See You Real Soon: Imagining the Child in Disney's Cold-War Natural Order
by Nicholas Sammond

Disneyland Decoded

This talk examines Walt Disney Productions' entry into the new medium of television in the 1950s by considering how Disney used the metaphor of place in the production of its "Disneyland" and "Mickey Mouse Club" programs. This approach intersected in meaningful ways with popular and professional understandings of the effect of television on children and adults, and on American society as a whole. Many of these understandings imagined television as a place apart from and yet within the American home. In this paper I consider the consequences and possibilities afforded by these understandings, for the corporation, the individual, and the culture.

Television's arrival coincided with an explosion in suburban development and a reconfiguration of the American home and community, and the image of the frontier was one of the principal means Americans used to make sense of those changes. Since the publication of Frederick Turner's The Frontier in American History in 1920, the frontier had operated as a master trope in any number of discussions on the American psyche and Hollywood certainly had a long history of producing oaters, from Hopalong Cassidy to John Wayne. But the association of the American frontier with an emerging suburban landscape was very much a creation of the 1950s. As David Riesman imagined it in 1954, the same year that "Disneyland" premiered, the settling of the American suburbs recapitulated frontier living, both in its familiarity and in its strangeness:

...I think we can look at the people of this [middle-American] suburb rather differently.... We can see them, for one thing, as explorers. Whereas the explorers of the last century moved to the frontiers of production and opened fisheries, mines, and mills, the explorers of this century seem... to be moving to the frontiers of consumption.... The move to the suburb, as it occurs in contemporary America, is emotionally, if not geographically, something almost unprecedented historically; and those who move to any new frontier are likely to pay a price, in loneliness and discomfort (Riesman 1954, 211-212).

For popular social critics such as Riesman, and for their middle-class audiences, the frontier was a means for understanding life in cold-war America. The trope embodied a desperate optimism, a need to see American mass culture as originating in a natural landscape and able to successfully assimilate later cultural incursions into that landscape. More than just a sociologist's metaphor for a new social formation, though, the frontier was in itself a popular explanation for a seemingly new era. And the television screen in particular formed a symbolic boundary layer between the realm of civilization and the naturalized realm of the suburbs, between the desires of television producers and their counterparts on the other side of the screen, the viewers. 

Disneyland As Place/Imaginary

There's a certain easy pleasure to be gained in imagining Disneyland as a physical representation of the 1950s middle-class imaginary. If you walked down Main Street USA, you soon arrived at a central hub which linked a mysterious and primordial nature made visible (in Adventureland) to an essential American past (Frontierland), to the universe of Disney's lifelike cartoon creatures (in Fantasyland), to an American future in which the mysteries of science were made understandable and available (in Tomorrowland). These disparate realms were made coherent under the sign of Disney, in the figure of Walt as the protypical American, and by an understanding of Disney that visitors developed long before they ever set foot in Anaheim, California.

For Disneyland did not begin simply as a theme park. The name also referred to a Wednesday-evening ABC television program that Disney had designed to sell the park. To speak of `Disneyland' in the 1950s, then, was to speak simultaneously of a parcel of land in Anaheim and of a central component in the then-new, trans-domestic, public/private ritual of family TV watching.In both the real and the metaphoric sense, Disney framed its entry into the new medium of television in the 1950s as the construction of a place apart in which consumers could experience themselves as Americans.

Even though it was criticized for plugging the theme park and upcoming Disney theatrical releases, and for shamelessly recycling old Disney footage, the television show was extremely popular. The viewing public came back week after week, in record numbers, to watch frontier stories, nature documentaries, and dramas that featured live animals as protagonists in which Disney's mastery of anthropomorphism policed the border between the natural and the cultural. The park may have existed to anchor that experience, but first and foremost it happened in the American home. As a place and as a program, Disneyland was designed to link the prehistoric past to an American national past, as well as to an imagined future, to give America a sensuous and comprehensible architecture that could be experienced through consumption, and central to this design was the notion of the frontier.


