THIS MONTH'S THEME
FROM THIS MONTH'S EDITOR
True confessions time. Nowhere in this issue on Walt Disney and the spread of global culture do I reveal the grisly truth.
I am a former Disney addict.
Let me explain: my dad was a furrier, not a very popular job today. But a pretty respectable one in Canada 60 years ago when he first got his training. The fur business was thriving and nobody thought too much about trapping animals to make coats for humans.
I felt pretty lucky to have a dad with such ready access to the pelts of the wild creatures that I imagined filled the thickly-wooded ravines of our suburban neighbourhood.
I felt even luckier when he brought me home a hand-sewn, bona-fide Davy Crockett ‘coonskin cap’. I can still smell the stiff grey felt that formed the rounded top and feel the plump racoon tail that hung from the back. I lived in that cap for months and was the envy of my swashbuckling boyhood chums.
That was 1955. Walt Disney’s hour-long Disneyland television show was already a huge hit in the US and Canada. When the programme presented a three-part saga based on a hitherto little-known roustabout named Davy Crockett, it became TV’s first cult craze. Davy Crockett wore a coonskin cap and soon all the kids in North America, me included, were clamouring to do the same.
In the seven months that followed the first Davy Crockett broadcast, millions of coonskin caps and other Crockett paraphernalia were sold – $100 million worth of merchandise in total, most of it licensed by Disney.
Later, my sisters and I used to rush home from school to watch the Mickey Mouse Club which ran for an hour, five days a week, from 1955 to 1959. Every afternoon we welcomed Cubby, Karen, Bobby, Doreen, Jimmy, Roy and the enchanting Annette into our homes (ah, Annette, object of unsurpassed boyhood fantasies).
I can still sing every word of the show’s theme song : ‘Forever let us hold your banner high. Come along and join the club that’s made for you and me. M-I-C, see ya’ real soon; K-E-Y, why? Because we love you. M-O-U-S-E.’
Like Disneyland and later The Wonderful World of Disney, the Mickey Mouse Club was a hybrid, a TV original which blended cartoons, taped serials and ads. Lots of ads. The famous mouse-ear hats (like the fetching one I’m modelling in the photo above) were first seen on the heads of Disney’s ‘Mouseketeers’. And the programme was also the first to feature wall-to-wall blurbs for kids’ toys.
Something we’re all used to at this time of year. Toy companies have been blanketing the airwaves with lavish ads for months now and Saturday morning television is little more than a four-hour session for brainwashing children in consumerism. Just remember, the next time you’re being badgered for the latest action toy or stuffed Dalmatian puppy, it all started with Disney.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those sour killjoys who looks down his nose at a bit of harmless fun. I took my kids to the latest Disney animated film while I was preparing this issue. I even went to Walt Disney World, though admittedly it was by myself. Work, you understand.
And I wore the silly hat.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7