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Read the book and write a 750-1000 word reaction (not a summary). Your goal is to communicate your personal reaction to the book as accurately as possible.
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T L
HE
IBRARY OF
C
ONTEMPORARY
T
HOUGHT
America’s most original voices
tackle today’s most provocative issues
C H
T R
How Disney Devours
the World
ARL
IAASEN
EAM
ODENT
“Revulsion is good. Revulsion is healthy. Each of us has limits,
unarticulated boundaries of taste and tolerance, and sometimes we forget
where they are. Peep Land is here to remind us; a fixed compass point by
which we can govern our private behavior. Because being grossed out is
essential to the human experience; without a perceived depravity, we’d
have nothing against which to gauge the advance or decline of culture—
our art, our music, our cinema, our books. Without sleaze, the yardstick
shrinks at both ends. Team Rodent doesn’t believe in sleaze, however, nor
in old-fashioned revulsion. Square in the middle is where it wants us all to
be, dependable consumers with predictable attitudes. The message, never
stated but avuncularly implied, is that America’s values ought to reflect
those of the Walt Disney Company, and not the other way around.”
2
Also by Carl Hiaasen
Stormy Weather
Strip Tease
Native Tongue
Skin Tight
Double Whammy
Tourist Season
Lucky You
Basket Case
Hoot
3
4
The Library of Contemporary Thought
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 1998 by Carl Hiaasen
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing
Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random
House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
www.ballantinebooks.com
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hiassen, Carl.
Team rodent : how Disney devours the world /
Carl Hiassen.—1st ed.
p. cm. — (The library of contemporary thought)
eISBN: 978-0-307-76488-1
1. Walt Disney Company. I. Title. II. Series.
PN1999.W27H53 1998
384’.8’0979494—dc21
98–16565
v3.1
5
Contents
Cover
Other Books by This Author
Title Page
Copyright
Acknowledgments
Ready to Drop
Insane Clown Michael
Bull Run
Republic of Walt
The Puppy King
Fantasy Fantasy Island
Future World
Whistle While We Work
Jungle Book
About the Author
6
Acknowledgments
For their assistance I am indebted to the intrepid
Liz Donovan and the daring Jennifer Dienst.
7
Ready to Drop
D
, November 1997. Deloused and revitalized Times Square,
home to MTV, Condé Nast, Morgan Stanley, the world’s biggest Marriott
hotel, the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, and soon a Madame
Tussaud’s wax museum.
And Peep Land. From its doorway on West Forty-second Street one can
see the glittering marquee of the new Disney Store at Broadway. More
importantly, from the Disney Store one can clearly see Peep Land: a
scrofulous, neon-lit affirmation of XXX-rated raunch.
Sleaze lives.
It lives and it beckons, though less garishly than either the Disney Store
or its rococo neighbor, the New Amsterdam Theater, where golden breezefurled banners advertise The Lion King, a musical based on a cartoon
movie. Both the cartoon (which grossed $772 million worldwide) and the
stage show (which will most likely be the most successful production in
Broadway history) were created as exemplary family entertainment by the
Walt Disney Company, which also lavishly restored the New Amsterdam
at a cost of $38 million.
In this way Disney audaciously has set out to vanquish sleaze in its
unholiest fountainhead, Times Square; the skanky oozepot to which every
live sex show, jack-off arcade, and smut emporium in the free world owes
its existence. For decades, city and state politicians had vowed to purge the
place of its legendary seediness, in order to make the streets safe, clean,
and attractive for out-of-town visitors. New Yorkers paid no attention to
such fanciful promises, for Times Square was knowledgeably regarded as
lost and unconquerable; a mephitic pit, so formidably infested that nothing
short of a full-scale military occupation could tame it. As recently as 1994
Times Square swarmed unabashedly with hookers, hustlers, and
crackheads and was the address of forty-seven porn shops.
Then Disney arrived, ultimate goodness versus ultimate evil, and the
cynics gradually went silent. Times Square has boomed.
ATELINE: TIMES SQUARE
8
The dissolute, sticky-shoed ambience of Forty-second Street has been
subjugated by the gleamingly wholesome presence of the Disney Store.
Truly it’s a phenomenon, for the shelves offer nothing but the usual crossmerchandised crapola: snow globes, wristwatches, charm bracelets,
figurines, and lots of overpriced clothes. Hard-core fans can buy matching
Mickey and Minnie garden statues, a $400 Disney Villains chess set, or a
twenty-fifth-anniversary Disney-edition Barbie doll, complete with teensy
mouse ears. Your basic high-end tourist trap is what it is.