1954 was a watershed year in Disney's reconquest of the American frontier. In August of that year, Disney released to critical acclaim "The Vanishing Prairie," a nature documentary about the grasslands of the American plains which celebrated the natural American landscape as the generative principle of American culture. In October, the "Disneyland" television program premiered, and in November and in December Disney featured three Davy Crockett episodes. In its instructions to its exhibitors, it urged them to link these products in a seamless web of history:

Special displays of books and stories dealing with such personalities as Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, George Rogers Clark and other American heroes, can be effectively surrounded with stills from "The Vanishing Prairie." A placard reading: "Before any of these adventures took place, the vast plains of America offered great sagas of tense and dramatic excitement. See the powerful story the grasslands before man ever lived! See Walt Disney's `THE VANISHING PRAIRIE'! (Walt Disney Productions 1954).

Yet this second conquest of North America entailed much more than a couple of television programs, a few coonskin caps, and some cute animal tricks. For Disney, laying claim to the American landscape began with a complex process of erasure and reinscription through which it performed the regulation of the boundary between the human and the animal. As early as 1950, the nature film Beaver Valley (1950) positioned the protagonists of the film (beavers) as preceding, yet providing a (properly American) template for subsequent waves of human incursion into the landscape:

The beaver, whose pelts lured pioneers into the West long before gold and land stampeded the emigrant horde, is the leading character in this dramatic presentation of American animal life cycles.... A great provider and family man, the beaver is shown in home-and-dam building and in battle with enemies...(Walt Disney Productions 1950).

The rhetoric of this description is almost transparent. The beaver, a `great provider and family man,' is an `American animal' whose pelt attracted the `pioneers' into the landscape long before a greedy `emigrant horde' arrived in search of gold and land. Between the real landscape and its denizens and the first pioneers there existed a real bond, which contrasted with the atavistic desires of subsequent arrivals, one which could be rekindled as a strategy for recuperation in which 1950s media consumers could overlook the social complexities of American democratic culture, to a purer version of America which derived, not from any particular previous national culture (not even from Anglo settler culture), but from the landscape itself.

In Disney's suburban frontier imaginary, the human pioneers that struck the template for settling the suburbs had their own predecessors in the animals that occupied the landscape before their arrival. In Beaver Valley (1950), the beaver was depicted as a `homesteader' of a particularly libertarian bent whose enlightened self-interest served everyone: "This little homesteader is the valley's number one citizen..." the narrator intoned. "Yet he builds not in the interest of public welfare, but solely for his own protection....The beaver is a true pioneer... For wherever he fashions his dams, others follow...." Like the settlers before him, the beaver's civilizing influence attracted like-minded creatures, and soon a community had sprung up, and "[a]ll over Beaver Valley mothers are looking after their young, teaching them the art of self-preservation...."

In this imaginary, the arrival of human pioneers in the landscape was virtually inevitable. They were simply the next wave of pioneers in nature's grand design. The American landscape produced families and stable communities by dint of its very nature. It taught them how to build for their own protection out of necessity. It even authorized cold-war panoptic practices, as when the animals in Beaver Valley (1950) banded together, the narrator announced, to protect the neighborhood:

Beaver country is fine country... settlers are pouring in... and whenever you have a land rush, there's sure to be at least one unsavory character among them.... Like this coyote who has strayed a long way from his native plains.... Beaver Valley should be easy pickin's...! What makes it hard is the vigilance committee. It seems that a coyote can't make a move these days... without somebody giving the alarm!

Disney's anthropomorphic landscape wasn't merely overwritten with human qualities, it was discursively generative of those qualities, and a natural humanity with very specific social qualities was simply a necessary iteration of that landscape. This figuration was not so far removed from psychologist Erik Erikson's (1950) argument that essentially American behaviors (particularly those of women) could be traced to the American frontier:

The American woman in frontier communities was the object of intense rivalries on the part of tough and often desperate men....In that early rough economy hewn out of hard nature it was she who contributed the finer graces of living.... In her children she saw future men and women who would face contrasts in rigid sedentary and shifting migratory life. They must be prepared for any number of extreme opposites in milieu, and always ready to seek new goals and to fight for them in merciless competition (Erikson 1950).

In short, Disney's animals merely clarified a 1950s commonplace that the frontier encounter with nature had infused the development of metropolitan Euroamerican civilization with a much-needed pragmatism, a distinctly American quality that made the immigrant into the native.

