Unless you are poor, brown, female, Jewish, or gay.
I’m not gonna tag this Disney cuz that’s rude, but I’m not into the Walt Disney worship I see here on Tumblr, or in real life. The man was a racist and sexist bigot who designed Disney Land as a tribute to a pastoral version of America that never existed. He placed it in Anaheim, where minorities who were too poor and marginalized in Southern California to, by and large, afford cars could not get to it, and instructed admissions employees to discourage them from coming. He refused to hire black or brown people except one woman who was forced to perform in near-minstrel capacity as Aunt Jemima in the Aunt Jemima Pancake House on Orleans Street. He also was a public supporter of some of the most vile anti-Semites in America.
You can talk about modern Disney and all the progress its made from these frankly nauseating beginnings, but holding Walt Disney up as some champion of individuality, self-expression, and self-esteem is a damn lie. He only wanted you to be yourself if you were white and middle class.
While a vast majority of what you say is certainly true, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
Walt was a businessman, first and foremost. He was screwed by Universal early on, which led to the creation of Disney as a corporation. He played hardball once he realized what the industry was like. He did everything in his power, rubbed elbows with every single person he could, to get where he was.
Keep in mind, prior to WWII, America as a whole was anti-semitic. This isn’t a joke, one thing the history books will not tell you is that nearly everyone hated the Jewish people pretty blindly. When the Nazi party committed its atrocious acts, the US, as it so often does, took on stances it didn’t actually believe in to immediately distance itself from its opponents. This is why the Red Scare happened the way it did, why political events even today constantly villify groups which otherwise were not treated as such.
Walt showed up at those events because it was financially viable. That’s where the business owners were. That’s where the big movers and shakers were, prior to the 1940’s.
He did everything in his power to rub elbows with those in power, to be garnered favor and financial fortune, which meant he had to stay socially acceptable. At the time, it was the only way for a business to survive. It is not evidence of him being a racist, but certainly evidence of utilizing the socially accepted racism to help himself and his company.
Everything he did was to keep people off his back, to keep questions from popping up, so that he could keep his business afloat. We look back on that era with obvious and well-warranted disdain and disgust, but keep in mind that the era was strange for business owners; you had to convince people you fit certain criteria, that you were a very specific way in order to receive favor.
Yes, he stepped on a lot of people, in an era where stepping on people was pretty much the only business practice utilized. Yes, his hiring practices were ridiculously centric around white cis heterosexual males, in an era where going beyond that would grant you a ton of flack and essentially stymy your career outright. He allied himself with people we would easily deem unsavory today, and even people we would deem unsavory in the 1950’s due to the social and economic climate of the era.
He also hired folks like Mary Blair, who was a huge influence on the visual design of a great number of early Disney films, and contributed to numerous Jewish charities and organizations as WWII wound down. Hell, he was given a Man of the Year award in 1955 by the B’nai B’rith, which is not exactly an easy feat.
The actual real fact of the matter is that the truth lies in the middle. He allied himself with those who would get him ahead. He allied himself with those who would help push his career further along. He took actions which were socially acceptable at the time. For the era, he was an incredibly smart businessman, breaking off relationships with people suddenly deemed irrevocable in the eyes of the States according to the socio-economic issues important to that particular instance.
Whether or not he’s a racist is almost impossible to outright prove. Whether or not he donated to the numerous Jewish organizations as a matter of payback for the groups he allied with, or as a matter of keeping on a socially acceptable face, or whether he honestly believed in those organizations, is, again, almost impossible to prove. His real thoughts and intentions were secretive to nearly everyone.
I don’t think he’s a racist. I haven’t seen much proof of it. If I were to believe his association with anti-semitic parties deems him racist, then I would have to believe that numerous folks during the Hollywood Blacklist were Communists simply for showing up at rallies which were deemed Communist by the state. It’s a very difficult issue.
He did things which are hard to look back on favorably, and can’t be spun positively. He shifted his alliances to allow for the smoothest transition and allow for backers to keep shoveling money toward his company, and keep his people employed.
He was, in essence, a damn good businessman, as far as keeping his own company afloat. Which generally means he did terrible things to a lot of people, and he made decisions which slighted the already socio-economically slighted.
I don’t think that invalidates the messages his works tried to spout. It makes it harder to swallow, but painting him as a racist and classist doesn’t quite pull in the evidence of the times. We still herald Will Eisner, in spite of his Minstrel depiction of a black character in the Spirit (literally named Ebony White), because there is far more to the story than simple depiction and association, as the specific events and social expectations were DRASTICALLY different to today.
History is difficult to look at with a modern eye. Many figures throughout time are given a rosy tint, are heralded as being saints or paragons of virtue, when the reality is neither that nor the logical opposite extreme. The same holds true with Walt. Through the lens of historical circumstance, much of what he did was politically, socially, and economically “safe.” He adjusted with the times. He was no radical, and he did not seek to shake things up or change things for the better with those already in power.
Basically, you are right, that there are a lot of things he did which are definitely considered evil by today’s standards, when viewed on an individual basis. I’m just saying it’s important to look at the circumstances of the time, and understand the problems and difficulties of the era on a broader scale when it came to what he was trying to do.
Was he a racist? Or a classist? I don’t know. He associated with a lot of people who would be viewed as bad or terrible or socially unacceptable today. He also tended to cut off relationships with those people when society deemed them unacceptable. That doesn’t make him precisely good or bad, or anything really, other than an opportunist.
History is weird. Viewed through a modern eye, very little holds up well, including Walt himself. The evidence doesn’t support him as a miraculously kindhearted man, but it doesn’t paint him as a terrible hatemonger, either. Don’t let his movies flower your depiction of him, but don’t let individual instances completely trash his worth. There’s more to the story.
I’m just picturing animation Mad Men with Walt Draper and Mary Blair Peggy. (which isn’t far off the way things were)