Yet somehow the building radiates like a shrine—because it’s not just
any old store, it’s a Disney store, filled with Disney characters, Mickey and
Minnie at play in the fields of Times Fucking Square. And evidently the
mere emplacement of the iconic Disney logo above the sidewalks has been
enough to demoralize and dislodge some of the area’s most entrenched sin
merchants.
The mayor of New York says that’s a good thing, and citizens agree:
good for tourism, good for children, good for the morale of the
community. If Times Square can be redeemed, some would say, then no
urban Gomorrah is beyond salvation. All you need is a Disney retail
outlet! (As of this writing, there are more than 550 in eleven countries.)
It’s not surprising that one company was able to change the face of
Forty-second Street, because the same company changed the face of an
entire state, Florida, where I live. Three decades after it began bulldozing
the cow pastures and draining the marshes of rural Orlando, Disney stands
as by far the most powerful private entity in Florida; it goes where it
wants, does what it wants, gets what it wants. It’s our exalted mother teat,
and you can hear the sucking from Tallahassee all the way to Key West.
The worst damage isn’t from the Walt Disney World Resort itself
(which is undeniably clean, well operated, and relatively safe) or even
from the tourists (although an annual stampede of forty million Griswolds
cannot help but cut an untidy swath). The absolute worst thing Disney did
was to change how people in Florida thought about money; nobody had
ever dreamed there could be so much. Bankers, lawyers, real-estate
salesmen, hoteliers, restaurateurs, farmers, citrus growers—everyone in
Mickey’s orb had to drastically recalibrate the concepts of growth,
prosperity, and what was possible. Suddenly there were no limits. Merely
by showing up, Disney had dignified blind greed in a state pioneered by
undignified greedheads. Everything the company touched turned to gold,
so everyone in Florida craved to touch or be touched by Disney. The gates
opened, and in galloped fresh hordes. The cattle ranches, orange groves,
and cypress stands of old Orlando rapidly gave way to an execrable
9
panorama of suburban blight.
One of the great ironies upon visiting Disney World is the wave of relief
that overwhelms you upon entering the place—relief to be free of the
nerve-shattering traffic and the endless ugly sprawl. By contrast the
Disney resort seems like a verdant sanctuary. That was the plan, of course
—Team Rodent left the park buffered with thousands of unspoiled acres,
to keep the charmless roadside schlock at bay.
As Orlando exploded, business leaders (and therefore politicians)
throughout the rest of Florida watched and plotted with envy. Everyone
conspired for a cut of the Disney action, meaning overflow. The trick was
to catch the tourists after they departed the Magic Kingdom: induce them
to rent a car and drive someplace else and spend what was left of their
vacation money. This mad obsession for sloppy seconds has paid off bigtime. By the year 2000, the number of tourists visiting the Orlando area is
expected to reach forty-six million annually. That’s more than the
combined populations of California and Pennsylvania storming into
Florida every year, an onslaught few places on earth could withstand.
Many Disney pilgrims do make time to search for auxiliary amusement in
other parts of the state. High on the list is the southernmost chain of
islands known as the Keys, where I live, and where only one road runs the
length of the archipelago. Maybe you can appreciate my concern.
Disney’s recent ambitions in Times Square are modest compared to its
original mission in Florida: to establish a sovereign state within a state, a
private entertainment mecca to which every working family in America
would be lured at least once and preferably several times. And that’s
exactly what has come to pass. Disney World is the most-visited vacation
destination on the planet; kids who went there in the 1970s are bringing
their own kids today, perpetuating a brilliantly conceived cycle of
acculturation. Every youngster who loves a Disney theme park—and
almost all of them do—represents a potential lifetime consumer of all
things Disney, from stuffed animals to sitcoms, from Broadway musicals
to three-bedroom tract homes. With this strategy Disney will someday tap
into the fortunes of every person on the planet, as it now does to every
American whether we know it or not.
And though the agents of its takeover are omnipresent and not always
identified, it’s still unnerving to enter the non-Disney Virgin Megastore in
Times Square and see Kathie Lee on the ultralarge TV screen. This would
be Kathie Lee Gifford, the talk-show hostess whose signature line of
fashion clothing was revealed to have been manufactured by waifs in
squalid overseas sweatshops; the same Kathie Lee whose husband, football
10
legend Frank Gifford, briefly took up with a flight attendant who arranged
for a tabloid to publish grainy photographs of the tryst.
