Lego Disney Castle, Part Two

I’m still not finished yet, but on track to be finished this week. I am intentionally not building it in one sitting to give it some time to sink in.

Phase Three

This one too about an hour to build. This phase gives the castle the first set of walls and the main door. Not too much to see here.


Phase Four

This one also took about an hour to build. This phase is a little more exciting than Phase Three, in that there is a lot more detail than we saw in the previous sections.

This one has a movie reference:


There’s Merida’s arrow, quiver, and the target from Brave. The best part? Those little tan circles represent the three cakes that her mother and brothers eat to turn into bears!

Main entrance chandelier:


A Grandfather clock:


As an interesting bit of trivia, all of the clocks in the castle are set for 11:55, locking the castle in the last exciting few minutes before midnight.

A vase of flowers:


While not technically a movie reference, I can’t help but imagine Bedknobs and Broomsticks when I look at the suits of armor.


And all together:


Phase Five

This phase only took about 40 minutes. Minnie joins Mickey:


And the castle gets some walls:


Phase Six

This one took an hour-twenty (I’m tracking the time, because I’m curious how long the total project takes).

A reference to Aladdin (the carpet and lamp):


More walls:


Phase Seven

Just under an hour at 50 minutes. The front is coming together now:


Phase Eight

This one took an hour. I constructed both Phase Seven and Phase Eight during the third presidential debate. Building Legos made the show of the debate much easier to deal with. And perhaps with a bit of irony (given that I was watching the debate), Donald Duck joins the castle cast:


And the walls start growing towers:


Phase Nine

And then I took a couple days off to get ready for a conference this weekend. This phase took almost an hour, and the towers got flags:


To be continued!


Lego Disney Castle

For my upcoming birthday, I decided to get myself the Lego Disney Castle. This is an exclusive set that contains more than 4,000 pieces. I have a profound love of Lego, and it seems that they increasingly turn their sights toward developing model kits, not just free form bricks. That makes my previous posts about why Lego instructions are useful all the more relevant. I don’t often spend my time or money on Lego products any more. For a while, I was obsessively buying the Star Wars models, only to burn out of Star Wars. I’ve sold or gotten rid of most of those sets by now, but I still have my Millennium Falcon, which, until this castle, is my Lego pride and joy.

So I got the castle:


When the castle was released in September, it boasted being the set with the most pieces Lego has ever released. The forthcoming Death Star (!) might actually have a bit more. The price tag is also daunting–a whopping $350 (retail)! Before you scoff at the idea of a box of plastic (by the way, the box itself is as big as my daughter), this set has far more custom parts than I have ever seen in a Lego kit. I can forgive the price and exclusivity. I really can’t imagine Lego mass manufacturing plastic mouse ears…

So last night I started the build. The instruction book is 450 pages, and is a hefty chunk of pages. I’ve noticed a couple new features about Lego kits (I also recently bought a newer set for my daughter’s birthday): one is that the instruction books include an inventory of the pieces that are included in the book, including how many and their part number. This is helpful in case one ever needs to get just a single piece (remember when a kit was ruined forever when it was missing one single key piece?). The other is that the pieces are divided into phases, and numbered accordingly. Given that this castle has 14 phases spread across 30 or so bags, I’m grateful for not having to hunt and peck through all 30 bags. I’m also grateful for not having to have all bags open at once.

There’s another piece that Lego has since designed:


It’s a Brick Separator! I’m convinced that my entire childhood would have been different had I had one of these. One of my complaints with my old bucket of bricks was that certain pieces were IMPOSSIBLE to separate, so I stopped piecing them together. I’m convinced that this tool would have encouraged me to free form build more. (Imagine the possibilities!)

Last night, I started building Phase One and Phase Two. Because I can, I thought I’d share the process. I have a conference next week and I haven’t finished my paper yet, so I think it’s going to take me a little bit to get the whole castle built.


I started Phase One last night at 8:49. This stage included building the foundation for the castle. There’s a lot of detail involved in Phase One; the foundation is 3 layers thick, and it feels like one of the most solid modular foundations (as opposed to a single baseplate) that I’ve ever built on. About halfway through, I found the first film reference:


Yes, those are little Lego frogs. Tiana and Naveen. On lily pads! The castle boasts 14 film references, mostly Princess and Fantasyland films, but it adds a layer of detail that makes this castle even more magical.

