when they are not mindlessly adhering to obsolete federal legislation that protects individuals’ rights

  3. various utterly casual security officials and workers who would rather appease suspicious-looking members of the public than be confronted with a situation that might embroil them in conflict

And that is not all.

The film contrasts the coolness of John O’Neil’s astute judgments with the irrationality of emotionally overwrought women, such as the ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine (Patricia Heaton), and the fanatic zeal of the terrorists.

In fact, many of the characters who represent terrorists such as Mohamed Atta (Martin Brody) and Ramzi Yousef (Nabil Elouahabi) share the same intense stare, bristly mustache, and swarthy skin exhibited by Hitler in Disney’s World War II propaganda films.

While it might be possible for a viewer to overlook insipid dialogue, fallacious logic, melodrama, and weak narrative structure, it is virtually impossible to ignore the film’s use of racist and sexist stereotypes to lend legitimacy to all the standard bogeys of extreme right-wing ideology. And, most importantly, there remains the film’s utterly deceptive self-presentation as a historically accurate depiction of events.

Even lead actor Harvey Keitel told a CNN interviewer prior to the airing of the miniseries,

I had questions about certain events - material I was given in The Path to 9/11 that I did raise questions about... Not all the facts were correct. . . . You cannot cross the line from a conflation of events to a distortion of the event. No. Where we have distorted something, we made a mistake, and that should be corrected. It can be corrected, by the people getting involved in the story that they are going to see.43

In response to the controversy surrounding The Path to 9/11, Scholastic, Inc., announced that its online study guide did not meet the company’s "high standards for dealing with controversial issues" and would be replaced with new materials that would focus more on media literacy and critical thinking.44

ABC also responded to protests by broadcasting disclaimers about the miniseries’s "fictionalized" representation while airing a minimally reedited version on September 10 and 11, 2006. But ABC’s rather inexplicable decision to air the broadcast without commercials - entailing a loss of $40 million45 - fostered an illusion of the film’s closer proximity to real life, if not also conveying the impression that it was a public service announcement.

Most significantly, the broadcast that aired on the second night was framed by a strategic interruption - George W. Bush’s Address to the Nation - prompting one journalist to note the "thematic synchronicity," as the president’s speech called for ongoing support for the war on terror.46

It is difficult to deny the political synergy suggested by the combination of the rightwing The Path to 9/11 and Bush’s speech - synergy being a profit-driven marketing strategy by no means unfamiliar to a mega-corporation like Disney 47 - as Bush appealed to Americans to recognize the ongoing threat of terrorism and the necessity of preemptive action as the only way to safeguard,

"advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism."48

When placed in the context of the film, Bush’s success could be measured in terms of how the post9/11 decisions made by his government succeeded where Clinton’s administration apparently had failed.

Furthermore, the timely juxtaposition allowed the film to gain a greater veneer of authenticity from the speech’s presentation of topical and really existing political concerns, while the film in turn provided credible images and points of reference for listeners trying to engage the highly rhetorical, often self-referential use of language characteristic of Bush’s speech.

Additionally, the blurring of fact and fiction embodied by the film lent to the speech the mythic or symbolic power generated by extended narrative, and the grandeur of the presidential address added authority to the film.

As a context for Bush’s speech, The Path to 9/11 made an effort to point out some of the problems in law enforcement and governance that preceded the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but the nature of the critique - although presented as objective and all encompassing - never rises above criticizing particular individuals for their character failings.

The film was cleverer, however, in the way it indicated the supposed gaps in the system and advocated taking a hard line, but offered no concrete alternatives. In doing so, the film left it to Bush to emerge as the ultimate hero, opening up a space for a timely description of the measures instituted since 9/11:

We’ve created the Department of Homeland Security. We have torn down the wall that kept law enforcement and intelligence from sharing information. We’ve tightened security at our airports and seaports and borders, and we’ve created new programs to monitor enemy bank records and phone calls.

Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, we have broken up terrorist cells in our midst and saved American lives.49

If The Path to 9/11 presented a single narrative perspective (the "path" taken) as the infallible "truth," then Bush’s speech, with a similar kind of religious confidence, also took for granted that only one predetermined course could secure the nation from the terrorist threat. At no point did the film or Bush’s speech suggest that the situation was complex enough to necessitate the consideration of several possible paths; indeed, both narratives closed off the possibility of questioning the effectiveness of the security measures endorsed and instituted.

Difficult questions - such as the extent to which freedom should be limited in order to be secured or the kinds of sacrifices entailed by "national security" - were simply ignored in favor of the message that Americans must do whatever it takes to defeat the "enemy."

It is hard to believe that the gross trivializations of the complex issues surrounding terrorism and the war in Iraq in The Path to 9/11 and Bush’s address could almost escape public protest only five years after the horrifying events of September 11, 2001.

One notable exception to the general complaisance with which the public received The Path to 9/11 involved a group of students at Ithaca College who protested the college’s acceptance of a private donation from Robert Iger on the grounds that The Path to 9/11, touted as a docudrama, was actually an egregious display of media bias.

Students argued that,

"accepting Disney money would send the wrong message about the importance of objectivity to the school’s journalism and communications students."50

Although a Disney spokesperson responded to the student protesters by calling them,

"people who can’t distinguish between fact and fiction," Ithaca College president Peggy R. Williams lent credence to the students’ concerns by reassuring them that Iger’s donation "does not buy Disney any influence on campus... Our curriculum decisions are our own."51

Although certainly admitting no wrongdoing, Disney has uncharacteristically and tellingly opted not to sell The Path to 9/11 on DVD - defying the expectations of both those who assumed the company would try to recover the costs of making the miniseries and vociferous right-wing groups who continue to support the film’s representation of the events leading to 9/11.52


The National Security-Family - Meet The Incredibles

As films like Aladdin and The Path to 9/11 suggest, the Walt Disney Company has an impressive ability to revise more or less familiar stories, updating the issues to make them resonate in people’s lives at the current moment.

It is how Disney offers audiences not simply escape but also a mode of relating to the real conditions of their existence that makes Disney films such a long-lived and potent force in U.S. and global popular culture.

As Louis Marin suggests regarding the powerful cultural role of Disney theme parks, Disney represents both,

"what is estranged and what is familiar: comfort, welfare, consumption, scientific and technological progress, superpower, and morality."

Importantly, Marin adds,

"These are values obtained by violence and exploitation; [in Disney culture] they are projected under the auspices of law and order."53

Marin’s framework is especially useful for understanding a film such as The Incredibles as mediating the,

"imaginary relationship that the dominant groups of American society maintain with their real conditions of existence, with the real history of the United States, and with the space outside of its border."54

In a post-9/11 world, Academy Award winner The Incredibles brings home the need not only to reclaim "superpower" identity as a quintessential American quality but also to recognize that American soil is not immune to the threat of violent attacks.

In response to the forces threatening America - internally, the weakening of superhero resolve in the face of excessive bureaucracy, public cynicism, and unthinking adherence to the law; externally, enemies whose infantile resentment at being "not super" results in a genocidal campaign against everything "super," even to the extent of terrorizing an innocent public - the PG-rated film sanctions violence as a means to establish a new brand of "law and order."

Although hearkening back to the nuclear family as the source of America’s security and strength, the film diverges from past narratives in its emphasis on a natural order in which authority and power belong in the hands of the few strong leaders left in America, while the rest of us must duly recognize our inevitable "mediocrity."

This overall message is especially disturbing in light of the events following 9/11, when the United States witnessed a growing authoritarianism throughout the larger culture.55

Some consequences of the American response to the tragic terrorist attacks have been a general tolerance for the use of preemptive violence and coercion, control of the media, the rise of repressive state power, an expanding militarization, and a thriving surveillance and security industry that is now even welcomed in public schools. And these are only some of the known consequences: many of the effects of the Bush administration’s policies are still coming to light.

