[1 September 2004]
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
The Walt Disney phenomenon, in all its complexity, has fascinated creative types since the beginning. Sci-fi genius Philip K. Dick, master of the simulacrum, wanted to live in Disneyland, the closest approximation to the manufactured worlds of his novels; Dick was known to spend an entire advance on week-long trips to the park. The gritty poet Charles Bukowski hated the cheap sentimentality that is Disney’s stock-in-trade. According to wife Linda, Bukowski hated Mickey Mouse “because he had three fingers and no soul.” Marxist critic Ariel Dorfman found in Donald Duck all the exploitative traits of the imperial capitalist. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, with Dick another master of the simulacrum, glimpsed something dark in the soul of Disney: in America, he wrote, “The whole Walt Disney philosophy eats out of your hand with these pretty little sentimental creatures in grey fur coats. For my own part, I believe that behind these smiling eyes there lurks a cold, ferocious beast fearfully stalking us.”
In Seaguy, Grant Morrison takes his shot at the Disneyfication of the world, placing his unique stamp on the dreams and fears of Philip K. Dick, Charles Bukowski, Ariel Dorfman and Jean Baudrillard. He tells the story of Seaguy, a superhero wannabe in scuba gear who’s born too late to have any adventures. The heroes of the past are gone, the last great villain defeated; Seaguy’s days consist of playing chess with Death, watching Mickey Eye (the familiar-sounding mascot of a familiarly ubiquitous global corporation) on television, and, of course, going to the theme park with his friend Chubby da Choona, whose cigar-chomping exclamation, “Da Fug!” is the only thing separating him from a Disney trademark.
Seaguy’s world is the Un-Magic Kingdom, where imagination is sapped away by television and no one needs heroes because “everything’s great”, in the words of one former hero. Everyone is content, even bored. Meanwhile, underneath the park, children are being kidnapped by men in Mickey Eye costumes. Cameron Stewart’s two-page spread in the first issue perfectly captures Mickey’s menacing subtext: Children are crying, adults look bewildered or catatonic, and everywhere is the unblinking Eye with his dangling optic nerve. Mickey Eye is watching y`ou.
Mickey Eye is Baudrillard’s ferocious beast with the fur removed. The Disney of today is Walt Disney with the soul removed: no longer helmed by a single visionary, the man who conceived EPCOT as a techno-utopia, it’s the product of bottom-line driven suits who built Celebration, Florida, as an extension of their empire, the realization of Philip K. Dick’s vision in Time Out of Joint: a place where it’s always 1959. Disney’s version of 1959.
This is what Mickey Eye and Mickey Mouse do: not only do they re-write history, but they effectively colonize it. Disney has created its own version of the Pocahontas story, the Snow White story, the Pinocchio story—these are the stories children raised in the Age of Disney will remember, will pay to hear again and again. In Seaguy, the hero fights back against Mickey Eye’s appropriation of Zullibdig, saying, “Zullibdig’s from mythology! It’s taboo!” Social critics say Disney’s appropriation of cherished children’s stories is also taboo, a way of staking claim to the very essence of childhood and folklore. The result is the same in both cases: a world of safe counterfeits, where everything unique or interesting about our cultural heritage has been homogenized into to DisneyCo. There are no heroes, no imagination, just characters and franchises; wonders are reduced to theme parks; everything is flattened in order to be sold.
In Seaguy, the mad pharaoh who built the moon says, “Beyond taboo lies glory.” Maybe so, but glory benefits only the people compelled to chase it, not those they step over to reach it. They rest of us are like Seaguy, left to live in the world they’ve bought—the world of Celebration, Florida, where the snow starts at exactly nine P.M., as if by magic, and the baleful, unblinking Mickey Eye looks down from what used to be the moon.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/seaguy-1-3/