I finished Phase One at 10:21, so roughly an hour and a half later, and here’s what I accomplished:


It doesn’t seem like much, but, like I said, it’s a really strong foundation. I’m confident that it’s not going anywhere. Since the final product is over 2 feet tall, a strong base is important.


I began Phase Two at 10:23 with the building of this little guy:


Mickey is one five minifigs that comes in the set. When Disney released the minifig mystery bags over the summer, I got a few of them (I wish I had tried to get more, but I didn’t realize they were a temporary thing…like everything else Disney). I didn’t take a picture of his back, but part of building Mickey includes a little cloth tuxedo tail.

I finished 40ish minutes later at 11:09, and it doesn’t look like much progress:


With any luck, I’ll build a bit more tonight. There’s something truly thrilling about building Legos, and it’s a similar something to knitting a sweater or building IKEA furniture. I enjoy the exercise of taking two dimensional instructions and making the three dimensional product manifest, come to life, and become a tangible object for me to enjoy. So, more to come. Stay tuned!


So, I decided to move in the direction of writing a Second Book, and the idea manifested to also write a Third Book as well. Second Book is going to be an exploration with fellow Disney Doctors, Dori Koehler (author of the forthcoming exegesis of Disneyland and ritual) and Amy Davis (author of such notable classics as Good Girls and Wicked Witches and Handsome Heroes and Vile Villains), exploring Disney Princesses from a few different angles, including the princess as a kore, her role as an archetypal image of American culture, and the evolution of the princess over the history of the films. This is still in the nascent stage, but now that I’ve announced it, that makes it real.

The Third Book is an edited volume for Intellect Books’ Fan Phenomena series. This is a really cool series that looks at fandoms, the culture impact of fandoms, the psychological meaning of fandoms, and how fans connect with their fandoms. Each volume in this series is themed around a specific fandom, and volumes in the series include: Buffy the Vampire SlayerStar Trek, Star Wars, The Big Lebowski, Twin Peaks, Mermaids… So I’ve proposed a volume to add to the series, one focusing specifically on Disney. From Princesses and Pirates to MousePlanet and Lou Mongello’s WDW tours to the D23 and MMC, this volume plans to explore the delicate intersection between Disney’s consumerist machine versus the organic way that fans connect with Disney.

The CFP and submission guidelines can be found on Intellect’s website:,id=82717/

The aim of this project is academic and focused specifically on the fans, not analyses of the movies etc. The focus is specifically on Disney, not Star Wars or Marvel, because they’re already included in other volumes in the series.

Deadline for proposals isn’t until April, but why not get a head start?

I wrote a book!

I’m a little late to my own party (such is the life of an adjunct teaching new curriculum during the summer), but remember that dissertation thingy I wrote? I made it into a book and it’s available for your purchasing pleasure!

walts utopiaHere are a few links where you can find it:

McFarland Books – This is the publisher – This is one of my favorite online booksellers because of their convenience

Barnes and Noble – Because why not?

No public events are currently scheduled, but I’ll make sure I post something should they appear. I don’t necessarily have the resources to travel far and wide, but I’m open to any suggestions and invitations.

Here’s the blurb from the back:

The “Happiest Place on Earth” opened in 1955 during a trying time in American life–the Cold War. Disneyland was envisioned as a utopian resort where families could play together and escape the tension of the “real world.” Since its construction, the park has continually been updated to reflect changing American culture.

The park’s themed features are based on familiar Disney stories and American history and folklore. They reflect the hopes of a society trying to understand itself in the wake of World War II. This book takes a fresh look at the park, analyzing its cultural narrative by looking beyond consumerism and corporate marketing to how Disney helped America cope during the Cold War and beyond.

I did want to take a moment to comment on the writing process, since that’s what this blog has been mostly about for some time, right? I admire those people who can seemingly *just write a book.* With the academic research process being what it is, I’m amazed at people who seem to publish a new book every year or two. I started my dissertation in Fall 2010, and it only became book-worthy at the end of 2014, and that was with the benefit of taking a couple summers off from teaching. More interestingly, the final push to turn the dissertation into a book involved adding some new content. At the time I was writing this new content, most of my books were in storage, so I had to swim those waters with unfamiliar tools. But somehow I did it, and I gave my dissertation-child to the world.

