Let the American Heritage Dictionary tell it, a hero is either the male protagonist of a literary work, a man known for his special achievements, or a sandwich filled with meats, cheeses and veggies. The heroes that most people tend to worship are of the flesh-and-blood variety, I would have to think. Greek warriors and menu items are fanciful works of man, and we are inspired by our own cleverness. Besides, we be of the same blood, ye and I. Where one succeeds, there is no reason to believe that another can’t also succeed by following the inspiring examples of our larger-than-life Dream Warriors. Like Don Quixote and his Impossibilities, a hero typically overcomes obstacles and embodies the very spirit of accomplishment in order to qualify for the big “H” on the chest. Whether mental, physical, or even social — these victories are the spark of life, the realization that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible. Hope is the last dying gasp of our Modern World.
It’s not Walt Disney’s fault that his empire has slowly become associated with Satan. It’s sad and ironic to think that there are millions of people who literally think that ol’ Unca Walt is a made-up character spokesperson, much like Aunt Jemima. Walt, the man, has been eclipsed by the remarkable dynasty that he left behind. A dynasty so huge that one would have to take great pains to avoid coming into contact with it today. The company has long since abandoned its hypothetical questions of “What Would Walt Do?” and has summarily ended up as one of the biggest targets for loathers of corporate greed. How did all of this come about? And why, when I mention that Walt Disney is my hero, do people bug their eyes out at me in disgust?
This was a kid, who literally would go out and talk to the bugs on his farm and then would walk back inside and draw them with personalities. A true creative spirit, Walt’s charisma caught on with school buddies and he was soon dabbling in bits of entertainment, from a vaudeville act called “The Two Walts” to designing animated commercials for movie houses. His love of a good story and the desire to further his art resulted in the creation of a film studio that would pioneer an art form; the full-length animated feature. Not many people can claim that they invented something as powerfully significant, yet Walt didn’t think of it in such terms. To him, each new development was a gift to the dreamers of the world. That was his own Quixotic goal. To mine the innocence out of every one of us. And with wide-eyed naiveté, he used his boundless imagination to conjure up films, cartoons, live-action movies, theme parks, and modes of transportation. When Walt Disney passed away on December 15th, 1966, the thriving company known as Walt Disney Productions passed into the hands of a fevered bunch of shocked and saddened trustees in The Dream. Walt’s brother Roy was the acknowledged money man of the duo. Whenever an animated wild hare got up Walt’s ass, Roy was the man who told his excitable brother, “look, this just isn’t financially prudent” and Walt would say “I don’t give a damn, we’ll worry about the profit later.” He believed that if you put the money into it, quality would come out and the people would be more than happy to shill out whatever it was that you asked. He called it “good business sense,” and was pretty good about it. While he was alive, Disneyland ran like a wet dream and the park’s customer service record was a hallmark of excellence for not only copy-cat theme parks but all manner of vocational industries as well. They took to emulating the “Disney Style.” Walt’s simple dreams had begun to cross over entertainment lines and began to veer into socio-economic regions. That’s more than a man. That’s a hero.
Perhaps more evocative of the term “hero” is the image of a valiant knight sweeping an endangered princess onto the back of his white steed and carrying her away to safety and more than likely, a happily romantic ending. Quite literally, Walt flashed that fairy tale at us and said, “oh, but wouldn’t it be nice?” and many of us said that indeed it would be. But his youthful optimism lost hold as the post-Walt years rolled along. Without the busy bee around to pollinate the flowers, creativity wilted. This country was already changing from the gee-whiz days of the 1920’s — a jaded, crusty shell made many folks hard and no longer inspired by pixies and talking mice. The company almost flickered out of existence in 1984, when a man named Michael Eisner jumped into the spot occupied by Walt some 18 years earlier.
Michael got shit done, nuff sed.
Though the company is currently struggling to rebound from turbulent times, Eisner has masterminded one of the most dramatic comebacks in corporate America, saving Walt’s beloved company from a drawn-and-quartered death at the hands of hostile takeover fairies. That’s quite an achievement. He could be considered a hero.
I’m still considering it.