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Disney Vs. Plato: Is There Really A Contest?
January 16, 2004 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Just How Influential Is America? Mark Rice-Oxley, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, argues that, 2000 years from now, Disney will probably be more remembered than Plato. Really? [More inside. Via Arts & Letters Daily.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (33 comments total)

 
As a European, I find this is just not true - in fact, imho, it's a myth put about, paradoxically, by gung-ho, know-nothing, you-wish Americans in unhealthy cahoots with anti-American, knee-jerk, too right-wing or too left-wing Europeans with more than a touch of paranoia, engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy enterprise. I.e., they fear it may shortly be so and so they pretend it already is, the better to help ensure it never will.

Apart from the harmless (and delightful) entertainment industry - specially movies, music and IT - the truth, as it seems to me, is that American influence in Europe (economic, cultural or political) is negligible. You have to make a determined effort to buy American products or get a decent dose of the American spirit.

Europe just keeps getting more European, as America gets more American. If anything (at least in New York and L.A.), thanks to American openness and still vigorous "melting pot" curiosity, I'd say it's far easier to find Europe in the U.S. than the other way round.

Excuse the editorializing, btw! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:58 PM on January 16, 2004


I think it's just surface things really (accessories to daily life?) that are adopted--a look, or a sound, and rarely (or just in the past)--an idea. (For centuries it was Paris that set the style for the civilized world, no?) Entertainment and style for the most part, which is always mixed and melded into the normal culture of a country--look at how the french have taken rap and made it their own, for instance, or how teen boys in most industrialized countries all wear hiphop or US sports stuff, but still live their lives in a distinctly different way from american kids. I think there will be a lot of artifacts from this era, but I doubt they'll be venerated (like Plato or Renaissance art). I think they'll wonder why there are Yankees caps and McDonalds giveaway toys and plastic soda lids to be found in digs all over the planet, but who knows how they'll interpret them.

I'd disagree with you about finding Europe--It's really easy to see the innumerable differences in daily life in Europe--from city to city, and country to country, even if there are Gaps and McDonalds--and H&Ms and Zaras--all over. (But then we always notice the things that are different from home when we travel)
posted by amberglow at 9:15 PM on January 16, 2004


I bet you it is already true that more people know about Disney than Plato.

Which Europe do you live in? =]
posted by VeGiTo at 9:17 PM on January 16, 2004


More people now are probably familiar with Disney than....

oops, on preview, What VeGiTo said.
posted by namespan at 9:21 PM on January 16, 2004


but more people were familiar with Charlie Chaplin, or Mary Pickford around the world, too, and now they're not.
posted by amberglow at 9:26 PM on January 16, 2004


Amberglow: I agree. European countries, despite (or, I would argue, because of) the EU, are getting more and more different from each other - and they were already very, very different, even in neighbouring countries.

I'd disagree with you about finding Europe--It's really easy to see the innumerable differences in daily life in Europe--from city to city, and country to country, even if there are Gaps and McDonalds--and H&Ms and Zaras--all over. (But then we always notice the things that are different from home when we travel)

I'm sorry I was unclear. What I meant is that there is more easily-available European stuff in cosmopolitan America than the other way round. I didn't mean that Europe is difficult to find in Europe - it's getting easier and easier, thank God, while each country not only retains but reinforces its cultural identity.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:32 PM on January 16, 2004


but more people were familiar with Charlie Chaplin, or Mary Pickford around the world, too, and now they're not.

True, though I don't think Mickey Mouse is going to die, or even get old, any time soon. Last time I met up with him he's still very young and healthy, after all these years. That guy is amazing.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:33 PM on January 16, 2004


o/~ Plato the Greek or Rin Tin Tin...Who's more famous to the billion millions? o/~
posted by mcsweetie at 9:38 PM on January 16, 2004


I don't think Mickey Mouse is going to die, or even get old, any time soon. Last time I met up with him he's still very young and healthy, after all these years. That guy is amazing.

did mickey ever stop sodomizing donald's nephews?
posted by quonsar at 9:41 PM on January 16, 2004


Mickey Mouse has moved from being an actual character (a la Bugs Bunny) to a corporate brand symbol--he's on a par with the Golden Arches or the Nike swoop now, but even those will die out.

sorry miguel, I was misreading you : >
posted by amberglow at 9:43 PM on January 16, 2004


For a bit, yes. But now Mickey has Viagra.
posted by troutfishing at 9:45 PM on January 16, 2004


There will still be electricity and people in two thousand years? Clearly, this author is not familiar with our current foreign policy.
posted by interrobang at 10:01 PM on January 16, 2004


Well, the hope is that the new space initiaitive will counter this trend by eventually sending enough people to a different planet before Earth self-destructs. =]
posted by VeGiTo at 10:04 PM on January 16, 2004


did mickey ever stop sodomizing donald's nephews?

And those nephews would, of course, be:

Who, he?

Do, he!

Loo-WEE!
posted by yhbc at 10:09 PM on January 16, 2004


Even 40 years ago, Mickey Mouse was a fading Disney star in Portugal. The popular comic-book Disney heroes here were Tio Patinhas (Scrooge McDuck, by far the most loved) and a few characters which I suspect were heavily adapted for the Brazilian and Portuguese markets:

Ze Carioca (with an acute accent on the "E" of "Ze")

Gastao (Gladstone Gander, with a tilde on the "A" of "Gastao");

Peninha (Fethry Duck).

Mickey Mouse, in my lifetime (I was born in 1955) was never popular. There was an Italian comic book, called Topolino we bought, but we'd always skip the (rare) Mickey stories. There were never Mickey Mouse clubs and Mickey films were generally shunned.

Plato, on the other hand, is still going strong.