So, here it is, dear public. The culmination of everything this blog has been about for the last 5 years. I have a few Next Projects in mind, all Disney myth related. I even have them outlined. Stay tuned, all two of you who still follow this blog. More to come!

Why Mr. Banks Needed Saving

*This post contains minor spoilers about the film, Saving Mr. Banks, but I question if they count as spoilers since the historical events in the film are well-documented in many Walt Disney biographies or Disney histories.*
*and there are some spoilers about Mary Poppins, but I would like to pretend that everyone has seen that film in this day and age.*

My friend in her review of Oz Great and Powerful observed that Disney has been rewriting its origin myths lately. Indeed, they invested gobs into a redo of Disneyland California Adventure to theme the park to the Los Angeles of Walt’s arrival. When I initially saw the trailers for Saving Mr. Banks, I saw her observation in action to a new level. Here is the first bio-pic of Walt Disney, highlighting a very specific time and turning point in Disney History–the production meetings with P.L. Travers to secure the rights to Mary Poppins.


Mary Poppins is one of my favorite Disney films. Heck, it may possibly be one of my favorite films of All Time. I found solace in Mary’s guidance when my mother was first hospitalized for her COPD. I still to this day think of the Denver capitol building when I hear “Feed the Birds.” Whenever I feel a little blue, Mary Poppins is one of my cheer-up films. I have such intimacy with the film that I refuse to see it on stage…So I can understand why Mrs. Travers would hesitate to allow Disney to make the film.

Here’s the trailer:

I have always been aware that Mary Poppins arrives at the Banks’ to help put a family back together, which also involves helping Mr. Banks appreciate his family, not just his well-ordered life. Mrs. Banks is a secret suffragette, dividing her time between her husband, children, and her cause. Sometimes she can get overwhelmed, as when she comes home from the meeting and doesn’t initially hear Katie Nanna’s resignation, but she quickly comes around. The children just want to be loved.

There are two distinct storylines, beautifully interwoven in Saving Mr. Banks: Travers’ memories of her childhood at a particularly difficult time and her visit to Disney to negotiate how the film will be made. The underlying theme of the film appears to address the classic Freudian Daddy Issue. The film portrays Travers Goff, Mrs. Travers’ father, as kind and loving, but drunk and falling apart. The young Travers loves her father completely, even defying her mother to get him booze. We see Mrs. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) in the middle of the film meltdown during a production meeting because she feels they are making Mr. Banks into this cruel father who doesn’t even mend the kite (inspiring the “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” sequence, borrowed also from the Sherman Brothers’ relationship with their father). Walt (Tom Hanks) convinces her to give him the rights when he flies to London and explains his own father relationship and that Mary Poppins is actually about saving Mr. Banks.

Who is Mr. Banks but that hyperrational piece of all of us who just needs some play in his life? Regardless of the claim that Walt wanted the rights because of a promise to his daughters, the movie of Mary Poppins reminds us to just stop and play, or fly a kite or just love to laugh. Much of Disney reflects the need for play, ever more so following the opening of Disneyland. Play is the spoonful of medicine, and with the total themed experience of the park, we’re allowed to shut out the outside world and be in the land of Dream. That we can do it consciously and physically is what makes it so potent, provided we are willing to release ourselves to it, captured beautifully in Travers’ (Emma Thompson) hesitation to go to the park, much less ride the carousel.

The business about the origin story? Mary Poppins ushered in a new era for the Disney studio, allowing it to grow and expand in a way it hadn’t done since the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It gave the studio the money to continue developing films and to be able to devote itself to the World’s Fair attractions, expanding Disneyland, and dreaming about the Florida Project. In other words, Mary Poppins made possible the only Disney I and many others know–the Legacy that was able to survive Walt’s death.

Sure, there were some liberties taken in this film (Saving Mr. Banks), some of which may even include the storyline of Travers’ childhood (I know nothing about her). But the film does stay true to the spirit of Poppins and to the spirit of Disney. Travers (Emma Thompson) remarks to Walt, “You mean, Disney didn’t make man in his own image?” Well, no, but those of us who willingly go for the Disney dream share the same attributes: we love to laugh, we happily will fly a kite, and we know how to invest our tuppance.

