“Animation offers a medium of storytelling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world,” said Walt Disney of his beloved cartoons. While it is true that cartoons are an interesting medium of visual entertainment, their unique ability to convey information to people, adults and children alike, make the animated film medium one of the most far reaching means of propaganda. Today it is impossible to imagine American animated cinema without Disney and its cartoons. The American captivation with Disney has not changed much in the seventy years since World War II. In the early 1940s, two thirds of Americans went to the movies every week and these moviegoers were enamored with the Disney characters (Stillich). This love affair with characters like Donald Duck and Goofy made the Disney ‘Toons effective and educational propagandists.
Propaganda: A Definition
The concept of film propaganda is neither new nor innovative. It is a medium that has been explored and utilized by nations around the world to indoctrinate, educate and bend the minds of millions. During World War II, propaganda was used and exploited by all warring nations, the United States included. “During World War II the United States conducted a propaganda campaign against Nazi Germany of a magnitude never before seen in American history” and the Disney studios played a key part in this history-making crusade against Der Fuehrer. (Laurie 1).
Before discussing the importance and effectiveness of Disney’s wartime propaganda, it is imperative to have an intimate understanding of the term “propaganda” and what it implies. Propaganda is defined as “any organized attempt by an individual, group, or government verbally, visually, or symbolically to persuade a population to adopt its views and repudiate the views of an opposing group” (Laurie 6). While the term propaganda is usually uttered oozing with negative connotation, it is important to understand that it is not only the tool of “totalitarian regimes,” but is also employed by “liberal democracies” (Taylor 3). The only difference between these two propaganda users (or abusers) is the intended audience and the rival group being criminalized.
Disney Gets Drafted
As already mentioned, the United States readily took part in the propaganda parley of World War II. The threat of subversive Nazi propaganda on U.S. soil caused private citizens to use their contacts to pressure the government into counteracting the “attack on democracy” (Laurie 30-32). This spurred the creation of government organizations such as the U.S. Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) and the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The role of these organizations was to oversee the propaganda released on behalf of the government (Laurie 45). The military naturally became involved in the creation and implementation of propaganda films to promote anti-Nazi feelings across a nation...