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April 4, 2014
by Spencer Santilli
A Disney-fied World
For many children around the world, it starts before we're even aware.  While lacking the ability to voice an opinion our surroundings are filled with Disney culture.  Our lives are molded by movies, toys, clothing, and trips to the mythical amusement park full of expensive trinkets and cheesy "American family" moments.  Founded in 1923, Disney has faced their fair-share of adversity on the climb to become the global power that raked in $45 billion in 2013.  The days of Disney as just princesses and fairy tales are long gone as they now control a diversified lions-share of American media networks.  ESPN, ABC, A+E, and the History Channel are all a part of the Disney conglomerate, and are capable of distributing a unified media agenda into millions of homes every day.  Everyone from children to senior citizens is unknowingly watching a "Disneyfied" program whenever they turn on their television sets.  The entertainment giant once founded on crafting childhood dreams is now no different than any other of the other corporate giants.  Their carefully scripted endeavor to spread American culture to every corner of the world has managed to usher in the Disney age that exemplifies the piousness of American imperialism.  For those of us raised on Disney culture, it is hard to believe that such a seemingly harmless company could be responsible for this insipid, manipulative business. 


My gripes with Disney do not begin and end with their sports media agenda laid out in my "Man In Sports Part IV" article.  As it turns out the company has more than a few skeletons in its closet. After doing some internet spelunking, it wasn't hard to see that Disney operates on the same unethical levels as corporate leeches like Wal-Mart or GE.  However, whereas these two companies represent part of American industrialization, Disney represents far more.  Using their supreme corporate influence America’s most beloved media treasure has been able to toe the line (one they often created) of legality and righteousness to become what they are today—an imperialistic giant openly spreading ersatz American culture and values to countless countries.


One instance of shady business dealings used by Disney came during their extensive land grab in central Florida during the early years of the company.  What millions of suburban park patrons do not know is that Disney needed a secretive partner to make their vacations possible—the CIA.  Walt Disney needed a vast amount of land during the early years of his company, and he needed it for cheap.  With property owners in the area growing wise to the idea that Disney was looking to buy, they demanded top-dollar for their land.  Enter one William Donovan, a noted war hero and the so called "Father of the CIA" to help Walt in the process.  With the help of Donovan, who was no stranger to infrastructure coups, Walt put in place a plan that would eventually allow him to purchase forty square miles of central Florida for a mere $200 an acre.  Donovan ultimately became the personal lawyer to Walt Disney and continued to be involved with the company for many years to come.


Disney also employed the aid of another CIA operative, Paul Helliwell. With Helliwell's help Disney began to set up puppet cities and dummy corporations in Florida.  Helliwell was already working in Miami to help diffuse the Fidel Castro/Cuba situation, and was no stranger to cutthroat business tactics.  There is also speculation that the "voting" to advance Disney interests within the two puppet towns, City of Bay Lake and City of Lake Buena Vista, were in violation of US and Florida constitutions.  Now, some decades later, the Florida government still struggles to have any access or say in what the Disney park does—to the point that they cannot independently investigate any crimes that happen on Disney property.  The legal groundwork laid by CIA members Donovan and Helliwell has allowed Disney to skirt several facets of legislation in Florida and United States.  With numerous parks around the world, one must wonder what other clandestine actions were involved in making these gargantuan land-grabs possible.


Additionally, Disney wrongfully used their corporate influence in their world by way of the Copyright Extension Act of 1998.  What became colloquially known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act extended the corporate rights of their original characters and ideas to double the original copyright duration.  Before the bill was passed, copyrighted works (in this case Disney characters) were only protected for 50 years after creation.  This was to intended to allow other companies to grow and prosper when/if a copyright ran out and to spur competition.  Disney lobbied Congress members heavily to sway the direction of the bill in their favor, because they were at risk of losing their most valuable characters.  The bill, eventually signed into law by President Clinton, extended Disney's ownership to Mickey Mouse until 2019 or later.  The terms of copyright protection are now extended anywhere from 90-120 years after creation, meaning Disney will not be at risk of losing their property for quite some time.  Albeit when that time comes I'm sure another influx of Disney cash will occur to extend the protection even further.


Without question a corporation the size of Disney could not exist nor could remain profitable without cheap outsourced labor.  The one factory repeatedly mentioned is the now defunct Megatex factory in Port-au-Prince Haiti.  Employees consisting of mostly women and children were paid meager wages for back-breaking work seven days a week.  The clothing, etched with the cartoon faces of Mickey Mouse and Goofy would then be shipped and sold at an insane markup in any of the countless Disney stores around the globe.  Megatex employees could only hope to earn the same amount for an entire month of hard labor that suburban Mommies and Daddies willingly dole out for one shirt.  That said, these employees probably didn't even make enough in a year to even afford a trip to the "Magic Kingdom." 


To really grasp the vast monetary discrepancy from top to bottom, current Disney CEO Robert Iger made $34 million in 2013, without taking bonuses.  As I've said before, this same inequality exists in any company of this magnitude, but to have the conventionally "wholesome" Disney involved in the same tragedy is unsettling.  Previous CEO Michael Eisner had a chance to avoid the future bad publicity of Megatex in 2003.  Congress members issued a statement to Eisner urging him to not move the factory from already diminishing Haiti, and instead improve the conditions and wages to help boost the Haitian economy.  Eisner never replied to the letter and Disney contractor H.H. Cutler moved the plant to China where they could get away with more negligence and further bury their wage discrepancies. 


We cannot have a complete discussion on Disney as the Man without considering the immensity of their cultural impact, and the exportation of artfully crafted American ideas.  Yes, Disney owns and operates a substantial amount of American programming and media.  It is shameful enough that thousands of impoverished workers have to spend their lives toiling to stitch the cartoon face of an ugly mouse on clothing—but Disney encapsulates much more.  Much like McDonalds, Starbucks, and Levi— Disney is an American icon that is instantly recognized.  One could argue that Disney is the most important of that group because they not only export products and amusement parks—they exports the roots of American culture.  Mickey Mouse is one of the most recognizable icons in the world, and foreign people flock to see the character that Disney has worked so hard to spread around the world.  


Disney takes their imperialistic endeavors a step further by literally forcing American culture into other countries and reaping the benefits.  By doing so Disney is effectively undermining the culture that already exists and replacing it with a cheapened American substitute.  Disney has even gone so far as to take foreign stories and replace them with their own version, most notably the Chinese story of Mulan.  Now multiple countries are opening their doors to the immovable force of Disney and essentially creating American "theme-parks" within their own borders.  I could not imagine a French entertainment company coming into one of our largest cities and opening up a park comprised of their culture and famous characters.  Yet these countries cannot say no because of the promise of profit and the global cognizance of the power of Disney.


Disney is a force that will continue to grow for decades to come.  With their ever-increasing revenue stream the company has managed to purchase the rights to Star Wars and LucasFilm, generating an entire new wave of possibilities and global brands to exploit. It won't be long before there is rumor of a Star Wars based park.  Disney isn't just controlling the media or running sweatshops in foreign counties, they are buying and selling American culture.  Disney now controls the rights to some of the things that make Americans, American.  These tidbits of culture are then artfully manipulated and designed to attract new customers around the world, thus creating a "Disney-fied" vision of what culture will become.  We cannot let our own culture become controlled by a single entity. They can then alter it to their liking with nothing more than a profit margin to be concerned about.  Let's face it, Disney is the Man, and will continue to surreptitiously manufacture, purchase, and export American culture for decades to come. 

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