In 2009, President Barack Obama ordered the release of top-secret Bush administration memos that sanctioned the CIA’s use of torture on terror suspects.

A year previous, New York Times reporter David Barstow wrote an exposé of "independent" military analysts who appeared on television networks to inform the public with their expert and objective impressions of the war in Iraq (many were retired army generals and had direct ties to corporations that were courting government military contracts).

It turned out the Pentagon was coaching the military analysts behind the scenes to put a favorable spin on the Bush administration’s "wartime performance," with the apparent collusion of U.S. media networks, including ABC, which failed to check for, or simply ignored, evident conflicts of interest.56

In addition to calling into question the journalistic integrity of the media, the scandal made it seem as if the Bush administration’s public relations machine was taking its cues from corporations such as Disney by not only launching a marketing campaign carefully tailored to uphold its public image but also secretly controlling access to information and limiting public discourse, all in order to sell a sense of security to the American people.

An emphasis on controlling public speech and public spaces - not to mention autocratic rule, secrecy, and the appeal to security - is nothing new to Disney, whose theme parks, according to Steven Watts,

"blur the line between fantasy and reality by immersing visitors in a totally controlled environment."57

Disneyland is a useful space, apparently, to undertake surveillance, and Walt Disney offered the FBI,

"complete access" to Disneyland facilities in the 1950s for "use in connection with official matters and for recreational purposes."58

Indeed, the development of a cordial relationship between Walt Disney and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is now better understood not only in relation to Walt Disney’s fervent anticommunism but also in light of revelations that he may have served as,

"a secret informer for the Los Angeles office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."59

Certainly, as Watts indicates, it is known that Disney was appointed a special FBI agent in part because of his desire to root out so-called communist agitators from the film industry.60

More recently, Eric Smoodin notes that the Disney corporation remains "interested in constructing surveillance as entertainment," as suggested by the marketing of products such as a Mickey Mouse doll with glow-in-the-dark eyes that illuminate sleeping children for the benefit of parental scrutiny.61

The Incredibles, with its complex appeal to several levels of audience, received overwhelming praise from film critics, who admired not only its retromodern aesthetic and detailed animation but also its "stinging wit."62

However, most reviewers who observed an "edge of intellectual indignation"63 focused on the first thirty minutes of the film in which the main character, Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), is forced to conceal his superhero identity as a consequence of public disaffection and a string of lawsuits (he is sued after rescuing a suicidal man named Sansweet who claimed Mr. Incredible had "ruined [his] death").

With "average citizens" now proclaiming they want "average heroes," Mr. Incredible; his superhero wife, Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter); and their children become the middle-of-the-road Parr family, trying to maintain a normal suburban lifestyle by suppressing their superpowers in what one reviewer suggests is a "suspicious society that’s decidedly below-Parr."64

As suggested by a Boston Globe film review, Bob Parr’s cubicle office job as a claims adjuster at Insuricare is designed to evoke identification with the "middle-age blues felt by audience members."65

But many reviewers, in choosing to highlight the film’s critique of suburban conformity and corporate greed, misread or overlook the film’s central message, which does not elicit identification on the part of a mere newspaper journalist or academician: in fact, normal people who wrongly identify with superheroes and devalue their worth are society’s worst threat.

The film’s villain, Buddy aka Syndrome (Jason Lee), begins as Mr. Incredible’s "number one fan" but then transgresses the boundary between admiration and emulation. Conflict arises when Buddy asserts that his rocket boot technology enables him "to be super" without being born with superpowers.

When rejected by Mr. Incredible, who prefers to "work alone," Buddy turns the pathological injury into villainy with an ideological goal: to provide the technology,

"so that everyone can be superheroes... And when everyone’s super, no one will be."

The connections between Buddy and the dominant media’s portrayal of international terrorists are multiple: his fixation on demolishing a superpower, his development of high-tech weaponry, his narcissistic rage, his ideological purpose, and, what resonates most clearly, his plan to gain power over a fearful public by launching a plane at Manhattan.