The Rise of Dark Fairy Tales

It is probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am a fairy tale enthusiast. It’s a topic I keep returning to time and time again, and it’s a topic that provides hours of academic muddling for this mythologist. That’s what scholars such as the Jungians find so fascinating about fairy tales. In their simplicity, they speak archetypally, deeply, meaningfully… They can become whatever story the reader or listener wants them to be.

And it’s probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am also a Disney fan, and that Disney’s versions of fairy tales are hands-down my favorites. Why, you might ask? This is a complicated answer, and one that I don’t have lying around, but part of the answer lies in the fact that Disney’s retelling of these stories captures that magic that attracts readers to them in the first place while also translating the stories to a new medium. There’s something that Disney “gets” in its storytelling that makes these stories speak to the culture. Sure, perhaps 200 years from now, Disney’s fairy tales will be shelved along with Grimm’s as future readers try to find the next new gripping version of a tale that’s already been told 1000 times.

Finally, it’s probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am also a lover of the Disney parks, notably Disneyland since that’s the only one I’ve visited with any capacity to build memories. The parks do for the experience what the films do for the fairy tales. They capture the magic that attracted us to them in the first place. I’ve been to Universal Studios, Six Flags, and my childhood theme park, Eliches (or however it was spelled). But Disney keeps me coming back time and again because of the experience. I trust the rides to not kill me (even with those few scary stories of accidents); I trust the park to be clean and safe; and I trust that, even if I’m tired, sore, and cranky, that the day in the park will still make me very happy.

I am a product of the Disney mythos.

So here’s my point. My love for all three of the above things are combined in the book series Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson, also known for his adult thrillers and his work on Peter and the Starcatchers. The Kingdom Keepers are a group of teenagers hired by Disney to be the models for DHIs, or Digital Host Interactive, digital tour guides through the parks at Walt Disney World. What these kids don’t know is that they have also been recruited to help the Imagineers fight against the Overtakers, who are Disney villans who come alive when the park closes at night. Villains such as Maleficent, Pirates, and Crash Test Dummies. The other Disney characters come alive as well, but they are powerless by themselves to stop the Overtakers from fulfilling their goal of overtaking the park. So the teens at night, when the fall asleep, become the DHIs, and spend their nights in constant battle against the Overtakers, receiving missions from the Imagineers, and trying very hard not to be caught in Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, which occurs when the DHI is prevented from crossing back over at the end of the night and the human teen is locked in a mysterious coma-like sleep.

These books capture the essences of the park and Disney magic and are thrilling for anyone who is either a fan who knows the parks intimately, enjoys a good sci-fi thriller, or even dreams of going to the park one day.

The most recent installment of the series, Shell Game, begins the process of moving the DHIs and the Overtakers to California from Florida by way of the new cruise ship. Having never been on a cruise, let alone a Disney cruise, I was a little skeptical about reading this book. But, of course, I enjoyed it thoroughly (having read half of it on the airplane to and from my dissertation defense). And, of course, in typical Disney fashion, find myself really wanting to take a Disney cruise now to share in the experience.

But that’s still not my point. In one particularly potent scene, the leader of the DHIs, Finn, confronts Maleficent, who is believed to be the leader of the Overtaker operation (though no one is certain about that). Finn and the other DHIs are in an auditorium doing a presentation for the cruise guests when they are besieged by pirates (of the Caribbean). Maleficent appears on the monitors and makes a rather bold statement:

 “Behold the New Order,” Maleficent said in her eerily calm and grating voice. “The dawning of a new age. [. . .] Enough of all this prince-and-princess spun-sugar nonsense. It’s time for the Grimm in the fairy tales to express itself. The woods are dark, my dears. The beasts within them will eat you for supper, not sing you a song. Wake up and smell the roses.” (484)

Remember up above when I said that Disney “gets it?” There is something happening in fairy tales right now, a sort of paradigm shift. In 2010 Disney claimed they were no longer going to make fairy tale animated features. At the same time several, albeit bad, fairy tale features were released by other studios. In 2011, Disney gave us Once Upon a Time. It’s as though the songs of the princesses in the forests have lost their magic for us. And it’s no wonder, given all of the darkness surrounding us as a culture. We are hungry for the magic; we are hungry for the good hero to defeat the dark evil bad person. But we are also hungry for the darkness to become a part of us, because it already is.

