Walt Disney Company recently launched a new streaming service called Disney Plus and it’s been generating a surprising amount of interest in my social media timeline. Quite a few people I follow have been commenting on it, asking questions and (mostly) proclaiming what a great idea this is. I suppose if you have kids or are just a kid at heart there’s a definite appeal.
But this is 2019, and not even something as simple as an old Disney classic cartoon feature can be trotted out without some sort of woke controversy. Apparently aware of the climate among social justice warriors out there, Disney has proactively decided to ward off complaints by adding warnings to many of their traditional features, letting viewers know that the content may contain “outdated cultural depictions.” (CNET)
Times have changed over the span of Disney’s decades of dominance in entertainment, and with Tuesday’s launch of Disney Plus, the company is finding it must contend with the not-so-pretty elements of its past.
As part of the new streaming service, Disney has added disclaimers to movies such as Dumbo, The Jungle Book and Lady and the Tramp warning of “outdated cultural depictions.” A plot description for Dumbo, for example, ends with: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”
A handful of older Disney films have been criticized for incorporating racist stereotypes with characters like King Louie in The Jungle Book and the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp.
It looks like Disney is trying to avoid another “scandal” like the one that emerged after someone actually read the lyrics to Baby it’s cold outside.
Dumbo got more than just a warning attached to it. They entirely removed the scene with the crow named “Jim Crow.” And while they didn’t remove the “We Are Siamese” song from the original Lady and the Tramp, they did rewrite it for their live-action remake.
You don’t have to be one of the woke warriors to realize that many of Disney’s classics from back in the day contain some seriously racist tones and images when looked at from a modern perspective. Mickey Mouse was long believed (incorrectly) to be based on a racist character named “Jigaboo.” But that doesn’t mean that some of Mickey’s antics wouldn’t be looked at rather dubiously in the modern era.
But does that mean that those films and television shows should simply be erased from history? First of all, they need to be taken in context. Much of what passed for socially acceptable images and speech back in the forties and fifties might be seen as totally verboten today, but at the time they were created they were just reflecting what was taking place in the current culture.
I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to point these things out when the shows air and even use them as an example of how western culture has evolved over the last century. I suppose even putting “trigger warnings” on these Disney classics isn’t entirely out of line for the very easily triggered. But asking for them to be completely erased from history does us no favors.
And yet that’s what happened to Song of the South. It’s not even available on the new platform. Granted, among various examples of definitely racist imagery as seen through 21st-century eyes, that was probably one of the worst. But should it just disappear? It might better serve as a reminder of where we were as a society and how far we’ve come.