At one point, Buddy even tells Mr. Incredible,

"Now you respect me, because I’m a threat... It turns out there’s a lot of people, whole countries, who want respect. And they will pay through the nose to get it."

Given the film’s resounding judgment of Buddy/Syndrome - he is shredded by a jet turbine while attempting to kidnap the Parr baby - it is difficult to understand how the film’s message could be interpreted, as one reviewer suggests, as empowering viewers to recognize the,

"secret identities we all keep tucked away in our hearts."66

Even if one were to extend an allegorical reading of The Incredibles to argue that all Americans are super, it would not be possible to elide the film’s clear validation of a social hierarchy along primordial lines.

Throughout the film, the plight of the super family is closely linked to their superiority. The Incredibles’ son Dash (Spencer Fox), frustrated by not being able to demonstrate his speed in school sports competitions, acts out in his fourth-grade class by playing pranks on his teacher.

Dash wins his father’s admiration, but the thought of a graduation ceremony for fourth-graders leads Mr. Incredible to burst out,

"It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional..."

Later in the film, Elastigirl reassures daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell),

"Your identity is your most valuable possession... Doubt is a luxury we can’t afford anymore. You have more power than you realize. Don’t think. Don’t worry. If the time comes, you’ll know what to do. It’s in your blood."

As A.O. Scott astutely recognizes in a New York Times review, the movie argues,

"Some people have powers that others do not, and to deny them the right to exercise those powers, or the privileges that accompany them, is misguided, cruel and socially destructive."67

Being "super" in such a framework does not mean being smart or being virtuous; it simply means possessing innate power.

The highly advanced modern society produces mediocrity because its ethics (a belief in social justice and equality) counter the effects of natural selection by nullifying Darwinian fitness as the condition for survival.

If the film indeed offers up "the philosophy of Ayn Rand" - who opposed collectivism, altruism, and the welfare state in favor of egoistic individualism - then it turns to violence as the means to achieve supremacy.68

At no point during The Incredibles’ "eardrum-bashing, metal-crunching action sludge" and its self-referential mockery of "monologuing" does the film suggest that reasoning, discussion, or any other form of peaceful resolution might be pursued instead of violence. More in keeping, however, with Disney conventions than Rand’s philosophy is the film’s conflation of the pursuit of individualism with the protection of the nuclear family.

One reviewer cleverly summarizes the film’s main theme as "the family that slays together stays together."69

In this way, the white, nuclear, middle-class family becomes the ethical referent for a bombproof collectivity:

only a muscular protection of one’s own will ensure stability, identity, and agency, not to mention consumerism, heterosexuality, clearly defined gender roles, parenthood, and class chivalry.

The result is that the film brings,

"individuals and their families to the centers of national life, offering the audience an image of itself and of the nation as a knowable community, a wider public world beyond the routines of a narrow existence."70

But the American nation drawn by the film is imaged as one that neither shies away from use of force nor requires any justification for its display of blatant chauvinism when confronted by others.

The Incredibles further contrasts the banality of suburban life with the glamour and excitement of "hero work."

The elaborate security compounds of Syndrome’s island and the home of fashion designer Edna Mode (Brad Bird) are suped up with the latest high-tech gadgetry, the exhilarating navigation of which bears a close resemblance to video game playing, particularly in the medium of computer-generated animation.

And even if the filmmakers’ intended to parody gated homes à la Hollywood Hills in their representation of Edna Mode’s mansion, the cumulative message makes security and surveillance systems seem not only unthreatening but also quite normal - at least as familiar as, say, the presence of gates and cameras at Walt Disney World.

In fact, Syndrome’s island has a developed monorail system, which implies a double reference both to the James Bond movie Dr. No (1962) and to Disney World itself.

Referentiality seems to come full circle as The Incredibles’ island imitates Bond films that likely drew on the model of Disney theme parks in portraying the villain’s lair.

For instance, Bond’s antagonist in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) "inhabits a politically autonomous island that features an amusement park funhouse,

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