Here on the megascreen, though, Kathie Lee appears domestically
serene. She’s singing a tender-type love song titled “Forever and Ever,”
which (according to the graphic on the video) is available on a Disney
record label and featured in a Disney full-length animated film. Glancing
around the store, I notice I’m not the only customer frozen in place. The
others display no snickering or outright derision, but rather a woozy
glassiness of expression that dissolves only when Kathie Lee finishes her
tune. Instantly she is replaced on the jumbo tube by Marilyn Manson, a
flamboyant metalhead whose plangent ode to masochism puts an
inexplicable bounce in my step. According to rock lore, several of Mr.
Manson’s ribs were surgically removed so he would be limber enough to
perform oral sex upon himself. A future duet with Kathie Lee would seem
out of the question, but one can always hope.
A few blocks away, Peep Land hangs on by cum-crusted fingernails.
Inside … well, just try to get past the video racks. Sample: volumes one
through five of Ready to Drop, an anthology featuring explicit (and
occasionally team-style) sex with women in their third trimester of
pregnancy. And that’s not the worst of it, not even close. The shop’s
library of bodily-function videos is extensive, multilingual, and
prominently displayed at eye level. Skin a-crawl, I am quickly out the
door.
Revulsion is good. Revulsion is healthy. Each of us has limits,
unarticulated boundaries of taste and tolerance, and sometimes we forget
where they are. Peep Land is here to remind us; a fixed compass point by
which we can govern our private behavior. Because being grossed out is
essential to the human experience; without a perceived depravity, we’d
have nothing against which to gauge the advance or decline of culture—
our art, our music, our cinema, our books. Without sleaze, the yardstick
shrinks at both ends. Team Rodent doesn’t believe in sleaze, however, nor
in old-fashioned revulsion. Square in the middle is where it wants us all to
be, dependable consumers with predictable attitudes. The message, never
stated but avuncularly implied, is that America’s values ought to reflect
those of the Walt Disney Company and not the other way around.
So there’s a creepy comfort to be found amidst the donkey films and
giant rubber dicks, a subversive triumph at unearthing such slag so near to
Disney’s golden portals. (Hey, Mickey, whistle on this!) Peep Land is
important precisely because it’s so irredeemable and because it cannot be
transformed into anything but what it is. Slapping Disney’s name on a
11
joint like this would not elevate or enrich it even microscopically, or cause
it to be taken for a shrine. Standing in Disney’s path, Peep Land remains a
gummy little cell of resistance.
And resistance is called for.
12
Insane Clown Michael
I
reported $18.7 billion in revenues, a thunderous 54
percent jump from the previous fiscal year. Its operating income was $3.3
billion (up 35 percent) and its net income was $1.5 billion (up 11 percent).
In 1997 its revenues surpassed $20 billion.
Disney touches virtually every human being in America for a profit.
That is rapidly becoming true as well in France, Spain, Germany, Japan,
Great Britain, Australia, China, Mexico, Brazil, and Canada. Disney will
devour the world the same way it devoured this country, starting first with
the youth. Disney theme parks have drawn more than one billion visitors,
mostly kids. Snag the children and everybody else follows—parents,
politicians, even the press. Especially the press. We’re all suckers for a
good cartoon.
The money comes in a torrent, from Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone,
Caravan, Miramax, and Hollywood Pictures; from ABC, ESPN, the
Disney Channel, Arts and Entertainment, the History Channel, and
Lifetime; from Siskel and Ebert, Regis and Kathie Lee, and Monday Night
Football; from nine TV stations, eleven AM radio stations, and ten FM
radio stations; from home videos, stage plays, music publishing, book
publishing, and seven daily newspapers; from the theme parks in Orlando,
Anaheim, Tokyo, and Paris; from computer software, toys, and
merchandise; from baseball and hockey franchises; from hotels, real-estate
holdings, retail stores, shopping centers, housing developments, and soon
even a cruise line.
At the core of Disney’s platinum mine is entertainment. No other
corporation has the capacity to crank out enough product to gorge the
public maw. But as deep and bland as the mainstream has become, there
are billions of dollars to be made outside of it; not everyone on the planet
wants G-rated fare. When Disney targets adult tastes, it’s careful to leave
Walt’s name off the credits. The same folks who brought you 101
Dalmatians, a movie featuring adorable puppies, also brought you Pulp
N 1996 THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY
13
Fiction, a movie featuring junkies, hit men, and bondage freaks. The same
folks who produce Home Improvement, a program about a wisecracking
TV handyman, are also responsible for Ellen, a program about a
wisecracking lesbian.