TV Effects: Policing The New Frontier

We have said something about television. Now, what is a child? A child is a young animal learning to be a human....(Schramm et al. 1961, 142).

The 1950s can properly (if not technically) be called the decade in which television was born, as well as the decade in which the study of the effects of media on children became firmly institutionalized. In 1948, communication researcher Wilbur Schramm reported, there were roughly 100,000 television sets in the United States. In 1949, there were a million; at the end of 1959, 50 million--for a TV in seven out of eight homes. During the same period, arguments about the effects of television had changed from editorials bemoaning the medium as yet one more assault by the forces of mass media against decency, to vague studies of the effects of television on family togetherness, to detailed and rigorous research that attempted to isolate television's precise effect on the minds, bodies, and social relationships of children and adults alike.

One of the greatest concerns among social scientists and lay critics about the effects of television was that it would increase conformity in American society. Family viewing would reduce the complex interpersonal relations of family life to the uniform practice of silent watching. In a frenzy of mass consumption, families would be encouraged to buy the same products at the same time for their mass-produced suburban homes, children would develop status issues surrounding the possession of those products. Summing up these concerns, historian Foster Dulles warned:

In the case of children, who are particularly susceptible to all influences making for conformity, television does often appear to spell out attitudes from which the child departs at his peril. The first of these is the compulsion to watch television. And then there are all the behavior patterns which television suggests as the accepted norm for well-adjusted boys and girls. Somewhat ironically, in the light of complaints that the freedom and individualism of frontier days have been lost, it might be noted that the popularity of Westerns remains one of the most intriguing features of television programming. Witness how the child world can be swept by such a craze as the Davy Crockett fad! (Dulles 1960, 15).

By the end of the decade the medium was a prominent node in a mass cultural system that promised prosperity and national unity on a scale never before imagined, and the threat of a totalitarian uniformity via the surrender of American individuality to aa set of uniform technologies and social practices. Thus Dulles could find strange comfort in children's mass consumption of the frontier individualism of Davy Crockett as compensating for the standardization of behavior that television seemed capable of producing. If mass consumption was an inevitable component in television watching, at least it might be ameliorated by symbols of an idealized individualism.

In this imaginary, television was a place where advertisers got to meet and influence children. In the 1954 study "What Effect Does TV Advertising Have on Children?" (Brumbaugh 1954), a researcher asserted that the children she studied showed alarming recall when asked to list the products they had seen on television, and that "...[w]hen asked reasons for liking or disliking commercials, many of the children gave slogans verbatim... [such as] "It is good for the teeth and body building; the man said so" (Brumbaugh 1954). In Television and Our Children (Shayon 1951), journalist Robert Shayon warned parents that "...[a]dvertisers control television..." and that

A heavy majority (67 per cent) [of those advertisers] believes that viewing cuts into children's reading and study time sufficiently to be detrimental to their education. One states bitterly that he must eat dinner in the dark so the family can watch TV. Another hails the medium as a great boon to manufacturers of cowboy suits and toy guns, but denies it any other virtue. (Shayon 1951, 19-20).

In narratives reminiscent of those used to describe the victims of totalitarian `brainwashing,' popular critics conjured up images of mesmerized children unable to tear their eyes and their bodies away from TV. Even Wilbur Schramm, who dismissed most of television's purported negative effects, acknowledged its uncanny attraction:

One of the distinguishing characteristics of television is its absorbing quality....It commands both eyes and ears. It focuses attention on movement within a small space. It puts this small space into one's living room, or beside the dining table, or wherever one finds it most convenient. A user does not have to go out, or buy tickets. Without rising from his chair, he can connect his vision and hearing to studios, stages, and new cameras in distant places. All the conditions for attention and absorption are therefore built into the medium (Schramm et al 1961 135).

Television was thus an instrument which actually created a bracketed, separate space within the home, a space that encompassed other, distant, spaces, and which displaced viewers by absorbing them into those spaces. And the viewers most likely to be absorbed into that space were children, especially those whose parents didn't properly care for them.