There is a shroud of darkness on American culture today, and it is spreading into other parts of the world. Perhaps this is because of the prevalence of our cultural exchanges, or perhaps this is a darkness that has been trying to take over (the Overtakers) for decades (think Great Depression, atomic bomb, and Cold War), but the American optimism has always kept it at bay. That optimism has taken a vacation, it seems. Even Disney, who always gave us a message of hope and happiness in our darkest hour is putting forth messages that this is the time of monsters (KK) or that the fairy tales have forgotten who they are (OUAT).

Meanwhile, fairy tales are being retold with a vigor that we haven’t seen in a while. New Grimm texts were found. Movies retell the stories. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are everywhere and literally eating us (though occasionally, they may sing us a song to lure us in their charms).

It’s difficult to describe the change that is happening while being in the middle of it happening. Hindsight is always 20/20, but At-the-moment-sight is typically blind. We’re still looking to the past, expecting it to have all of the answers. Oh but wait, you’ll notice we’re looking at the 1950s for those answers. Just because television and the movies painting the decade as Pleasantville, the decade was anything but. Darkness perpetuating darkness.

We haven’t learned anything from our previous encounters with Darkness in the past, which is why it is still bothering us. Call it the shadow or whatever, but until we start communing with this Darkness and learning something from it, we’ll be on this endless cycle for a while yet.

Lessons we’re learning from today’s myths: 1. Believe in magic. 2. Remembering or finding your true identity or self is the first step toward dealing with the darkness. 3. Listen to your elders–you don’t know how much longer they’ll be around to advise you. 4. Don’t listen to your elders if you know they’re advising you poorly. 5. Saving good from evil has no room for EGO.

That said, I’m looking forward to the last two KK books. If the DHIs are successful in bringing down the Overtakers, perhaps we could stand to learn a thing or two from them?

Mickey and Friends: Psyche’s Formula?

Working my way through the Disney cartoon canon, it’s interesting to note how the Disney characters don’t only work in concert to entertain us, but they seem to function as components of myth/psyche (depending on how you want to approach this). Furthermore, at any given time, any one of them can function as a hero (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy) or a group of heroes (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy). At different times in Disney’s history, some characters have been more popular than others, but because each character has his/her own distinct personality, they can be used to represent different things. I hesitate to make a simple chart of comparison (Mickey is ego, Donald is shadow, etc.), but they each bring a different component to to the Everyman archetype that is dominant to the Disney Doctrine.

Mickey is everyman. He’s the gentle character of good middle American values. He’s a natural leader because he’s so well-put together. As Mickey evolved into a symbol for the Disney Corporation, it became more important that he behave as an upstanding citizen, which lead to the creation of others. Mickey holds it all together, which is where Walt’s reminder rings true: it all started with a Mouse.

Donald is a perfect foil to Mickey, often stealing the scene from the mouse. He is temperamental, mischievous (sometimes malicious), and prone to devilish vices. Because his character was created this way, he was allowed to get away with more questionable behavior than Mickey. As Leonard Maltin(?) says somewhere on the Walt Disney Treasures discs, if Mickey was the star of the 1930s (and thus the Depression), the 1940s (and the war) belonged to Donald. Donald gets drafted and we share his struggles through basic training and interactions with authority figures. This is provided an outlet for some pent-up frustrations culturally, especially toward limitations on the home front because of the war.

Goofy. Well, the name really just says it all doesn’t it?

Pluto seems to be the dog that belongs to everyone. He is the one Disney animal that was created to be an animal, and is so spot-on as a dog, it’s sometimes hard to forget that he’s just a cartoon character. He represents animalistic behavior, but I think he really is more about simplicity, nature, and romanticism. Perhaps we could say that Pluto is Disney’s Green Man?

Minnie/Daisy seem to be the same character and they both are the aspect of the feminine, however you want to read it. They are the balance factors.

There are many different characters to explore, but these are the main ones. In a way, they form the Disney pantheon, which is really just a fancy way of describing psyche.

Fairy Tales and Utopian Ideals

There are some scholars that, as much as I would like to try, I just cannot avoid. They are the ones that add conversation and dialogue to my research, taking it to a deeper level. Sure, it would be easy to ignore them, but then I’d be just as shallow a researcher as the Shallow Researcher “archetype” at the core of my academic shadow projections. Today’s unavoidable researcher: Jack Zipes.