“Mickey is a clean mouse,” Walt Disney liked to say, but these days not
everyone thinks so. Fifteen million Southern Baptists, displeased with the
content of certain Disney films and television programs—especially Ellen
—profess to be boycotting. Protesters of like mind recently gathered at the
entrance of Disney World to demonstrate against the company’s policies
of providing health insurance to partners of gay employees and holding an
annual Gay Day at its Orlando theme parks. The demonstrators, who
foisted pamphlets on carloads of incoming tourists, belonged to Operation
Rescue National, an antiabortion group that is branching out to combat
homosexuality. One marcher carried a sign that read “If You Love Jesus,
Turn Around.” Of course the tourists kept coming. Nothing short of
flamethrowers would have stopped them. If anything is more irresistible
than Jesus, it’s Mickey.
That Disney is defying the morality police is a positive sign, one that
somewhat softens my visceral antipathy toward Team Rodent. Given a
choice between intolerant moralizers and unflinchingly ruthless profiteers,
I’ll have to stand with the Mouse every time. Many publicly held
corporations would have caved at the first throaty outcry from
fundamentalists, but Disney continues to stand firm. Obviously the Gay
Day promotion makes enough dough and generates enough goodwill that
Team Rodent can afford to ignore the Bible-thumpers.
The secret weapon is trust. Disney is the most trusted brand name in the
history of marketing. It hooks us when we’re little and never lets go, this
unshakable faith that Disney is the best at knowing what’s best. Who
better to trust with Quentin Tarantino or a lesbian sitcom?
Remember also that the the company’s granite base of consumers is a
prosperous and relatively open-minded Middle America; a Middle
America that still finds patience (and even loyalty) for Bill Clinton, a
president reported to claim biblical license for soliciting extramarital blow
jobs. Team Rodent knows the tolerance level of its audience because it
raised its audience. The fundamentalists’ “boycott” of Disney is doomed
to flop because Middle America isn’t participating and doesn’t, if you’ll
pardon the expression, give a rat’s ass. Middle America completely trusts
Mickey with sex, violence, and occasional unwholesomeness, as long as
it’s mildly entertaining.
14
Even so, one must wonder what the Disney brain trust was thinking in
the summer of 1997 when, one week after the Southern Baptists
denounced the company, its Hollywood Records division released an
album called The Great Milenko. A brief but representative sample of
lyrics:
I’d order you a drink then stir it with my dick.
And then to get your attention in a crowded place
I’d simply walk up and stick my nuts in your face.
Decidedly more Peep Land than Pat Boone. Other cuts on the album
celebrated dismemberment, mutilation, forcible sodomy, necrophilia, and,
in one instance, nonconsenting sex with a llama.
The group alleged to have written and performed these songs is named
the Insane Clown Posse. The stars are presented as two white “Detroit
street rappers” calling themselves Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. On the
album they are pictured as tongue-wagging jesters with painted faces. On
the Internet they are pitched as “a celestial circus of lunacy, madness, and
excess that travels through time and space to distort pleasant youthful
memories into a horrific living night … these clowns carry axes instead of
balloons.”
Tupac Wayne Gacy!
The outcry over The Great Milenko was immediate and predictable. Six
hours after the CD landed in music stores, Disney yanked it off the
shelves. The company said that although the lyrics had been screened (and
some songs cut) by its legal department, nobody had shared the material
with the company’s image-obsessed chairman, Michael D. Eisner.
At first it sounded plausible—Milenko bore all the signs of a
bureaucractic fuckup, and wasn’t Disney overdue? As Team Rodent’s
realm grows larger and more far-flung, airtight control becomes
increasingly difficult to maintain. With so many creative and ambitious
people on the payroll, it’s inevitable that some will slip Eisner’s reins.
But is that what really happened?
The Milenko CD was released and recalled on June 24, 1997. Other than
a brief spate of news stories—“How’d Disney Ringmasters Let It
Happen?” asked the Los Angeles Times—the incident faded quickly from
the headlines. Disney appears not to have suffered at all, financially or
imagewise. In fact, a case could be made that the company benefited from
the publicity by responding so decisively. Never before had a hundred
thousand units of anything been removed so swiftly from the reach of
innocent consumers. It was as if Disney, under siege from the religious
15
r …
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