As Ellen Seiter has demonstrated, mothers in particular were held responsible for exposing their children to television. Cautionary tales were built around the figure of the mother who dared to use the technology as a substitute for one-to-one contact in child care. "Let's Get Rid of Tele-Violence" (1956), an article in Parents' Magazine that blamed television for an increase in juvenile violence imagined a scenario in which an ignorant mother inadvertantly neglected her children through well-meaning inattention:

Surveys show that youngsters average 22 to 27 hours a week in front of TV sets. Television is used by many a mother as a "baby-sitter." She leaves her children with the set, and while she is in the kitchen, trying to get a pure, balanced diet for their stomachs, their minds and emotions are being fed with huge hunks of cheap brutality (Wharton 1956).

In terms very similar to those deployed by alarmists today, the author dismissed ambiguous or contrary research and worked backward from anecdotal evidence of individual tragedies seemingly spurred by television to a broad suggestion that violence on television increased aggression and violence in all children. Caught between parents and advertisers, effects research escaped the bind by augmenting the baby-sitter argument to suggest that any child could be negatively affected by bad television as part of a larger pattern of parental neglect. Though this sort of rhetoric was meant to counter with reason more hysterical calls for reform, it created a trope in which bad parenting seemed a matter of mere inattention. The moment a mother let her guard down, television was there, waiting like a stranger with candy:

Television is the shortest cut yet devised, the most accessible backdoor to the grownup world. Television is never too busy to talk to our children. It never shuts them off because it has to prepare dinner. Television plays with them, shares its work with them. Television wants their attention, goes to any length to get it (Shayon 1951).

The price for failing to regulate the child's viewing was an unbalanced child who would find in television satisfaction for and amplification of unwholesome desires and feelings. Summarizing the findings of `child psychologists,' Shayon warned parents:

If a child's basic needs are not satisfied...a vicious cycle is set in motion which feeds upon itself, creating an "excessive" reservoir of aggression in the child. Such a child, whether he rebels openly or becomes deceptively obedient, develops a craving for violence and fantasy which drives him continually to the mass media, particularly TV. There the child finds unlimited fare but no wholesome satisfaction for an abnormal appetite (Shayon 1951, 35).

The good parent regulated her child's consumption, because the child's viewing experience, Wilbur Schramm suggested, was a separate reality that needed to be monitored as much as its time in `real life':

As parents, we can try to make our children secure in their interpersonal relationships, and maximize their reality experiences both on television and in real life, so that they will perceive alternatives to the hyperthyroid part of television (Schramm et al. 1961).

This last comment hinted that there were parts of television, perhaps places therein, that were more `real' than others. This was the discursive matrix within which notions of childhood, child-rearing, and media consumption circulated when Walt Disney Productions entered television in the early 1950s.

  Back in Disneyland: Disney as Good Advertising

From its first press releases and studio tours for reporters, Disney has had a long tradition of showcasing its facilities and production processes in order to imbricate its consumers in a circuit of production and consumption, and as a way to showcase new products. Thus it isn't surprising that, flush from the success of its first Christmas special in 1950, which was little more than an infomercial for Alice In Wonderland, Walt Disney would inform his stockholders:

....In these highly competitive days, we must use the television screen along with every other promotion medium, to increase our potential audience.... Video is reaching its level as entertainment but we firmly believe that motion pictures are still your best entertainment. As a promotion medium, however, television has attained maturity as most top sales executives in the nation have recognized... (Walt Disney, in Walt Disney Productions 1951).

And it wasn't long before the company had put together "Disneyland," the television program, which aired on ABC on October 27, 1954 and ran for four years until it was replaced by "Walt Disney Presents."

Even though Walt and Mickey co-hosted the opening of "Disneyland," the program wasn't everything Walt had promised. The Hollywood Reporter warned:

The first Disneyland, most disappointing opener of the season after all that ballyhoo, grabbed more than half of the potential audience. But if the second chapter isn't better, viewers will switch back to Liberace....

