Disney’s “Outdated Cultural Depictions” Warning Is an Attack on Western Civilization
And That's a Good Thing
Disney's new streaming service, Disney+, premiered on Tuesday to universal complaints.
The system is buggy, it crops out jokes on The Simpsons, and it essentially killed off the Netflix Marvel series. But considering the constant commentary on trigger warnings and the very predictable uproar from a segment of white men whenever a woman or a person of color is placed in a role that could have been given to someone less "political," it's a wonder that there hasn't been more of a backlash against Disney's new content warning.
Along with the usual warnings where sexual themes and violence are concerned, certain Disney movies have been officially labeled as even more racist than others. Pocahontas, for instance, has missed this distinction by tapping into relatively benign "noble savage" stereotypes, rather than playing into grotesque caricatures of inhuman otherness in its depiction of non-white characters. Peter Pan, on the other hand, was not so lucky. It joined the list of movies containing "cultural depictions" so "outdated" that they need a special warning so thoughtful parents can shield their kids from that particular brain-poison (while exposing them to a host of others).
Other movies have earned this recognition include Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and Fantasia. Some have argued that referring to these wildly dehumanizing portrayals of non-white people (or, tellingly, animals standing in for non-white people) as simply "outdated" places the blame on the era in which they were produced, without taking any responsibility for the impact of producing and distributing such harmful iconography. After all, if Disney is willing to wage an endless fight to maintain their exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse—and for the subsequent deprivation of the public domain—shouldn't they likewise be held accountable for the indefensible content in much of their IP? If the blame doesn't belong solely to them, then why does the profit?
It's a compelling argument, but it overlooks an important point. Namely, Disney is right about the eras that produced such offensive trash. Their movies have always tapped into the zeitgeist—the lowest common denominator of ideas. And for the entire history of "Western Civilization," those ideas have been horribly racist (as well as homophobic, misogynistic, and culturally chauvinistic). Colonialism is the foundation of "Western Civilization." The looting and subjugation of other peoples and their lands have made it possible for the Western world to flourish. The United States, for instance, was "settled" on top of an existing civilization that white men ravaged with the help of guns, biological warfare, and the forced labor of people who were stolen from their homes, then bred and sold and treated as livestock.
This brand of devouring colonialism has been made possible by concerted efforts to dehumanize anyone who doesn't conform to the mold of the dominant elite. And men like Walt Disney perpetuated that brand. Whatever Jordan Peterson might want you to believe, Disney movies have always been propaganda—part of a mythos that defined "the West" in contrast to the rest of the world, holding it up as something worth defending. "Western Civilization" is inextricably linked to these self-aggrandizing myths, and any attempt to undermine derogatory depictions of the Other is fundamentally an attack on "Western Civilization." Worse than the new content warning, Disney has completely omitted Song of the South, erasing the proud tradition of pretending that black people were happy as slaves. The Disney+ claim that "The Vault Is Wide Open" seems to be ignoring a few items in the lock box at the back.
In short, Disney's latest effort at woke-washing is an affront to the principles that our society was built on—namely, the principle that the world belongs to white men, and no one else is really a person—but it doesn't go nearly far enough. They are attacking our disgusting history in little ways, but they are still profiting from its relics and using Tom Hanks to put a nice face on the whole operation. Now that Disney owns literally all of culture, they owe it to us to own up to the dark past that defines our society and attack "Western Civilization" head on. Because until we fully dismantle the disgusting ideas at the core of "Western Civilizations" and begin to build an inclusive and global society, we will not have earned the right to call ourselves civilized.