I discovered Jack Zipes when I was doing the Pacifica preview day, which I’d timed on purpose to coincide with my admissions interview. As part of the preview day, they were giving out a $25 gift certificate for the Pacifica bookstore. One of the unspoken secrets of the Pacifica bookstore is that the really good books all cost exactly $25 or more, and that it is neigh impossible to exit the bookstore without spending at least $45. I blew my travel budget many times in that bookstore… Anyway, I chose Zipes’ Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale, because the title seemed to be dealing with some residual questions I had lingering from my MA thesis. I read 3 pages before shelving the book to prepare for Pacifica, and there the book stayed for 3 years until one day I brought home his book, Happy Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry from the Pacifica library. Revisiting Jack Zipes revealed two things: 1. he is no lover of Disney and 2. he fails to make the distinction between Grimmified fairy tales and literary fairy tales in his criticism of the Disneyfication of fairy tales. Before leaving this point, I must emphasize how much it annoys me that people criticize Disney for “sanitizing” or “trivializing” fairy tales, making “the one true version” that most kids today know and realize, but fail to criticize the Brothers Grimm for doing the EXACT same thing. AND, I would further point out, that Disney’s fairy tale films until The Little Mermaid were anything BUT sanitized.

Anyway, the point of this post is a couple of questions that Zipes poses in Happily Ever After that I think need to be addressed, though I’m not sure my dissertation is the place to do it.The quote is this:

Indeed, ever since World War II the fairy tale as live-action film or animation has become one of the most successful genres in the culture industry. Perhaps, given the barbarism of World War II, the need for fairy tales in the mass media became greater afterward, for it is through the fairy tale that hope for happy endings is kept alive. The question we must ask, however, is whether it is a false hope. Do fairy-tale films project false utopias through amusement? Have fairy-tale films contributed to the destruction of community and the deception of the masses? (70).

The hope for happy endings that these films project is not limited to the barbarism that upset the American psyche following World War II. In fact, Snow White and Pinocchio were promising us happy endings before we even entered the war. However, the potency of the genre took off following the war, but I don’t think the war is to blame for this. Instead, I suggest turning to the Cold War. After World War II, America was on a high – we had come out of the war the victors and we were one of the most prosperous nations in the industrialized world. But we were afraid of “communism,” a fear of our individuality being compromised and a fear that still resonates today. We projected this fear onto the Russians, and what followed was an absurd decade of drills, bomb shelters and the illusion that if your school gets hit by a bomb then your school desk will protect you. Out of this fear, we get science fiction films, film noir, suspense thrillers and fairy tale films. The first three deal with confrontation with the unknown, while the last on the list deals with the happier side of the imagination. So it makes sense that Disney would experience a surge of popularity, being one of the few media outlets that gave us fluffy bunnies in a time of constant fear. The Cold War fear led to Vietnam, which was a major blow to the American psyche, from which we sort of recovered from after the fall of the Berlin wall. But as we were leaving our fear of communism behind, we were turning it instead into a fear of “terrorism,” which we believe compromises our identity with oil. This is the mode we’re still deeply swimming in.

Do fairy tale films project false utopias? YES, but these false utopias offer hope. The American Dream is a projection of a false utopia. The country was founded on utopian ideals, conquered by utopian ideals, and industrialized under utopian ideals. We have always attracted immigrants who are searching for utopia. Utopia is at the deep, buried core of American mythos. Since World War II, we have seen an increase in apocalyptic films. Cold War films projecting the fear of our destruction. Then after the fall of the studio system and Woodstock, films reflected a dystopian disillusionment. Films since the 80s have tried to offer hope for a savior hero, but that savior hero has yet to manifest in the culture (another discussion for another day). Throughout all of this, fairy tale films have given us happily ever afters. Sure, there is some saving going on – the princess needs some kind of rescue, or more recently the prince does – but what is being saved is hope for new beginnings. As Doug Brode points out in From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created Counterculture, Disney films don’t have happy endings. They don’t end. They offer, instead, new beginnings. One that takes place off screen. “And they lived happily ever after” is very different than “The End.”

Have fairy tale films contributed to the destruction of the community? I think asking this question is blowing everything out of proportion. Many factors contribute to the destruction of the community. If anything, fairy tale films reinforce community. Walt Disney said somewhere that his goal was always the family, which is the core of any community.

