Monday, April 23, 2018

The part about Disney's frozen head, however, is completely accurate

There's a lot of interesting and important stuff to discuss in this article by Derek Thompson, both in terms of the implications of Disney's starting a streaming service and in the ways that Thompson's reporting is shaped and often distorted by the need to adhere to a standard narrative. Unfortunately, I really don't have time to delve into the first at all (maybe later) and, for the moment, I'm just going to look at one particularly egregious paragraph to illustrate the second.
No company has been more responsible for shaping the modern entertainment landscape than Walt Disney. In 1937, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, its first feature film, Disney invented the family blockbuster. In 1954, with Disneyland, an anthology series hosted by Walt Disney himself, it became the first movie studio to strike out for the wild west of television. Since then, Disney’s dominance has only grown. Of the dozen films with the largest worldwide box-office take since 2010, Disney released eight.

While the dates and numbers are correct, pretty much everything else in this paragraph excluding the final sentence is wrong. It is very much the standard narrative and, not coincidentally, one which Disney would very much like you to believe, but it's not the way it happened.

With all due respect to the success and influence of snow white, saying that all Disney invented the family blockbuster is simply silly. Loads of counterexamples here, including the films of arguably the biggest star of the time, Shirley Temple.

 The claim that Disney was the first studio to make a major play for television is even worse. RKO set up a television division in 1944 when the industry consisted of a handful of stations, a full decade before Disney got into the business.  Through its stake in the Dumont network, Paramount had been there since 1946. Warner Bros. had been flirting with the business for years and would finally hit on a tremendously successful slate of TV Westerns shortly after the debut of Disney.

None of this is meant to take away from Disney's remarkable accomplishments in the medium, particularly the unprecedented impact of the Davy Crockett shows, but the version told here is simply bullshit. You can make the case for Walt Disney being the first major film producer in the field (assuming you're fairly specific about “major”) and certainly for the man being a television pioneer, but the standard narrative of innovation, disruption, dominance, simply doesn't fit the facts.

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