Walt Disney and the Acceptance of Authoritarianism

While eating my supper of crackers, deli turkey, and strawberries, I had a question: What is the relationship between Disney’s children’s movies (and alphabetic fairy tales) and the current–baffling–acceptance of authoritarianism in the United States?

Why are people–who proclaim to love the United States, their country, and their freedom–still supporting the Republican party at all?!

Think of the endless list of theatrical features somehow connected with Disney that revolve around royalty in someway or another? Very wealthy and all-powerful Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses who use magic to get their way are the leading characters in such productions. While people have talked about how Disney teaches harmful gender mores and heterosexuality, I have not seen commentary that suggests it might also teach people to be complacent under a dictator.

There is never a rebellion against royalty in Disney films. While members of the monarchy in these fictionalized worlds are often the “evil queen” or “the ugly step sisters,” the worlds created show everything basically being okay. And, they have the now-clichéd happily ever after for select members of the royalty. Disney creates governments that ultimately know best and have earned their positions and everyday people who ultimately have their most basic needs satisfied.

Disney movies do not show characters en masse who challenge authority or the status quo, who seek any kind of change, or who take aggressive charge of situations. Disney movies–aimed at children with near blank slates and at their tired caretakers–embed, within in our brain, ultimately paternalistic, positive stories about living under authoritarian regimes.

People have templates, per se, of how to live in such situation, but they don’t have templates for how to live in a society where people truly take charge and demand better.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda 


Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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8 replies

  1. The one obvious exception is “Robin Hood”: it’s a rebellion against a monarch rather than against monarchy as such, but it does imply a kind of Mandate-of-Heaven style presumption that a king is supposed to be a good king. “Frozen” does something similar.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for adding these thoughts! I’d forgotten all about “Robin Hood.” I think I did watch “Frozen,” but it’s been a while. I find it so interesting that these tales involve royalty, especially given the history of the United States, but a friend pointed out in a text, people in the U.S. are more obsessed with the British monarchy than the British!

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  2. “Disney movies do not show characters en masse who challenge authority or the status quo, who seek any kind of change, or who take aggressive charge of situations.”

    except when the characters are animals sometimes (A Bug’s Life). However, even there, the ants finally overthrow the grasshoppers with cunning. Most of Disney’s animal movies are about a group of animals that challenge authority or status quo. Although many of Disney’s animal movies include violence the “underdogs” always win with brain power rather than violence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, thanks for these thoughts, too! I was mainly thinking about two-legged animals, but did think a bit about “The Lion King” (some rebellion there, but all intrafamily, and everything is restored in the end). And yes, on ignoring the historical role of violence/war when it comes to politics.

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  3. I do believe you have your political parties ideologies flipped Andrew. I feel the need to point out that the majority of our military… the ones who make sure Americans maintain their freedoms that they so dearly love… identify as Republican.

    With that said, I find it interesting that you would use Disney to attempt to link authoritarianism to the Republican Party.

    Art often imitates life and we know Walt Disney did this in a lot of his movies. One example is the lack of mothers in many of his movies. Disney lost his mother due to a gas leak in a house that he purchased for his mother and father and always blamed himself for her death.

    Now to my point… his father was an avowed socialist. Socialism is authoritative in that the people own nothing, it is all controlled by the government. The government takes and redistributes as it sees fit. Walt Disney’s father would actual take money away from his children that they had earned claiming that they didn’t understand the value of money. Disney’s use of socialist/authoritarian type structures in his movies could very well be an expression of his childhood. The Hero or Heroin overthrowing these types regimes could represent his ability to be able to decide his life for himself once he became and adult and free from his socialist father’s way of thinking.

    And as far as Disney teaching “harmful gender mores and heterosexuality”… I would argue that choosing traditional values and showing heterosexual relationships in movies is hardly harmful. I have to say Andrew, for belonging to a political party that you claim to be more ‘for the people’… entertaining the idea that showing a traditional relationship is somehow wrong and discriminating is kind of baffling seeing as more than 90% of the population of the United States identify as heterosexual.

    And I’m my opinion, Disney has done an amazing job introducing strong Heroines who save the day. Women can be strong and still believe in traditional roles. I can introduce you to many female Marines that serve their country by day and still have dinner on the table for their husbands and kids every evening. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Disney films do indeed instill a certain level of complacency through the values they put across. Great food for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I saw one post today that was was addressing Disney and “the kiss” a bit – it said something like sleeping beauty would have never woken up because the man was too afraid of facing sexual assault charges. Lots of possible thoughts. BUT, Disney does perpetuate and create a kind of “rape culture” and a world were consent is not even a possible concept. I’m surprised that some make such a big deal about consent. I’m reminded of an article that said parents should teach their children consent beginning with hugs – that even hugs require consent. I like that practice.


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