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How Disney rules the world
The multinational giant is the master of harnessing – and hijacking – simple themes at the heart of human (and animal) nature.
NOTE: I’m writing every day in memory of Lisa, who died on October 13. Not every post will be of the highest quality, and on January 1, I’ll reassess and create a new schedule for higher quality posts.
Over the last two days, I’ve been in Florida with family, visiting Disney World for the first time since I was a child 30 years ago. And the thing that strikes me, more than, anything else, is the company’s power at mastering the simple stories at the heart of human nature.
A misunderstood young woman overcomes tradition and prejudice to find her true calling – and perhaps true love.
A father who has lost all but one of his children sacrifices everything to find his lost son.
A young knight, pure of spirit, faces the pull of anger and greed to transform himself – and the world.
The basic storylines in the Disney pantheon (which now includes Star Wars and Marvel) are astonishingly simple, and yet powerful. And I was surprised by how emotional I was getting, at times, in response to storylines that are both trite and unsophisticated.
But here is the thing. It is precisely because the themes are trite and unsophisticated that they pull so deeply at our heartstrings. Because they tap into something more basic in the human psyche, our animal emotions and nature. And these emotional building blocks are the key to everything we do, say, and believe.
And this is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is perhaps the only thing that will save the world. Because if we were all to tap into, and openly discuss and understand, our basic animal emotions and needs, we would shift away from all the complexity and corruption of this world – things that have given us as a species power, but nothing else – and get back to our simple animal hearts.
The problem, of course, is that Disney has hijacked these powerful human narratives for the pursuit of something very different from what the stories themselves stand for: namely, profit. And that has two perverse implications: first, the people who are moved by them, at some level, understand the stories to be profoundly inauthentic. That destroys their trust in the systems around them. Second, the stories that are most amplified are not the ones that most reflect a basic driving force of human nature, but rather stories that maximize the profits of a corporation.
There’s much more to say about this. But I think this idea of “stolen narrative” is a crucial one to understanding what’s gone wrong with human civilization. But I’ll write more on that on another day.