Disney was described as a huckster (albeit a loveable one) and the amount of recycled material in the program was rated a disappointment. The Chicago Tribune was more positive in its review, however, and accurately predicted that the program would become a central feature in a new American domestic ritual, the TV dinner. During the 1954 Christmas season, Disney released 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and simultaneously aired a `making of' episode on "Disneyland." As the theme park's opening day approached, the program devoted so much more time to pitching the park that one journalist complained:

We love Disneyland dearly, but feel that Professor Walt should know that we, in company with many other televiewers, do not love him so blindly as to overlook the commercials he's been dishing out disguised as regular programs.... Walt has been getting away with murder.... (Williams 1955).

Echoing critics' concerns about television's address to children, the reviewer offered anecdotal evidence of the effect of Disney's postmodern approach to the question of the relationship between content and context when his son responded to one of Disney's behind-the-scenes looks at Disneyland:

The nine-year-old Junior Dialer, unwise to the ways of the hucksters and pitch men, took the bait hook and all. "Take me there, Daddy," was the precise quote, long before the program was over (Williams 1955).

In spite of the critical complaints, the show was a success with its viewers. In 1955, the program's first year out, Disney reported to its stockholders, "Disneyland" had exceeded expectations:

DISNEYLAND is...reaching over 40 million viewers weekly, according to... [the] American Research Bureau, Nielsen, Trendex, and other[s]....We have embraced television not only for itself and its possibilities, but also to exploit and sell our motion picture product.... (Walt Disney Productions 1955).

The public seemed willing to tolerate (if not expect) a certain amount of self-promotion, providing it was entertaining. Disney traded on its celebration of its eponymous founder's genius, and on the sense of inclusion in a semi-mystical process that its `behind the scenes' promotions allowed. Much of the company's public persona hinged upon a narrative of revelation with Walt as the public's avuncular Virgil, gladly guiding its viewers through different hidden worlds--from the secrets of the atom, to the mating habits of the seal, to the making of an animated cartoon. In a public-relations sleight of hand, Disney appeared to celebrate the productive processes behind its commodities, rather than masking them.

The program soon moved beyond advertising and behind-the-scenes promotional tours, however, presenting material that recapitulated the thematic structure of the park. Each episode opened with an introduction by Walt, a framing device in which he not only announced the evening's fare, but usually offered a homily relating it to experiences in his own life. Individual episodes featured one or more of Disney's short cartoons, a segment from one of its True-Life-Adventure nature films, one of the `science factual' short features it was developing for its educational market--such as "Our Friend the Atom" or "Mars and Beyond"--a frontier adventure story, or a nature drama in which an animal protagonist struggled to find its place in the natural world.

"Disneyland" thus served as a clearing house for Disney, allowing it to recycle old shorts and features while generating an aura of nostalgia around them (enhancing Disney's claim as an integral part of American history), and to develop stories for theatrical release. Over the years, Disney repeatedly reported to its stockholders that television was serving as a proving ground for such theatrical releases as Davy Crockett and Old Yeller:

Television...has provided an exciting new stimulus to our creative efforts. We are now able to work closer to the entertainment appetite of the public--much closer than when most of our production was animation and had to be planned in anticipation of the public's moods and market conditions well in the future. (Walt Disney, in Walt Disney Productions 1957).

In a very real sense, television was for Disney a window through which to view its audience in its natural habitat, and to adjust itself to as taste and desire demanded. 

The Mickey Mouse Club: Disney as Prophylactic Space

Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" television program premiered on October 3 1955, almost one year after the premier of "Disneyland" and shortly after the park had opened to the public. The program ran in the after-school slot, that crucial and contested zone in children's programming in which mothers were likely to be occupied preparing dinner, fathers still at work, and school-age children left to their own devices. Children's viewing during this time period troubled social critics concerned with media effects because it lacked parental supervision, could cut into children's homework, and might keep them from more salubrious outdoor play. At the same time, though, the slot was considered a gold mine for advertisers in which they could pitch directly to children without having to accommodate other demographics. Programming that occupied this time slot, then, had to respond to a variety of social and institutional forces: it had to deliver youthful audiences to advertisers without appearing too intent on obtaining that market; it had to entertain an increasingly critically adept market segment without threatening or alienating parents; and to some degree it had to appear to address concerns about media effects on children. For the most part, broadcasters responded to these conflicting forces by airing exciting and melodramatic programming--particularly westerns, such as "Maverick" or "Cheyenne" or more generic adventure programming such as "Lassie"--interspersed with advertising restrained enough to pass muster as not overly manipulative of children's suggestible natures, but still targeting a youth audience. Some broadcasters offered cartoons, or children's variety programming.