Have they contributed to the deception of the masses? Again, I think this is blowing everything out of proportion. Sure, they project false utopias, but they speak to the mythic imagination, not to the reality of our lives. If the masses are deceived, it’s a failing of the education system and community network. America does have a propaganda machine, but it does not operate the same way as other propaganda machines have, fully pulling the mask over our eyes. This country benefits from the fact that we allow both sides of the conversation to happen, but that doesn’t mean we’re listening. That’s not Disney’s fault. If anything, Disney films are more subversive than we realize.

The Importance of Cultural Context

After my last inspired post, I went semi-consciously offline for awhile – literally and figuratively. I’ve spent the last couple weeks delving into the core research for three dissertation chapters, and have come to the conclusion that too much reading is not conducive to either writing or blogging. But every now and then a question pops up that I feel a need to address, in large part because it ties in so nicely with my dissertation. That said, I’m really looking forward to being able to someday not blog about my dissertation…

Today’s thought was inspired by a post over at Mythic Musings. The author posed the relevant question, Is mythology dangerous? This particular question was raised in response to the author’s exploration of the Pandora and Eve myths. Both of these stories suggest that women are to blame for the hardships of the world, and suggestions have been made by many mythologists that myths such as these are used as tools of oppression, leading to the argument that mythology shouldn’t be taken literally. A very, very valid point.

But I think there’s more to the argument than that. The mythological studies scholarship holds that myth is inspired by something greater than humans. Indeed, the early myth-makers were the great poets, seers, priests, etc., of a particular society. Yet, the scholarship does not hold that modern myth-makers are likewise inspired; rather, they command a really good use of their myth tools (language, music, images, etc.). This disconnect is a matter of perception. Once upon a time, the priests and poets (etc.) were revered by their people as being the voice of the deity. However, in this new-fangled structure of civilization, we’ve separated the deity from the everyday and placed a lot of responsibility upon the individual for their talents. Yet the end result is the same.

It all boils down to cultural context. What I mean by this is that mythologists should take culture into account. On one level, there is the culture that gave birth to the myth. For example, with Eve and Pandora, both emerged from early civilizations that saw women as both inferior and potentially as a danger to men. Myths such as these furthered the cultural mores. And there is the other level: modern mythologists are reading these old myths from their own cultural framework. Thus, it is very easy in our pro-feminist western world to read the myths of Eve and Pandora as “repressive.” As a woman, sure, I don’t appreciate being blamed for all of the ills in the world. But I hesitate to call ancient Greece and the ancient Hebrew world “repressive” in the Feminist sense. Different, definitely.

Myths are some of the best artifacts of a culture we have, because they give us a view into the psychology of the culture. We can glean more from myths and legends than we can, in many cases, from material remains.

The real danger comes when myths are taken out of their context and used to control. For example, ancient Greek myths are ancient Greek myths. They are not modern American (or whatever your home culture is) myths, and should not be used in the same way (and herein, for anyone paying attention, lies my distaste for the works of James Hillman). This is when mythology turns into propaganda, and this is when readers of myth get disillusioned and discouraged (as is happening in America today), or the cultural shadow threatens to destroy a society (as happened in Nazi Germany).

In my own research, also known as “the Scottish Paper on Disneyland,” I’ve had to reconcile the fact that Disneyland is a Cold War era myth, and this has completely reshaped my reading of the lands. It is nonetheless American, and it has been constantly updated such that the Cold War myths are slowly being altered to the new era or are being phased out (and I’m leaving California Adventure out of this consideration). The values that are expressed through Cold War myths are still relevant today, which is why Disneyland is still a potent myth-motif for today’s world; though, the love and praise for America that Walt Disney bled into Disneyland has become less important, which – I will say it honestly – is a damn shame.

Someday, post-doc, I’d love to travel to Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai to compare their Disneylands. I have a suspicion that the removal of the American mythos from the park compromises the potency of the experience. Eventually (i.e., as a graduation present), I’ll make it to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, but knowing that this was designed as Disneyland, part deux, I suspect that I’ll find the richness of the myth alive and well in Florida. After all, Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series is based in Disney World, not Disneyland.

Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier

Born on the mountaintop in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the Land of the Free.
Raised in the woods, so’s he knew every tree.
Killed him a b’ar when he was only three!
Davy! Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier!

When it comes to Frontierland, it’s impossible to work on the land without giving some time and noddage to Davy Crockett. Not the Alamo hero, because that’s just one aspect of this heroic character (whose name blankets Texas streets and other landmarks), but to the portrayal by Fess Parker that serves as the most potent mythic version of Crockett to grace the modern century.

