The romanticised virtuousness of Disney’s ‘magic kingdom’ ill prepares us for the grim reality of adult life, says Sophie Ioannou. Why not let a somewhat less sneaky-clean, but not less iconic, American institution- namely sizzled barroom philosopher Charles Bukowski- call the shots, she suggests…
Walt Disney ruled the kingdom of my childhood. As a kid, brought up on the popular loveliness of Mickey and the gang, I chose to exist entirely in the safe and wonderful world of happily ever after. Like many others, I embraced integrity, heroic honour and a world filtered of conquering evil. Any fears I did have were nothing a hug and a hot chocolate couldn’t quickly disperse.
But real life slowly started to seep its way in… heartache, failure. disappointment, death, nightmares and war. All the things that never before existed in the other realms of our tiny minds, suddenly materialised with a vengeance to destroy the dream kingdom we spent so many years calling home. Now, there was no one to slay the dragon and there was no one to rescue us from the tower.
The most heart-breaking part of Disney-engendered behaviour was the unrealistic imitation of the fictitious good guy. Remember him, that great, triumphant dude of a man who was emulated for all this innocent years: the one with the sound morals and the good heart? Well, you probably don’t because you’ve spent too many years doing terrible, shitty things to people, so that feeling triumphantly ‘good’ these days feels like a very faraway dream. Gradually, over the years, the penchant for evil and trouble unmercifully weaved its way so deeply into your being, and built a hoe right on top of withering soul, that you haven’t really had time to face the fact that you now more closely resemble a Disney villain, whatever your childhood dreams of honourable goodness.
A backlash was inevitable. Although the roots of Disney’s story-lines lie within the rather creepy folk tales of Hans Christian Anderson, Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, that were told as a way of communicating the perils of growing up to the younger generation, the age old and necessary communication part was stripped significantly. Instead making everything cute and lovely left us so disastrously unprepared for reality that we, naturally, started to pick holes in the wholesomeness of the ‘magic kingdom’ philosophy. There was something so enchantingly insidious about it.
We waged a full-blown attack on the idyllic images with which, as flawed adults, we couldn’t possibly compete, and, in turn, the Cinderella-tinted glasses gave way to ones that were a light shade of grey with a constant drizzle of rain. This is, of course, the natural progression of things whenever favourable shading is removed, but it made the doomed transition from enchanted infancy to incredulous adulthood that much harder to swallow.
It was the molly-coddling nature personified by Disney characters against which American deadbeat author Charles Bukowski fought throughout his entire career. To him, Mickey Mouse destroyed the soul of America. His wife, Linda, once explained how Buk couldn’t stand the fact that the power over millions of human beings was in the hands of this three-fingered son of a bitch. Indeed, he was whole-heatedly dedicated to the de-Disney-fication of us all, and, boy, did he succeed. Bukowski’s America is the absolute antithesis of Walt Disney’s; one where sex, violence and alcoholism are the central tenet, where pretty horse can make your dreams come true only if you dedicate yourself to the racetrack each and every day. Perhaps it was Bukowski’s dearth of orthodox childhood innocence that spurred his hatred, or perhaps he didn’t want the children of America to be so shocked by the natural impulses of their souls. Either way, it horrified him that Mickey Mouse had a greater influence than Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Rabelais, Shostakovich, Lenin and Van Gogh. Which says what about the American public? “Disneyland remains the central attraction of southern California, but the graveyard remind our reality”, he famously opined.
Although, it all sounds pretty bleak and miserable, perhaps he has a point. A frivolous existence would feel like a soulless one, not to mention massively improbable. One thing old Mickey did;t teach us is that it’s all peaks and troughs, kids. Life is beautiful but it’s also fucking cruel. Sometimes thins will go your way, but often, they probably won’t. You will do terrible things; you will hurt the people you love and you will err on the side of the evil Jafar, from Disney’s Aladdin.
You’ll probably see some nasty shit going down on the side of the motorway, but without that much-needed exposure to the plain ugliness of life, how are you ever going to build up the tenacity to be that good wholesome guy again? Y’know, that one you read about once, way back when…
Instead of letting your children watch Fantasia every goddamn day, why not intersperse the wonderment with a thimble of wine and a few choice excerpts from Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness to give them that headstart in life?