VeGiTo: I love Disney (I really loved "Little Nemo", despite the anti-fish-eating propaganda) and, for a thousand bucks, could write you a loooong article on how Disney could never have existed without Plato. They have so much in common, seriously. Well, the good Disney...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:23 PM on January 16, 2004


Mickey Mouse has moved from being an actual character (a la Bugs Bunny) to a corporate brand symbol--he's on a par with the Golden Arches or the Nike swoop now, but even those will die out.

I have to especially agree with this. Can you name any character traits that Mickey Mouse has? He's just kind of there. You can actually talk about the personalities of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. People can have deconstructive conversations about the Coyote in Warner Brothers cartoons. These characters have motivations.

I don't think that Mickey Mouse has ever been anything more than an prettier-looking Bosko; just a character that's there to wander through the screen and react to situations. He's not interesting, and he's not clever. He's just a dot that sometimes sweats and sometimes laughs. And he doesn't even have the personality of The Dot.
posted by interrobang at 10:42 PM on January 16, 2004


a loooong article on how Disney could never have existed without Plato. They have so much in common, seriously. Well, the good Disney...

Miguel, if I put the question out on AskMe, will you be able to resist? :)
posted by namespan at 12:49 AM on January 17, 2004


interrobang, I am so glad that you said it. My wife loves MM -- watch, earrings, jacket, all adorned with the lovable mouse. But I've asked her many times: what the hell does Mickey Mouse DO? What has he EVER done? Sure, maybe back in the Steamboat Willie days, he had a few adventures, but since then...nothing. He's just a drawing.
posted by davidmsc at 1:47 AM on January 17, 2004


I watched some of those early Mickey cartoons - the black & white stuff - on acid, and let me tell you ... flipping genius: Mickey's profound optimism despite the direness of his predicament is a shining beacon of the triumph of the spirit.

Has anyone seen the crappily-animated Mickey Mouse tv cartoons, that Disney squeezes out now? The mouse is now a wimpy rat, having his iconic status dissolved in low-quality advert-bait; and has been for some time now.

Mickey Mouse is not the figure to children today, that he was to me when I was a kid. Disney has undermined his status and devalued his cultural stock, probably irreparably.

In the future, Mickey Mouse is likely to hold less value than Top Cat.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:11 AM on January 17, 2004


interrobang, davidmsc - you are so right. I've been cogitating, and I can't come up with a single cartoon character that exhibits less personality than modern Mickey. Anyone?

(Plato, on the other hand - what a cute character! Those big eyes and long floppy ears get me every time!)
posted by taz at 3:17 AM on January 17, 2004


After reading this thread earlier, I asked my nephews and the kids who live next door and none of them have faintest idea who Mickey Mouse is. So, empirical evidence would suggest that Mickey has already died out for 3-10 year olds in London.
posted by daveg at 4:30 AM on January 17, 2004


help
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:38 AM on January 17, 2004


From the article: "Sometimes, US ideals get transmitted - such as individual rights, freedom of speech, and respect for women - and local cultures are enriched."

"West Indian sports enthusiasts increasingly watch basketball, not cricket."

Is this actually the case? Does anyone know? Not the "increasingly watching basketball" (a truly global game) part, but the "not cricket"... Is there a decline of interest in cricket in the West Indies?
posted by talos at 5:18 AM on January 17, 2004


interrobang, davidmsc - you are so right. I've been cogitating, and I can't come up with a single cartoon character that exhibits less personality than modern Mickey. Anyone?

Does Hello Kitty count as a cartoon character?
posted by plep at 6:03 AM on January 17, 2004


Last time I met up with him he's still very young and healthy, after all these years. That guy is amazing.

Ah. It all makes sense now.
posted by trondant at 9:54 AM on January 17, 2004


Just a thought:

Mickey Mouse = Jerry
Donald Duck = George
Goofy = Kramer

There is no real equivalent for Elaine, however.

(also, Bugs = Jerry; Daffy = George. There is no Kramer and Bugs Dressed Up As a Girl = Elaine.)

Perhaps I shouldn't think. Who knows.
posted by Grangousier at 10:48 AM on January 17, 2004


Does Hello Kitty count as a cartoon character?

I think so. And Miffy too.
posted by hama7 at 10:51 AM on January 17, 2004


That which persists, persists. The works of Plato have already endured more than Disney has. Plato is already more influential and more widely relevant to western culture than Disney is. To reduce influence to a mere popularity contest is just inane.

That said, Disney clearly owes more to Aesop than to Plato. I do think it would be amusing to see the Adventures of Socrates cast into the Disney mold with talking animals (Diogenes Duck), wacky homosexual hijinks (Alcibiades' story about trying to seduce Socrates at the end of Symposium), and how the great philosophical tradition of the west got started by a cunning old geezer talking with a bunch of too credulous kids. Probably it would not be "family friendly" but it would be very brave.
posted by wobh at 10:58 AM on January 17, 2004


(It really should be 'Diogenes Dog' however, since his closest Disney counterpart is a grouchy duck, I must have just got confused.)
posted by wobh at 11:13 AM on January 17, 2004


Oh jesus. In 2000 years i'm sure they will both be equally remembered, along with lots of other trivial data about this millennia in the minds of the nanomachine robots that will have obliterated humanity.
posted by rhyax at 1:09 PM on January 17, 2004


Trying to predict what will be most remembered in 2000 years is the pinnacle of hubris.
posted by moonbiter at 7:36 PM on January 17, 2004


see, Pound was right
posted by clavdivs at 11:51 AM on January 18, 2004


The whole premise is silly. Current and recent popular culture is always better known at its time than older high culture, but the popular culture generally doesn't persist. Cultural icons like Disney and Justin Timberlake are transmitted quickly, thanks to technology -- that just means their replacements will be transmitted quickly, too.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:46 AM on January 19, 2004


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