The Davy Crockett Adventures were originally broadcast on the Disneyland television show, one per month, beginning in December 1954 and ending in February 1955. There are three episodes in the trilogy: “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter,” “Davy Crockett goes to Congress,” and “Davy Crockett at the Alamo.” Each installment addresses a different theme relevant to the heroism of the character. When we first meet Crockett, he is a settler who volunteers for the American army against the Creek Nation to make settlements safe for “red and white” alike. His goal is never to force the Native Americans off their land, but to find a way for both groups to co-exist. He believes in the treaties between the two nations, and upholds them with liberal nobility. Crockett is the mediator between two groups, and this can be read in two ways. One way I’m going to keep to myself right now because it’s a component of the dissertation, but the other way is the embrace of diversity that only Disney movies were fully conveying at the time. The Land is the issue; it’s the common cause we all share. It’s not worth fighting and dying over when there is a much better alternative: sharing.

He went off to Congress and served a spell,
Fixin’ up the government and the laws as well.
Took over Washington, so we heard tell,
And patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell.
Davy! Davy Crockett, seein’ his duty clear!

File:David Crockett.jpgThe next time we meet Crockett, he gets pulled into politics as a champion of the Western settlers (who, at this point, had not yet crossed too far over the Mississippi). He goes to Washington as Tennessee’s Representative and it’s really like Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Being an honest man, he does not fully recognize the games that politicians play, and is caught off guard when he finds out that he was sent on a “Goodwill Tour” of the states so Congress could try to pass the “Indian Bill” without his involvement. This bill, being pushed by then president Andrew Jackson, would put Manifest Destiny into play, and give force to the Westward Expansion. Crockett, himself a settler, does not have any opposition to the idea of moving West, but he is opposed to the idea of moving West if it is going to harm the locals who already live there. He makes a comment early in this episode before he is sent to Washington that the country is getting “mighty civilized,” and he says this with sorrow in his voice. The mid-1950s were the heyday of Westerns, but Crockett in this one line acknowledges the future of America, the one the Walt Disney inherited, of a fully civilized America, from sea to shining sea, getting ever smaller with the Eisenhower interstate system. What makes America great, Crockett seems to be telling us, is the Land. It’s America, not the people who live on it.

So then, there’s the last installment. The Alamo.

He heard of  Houston, and Austin, and so
To the Texas plains he just had to go –
Where freedom was fighting another foe –
and they needed him at the Alamo!
Davy! Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.

I’ve never really understood why Crockett worked his way to the Alamo, but after his disillusionment with Congress, he packed it up and headed to Texas. There’s a famous quote attributed to him (and one of my favorite ever): “You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas!” The US was split when it came to Texas. Settlers had moved there as part of the Westward expansion, but Santa Ana sought to reclaim the land for Mexico. Gaining Texas would not be as easy as the Louisiana Purchase – the only way to do so was going to be to fight for it. Yet, oddly enough, no one really wanted to fight for it except the people who were already there. The Alamo is a mission in San Antonio, and it held out against Santa Ana for an impressive amount of time, especially considering that the Texans were outnumbered and lacking sufficient supply. It was a diversion. The real power of the war for Independence was General Sam Houston, and he needed time to build up an army. So Crockett and team stalled Santa Ana’s army in what is recognized as a major turning point in this war (and a major component in the state’s identity). Most people know to “Remember the Alamo!” We lost Crockett there. I never hear “Remember San Jacinto!” when Houston actually defeated Santa Ana. But Sam Houston isn’t a hero like Crockett. He never received the Disney treatment. And he certainly was never dubbed the King of the Wild Frontier.

To be the King of the Wild Frontier is no small task. A core component of our cultural psyche (collective unconscious?) is represented by the plains of the Wild Frontier. Many settlers were the “kings” and “queens” of the frontier. So there is something very liberal in the canonization of Crockett, and I think that it was his lack of fear coupled with his intent to always be right about a cause before getting involved with it. Which makes a lot of sense. He’d be my hero too if I was raised to believe that my school desk would actually protect me from nuclear attack. But I think this is also why Jack Sparrow is so potent today. It’s not the frontier he’s going after; it’s the sea, and all she represents.