Disney+ launched Tuesday, and I subscribed on the first day. (A pretty easy decision, since I have a Verizon Unlimited plan, and they offered a free year of Disney+ for free to me.) I would have subscribed anyway, because I’m a self-confessed Disney junkie. I grew up on all the old Disney movies, and I’ve gone about buying them up on Blu-ray over the years as well.
I sat down with Tomas for a while yesterday and we looked over everything the service has to offer. We watched a few things: the first episode of the X-Men cartoon, the first episode of the old Ducktales show, and the first episode of The Simpsons. (Verdict? Ducktales and the Simpsons stood up marvelously well. X-Men? That was . . . pretty bad. Disappointing, since in my memory it was completely awesome. A highlight of Saturday mornings. The writing, the character introductions, the plot . . . all very weak now. Not sure I even want to give it a second shot, honestly. And that’s sad.)
But one thing I wasn’t expecting (though I really should have) was the content disclaimers they attached to some of the shows. The original Mickey Mouse Club, Dumbo, Aristocats. (No sign of Song of the South anywhere on the service, which should surprise absolutely no one.) The disclaimer wasn’t for language or sexuality. Instead, it reads “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”
“Outdated cultural depictions” is a very tame way of saying “things that are blatantly, offensively racist,” but it’s still interesting they put in the disclaimer. (They didn’t go as far as old Tom and Jerry shows, which have a disclaimer admitting that such depictions were wrong then and are wrong now, but . . . I’m not really surprised by that, either.)
Of course, to a family-friendly studio like Disney, they’re in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. You’ve got a ton of Disney-philes who demand their Dumbos and their Peter Pans unaltered, but then you have to admit that those movies are flagrantly racist. As soon as you admit that, however, you’ve got people who will clamor that they *weren’t* racist “for their time,” or rather that “Everyone was racist back then,” which is a weak claim at best, and an outright lie at its heart. People weren’t all racist, but racism was much more acceptable by the mainstream back then.
But to make a long story short, I don’t know of a way Disney could have handled those shows without upsetting someone. So they chose this route, which is better than no disclaimer at all.
What really caught my eye, however, was the lack of any such disclaimer for The Simpsons. Yes, you could definitely have a conversation about Apu and other depictions of race on The Simpsons, but let’s be real: the way race is handled (or mis-handled) on that show pales in the face of the way it’s handled in the Siamese Cat song.
The thing is, growing up, I remember Bart Simpson being produced as Exhibit A for everything that was wrong about current media trends. The Simpsons was verboten for many families. Families who no doubt would have preferred their kids to watch something wholesome like Peter Pan or Lady and the Tramp.
So it was surprising to see we have come to a point where the wholesome and unwholesome have switched places. I know there are those who will object to this. Who will say that the Simpsons remains rude and irreverent, and people decrying Disney are being “too PC.” But I watched the Simpsons last night. It’s TV-PG for a reason. There was nothing there I was worried about. Not in the same way I’d want to have a conversation with my kids about racial stereotypes after they watch “Why Is the Red Man Red?”
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