This was the niche that Disney moved into and helped shape with the "Mickey Mouse Club." Like "Disneyland," the program was highly themed. Monday was Fun With Music Day, Tuesday was Guest Star Day, Wednesday was Anything Can Happen Day, Thursday was Circus Day, and Friday was Talent Roundup Day. Each program was further subdivided and regulated: it began with a sing-along anthem (the "Mickey Mouse March"), then continued with segments that repeated day to day and week to week, including cartoons, newsreels, serial stories, nature segments, and other special reports on the nature and science.

Walt Disney, who always wore a suitcoat and tie for his introductions to "Disneyland," was absent from the "Mickey Mouse Club" suggesting that the company didn't find his reassuring, avuncular presence as necessary for its child audiences as it did for their parents. The two men who took his place as masters of ceremony, Jimmy and Roy, dressed as outsized boys in their own mouse-ear hats and joined in the opening roll call, behaving more like larger and older children than authority figures. Although Jimmy and Roy narrated the unfolding of each program and directed the child mouseketeers in their games, their outfits and form of address suggested a relative degree of equality with their charges on both sides of the screen. Unlike "Disneyland"--which crafted a world that repeated, over and over, tales of family life across species and historical epochs--the "Mickey Mouse Club" was meant to read as an adult-free zone, a clubhouse for kids in which the grownups masked their maturity.

Exhibiting a quasi-fascistic militarism--complete with anthems, drilling, roll calls, and uniforms--that seemed unlikely to encourage the individualism central to the upbringing of proper young Americans, the show appeared a poor candidate for delivering positive media effects to children. Read through the lens of popular child-rearing discourses of the time, though, the "Mickey Mouse Club" provided exactly what parents were told they needed to raise their children properly. In an imaginary in which children were meant to locate themselves comfortably between poles of anarchy and rigid conformity, the program presented an environment in which mouseketeers onscreen and off learned songs, dance routines, crafts, and other skills in an environment charged with their own desire to learn and grow, rather than with the force of external authority. Jimmy and Roy's presence as oversized children allowed for the illusion of a symbolic space wholly populated by children yet not wholly devoid of responsible limitation and observation. If television were to serve as babysitter, this was as good a babysitter as one could expect--one that offered a space for locating and developing skills and interests through free play, monitored by adults whose masquerade as children permitted the illusion of the absence of constraining cultural authority that might unduly influence a child's exploration of its natural talents and inclinations. 
As had been the case with "Disneyland" and with its True-Life Adventures, Disney modeled the relations it presented in the "Mickey Mouse Club" on this idea of a constrained, orderly, and purposeful nature, recycling, for example, segments of its True-Life Adventures and other science shorts. Beyond moments from its True-Life Adventures, Disney also included a weekly "International Newsreel" about children in foreign countries, as well as two segments narrated by Jiminy Cricket--"The Nature of Things" and "This Is You"--which were meant to tie the child's understanding of the natural world to its understanding of itself. Combining animation and live-action, "The Nature of Things" was meant to reveal to children the underlying logic of natural adaptation. In "This Is You," children were encouraged to understand themselves and their bodies as natural organisms to be understood in the same way that other creatures were understood (cf. Walt Disney Productions 1956b). Finally, moving from "This Is You" to "What I Want To Be," the program worked to link children's knowledge of themselves as natural creatures to carefully gendered career narratives. In the first "What I Want To Be," a boy and a girl are granted the chance to pretend to be their adult selves working in their chosen careers:

THE AIRLINE PILOT AND THE HOSTESS: Our pilot and hostess are a boy and a girl, each twelve years old, who have the rare opportunity to experience every phase in the operation of a modern airline. The girls goes through "hostess training" school--the boy learns the many responsibilities of being a pilot. (Walt Disney Productions 1956b).

Thus, Disney produced a daily framing narrative that moved from the timelessness of the animal world, into the child's body, and on into the future through the enactment of fantasies in which that body was projected into adult roles. At the same time, "The Mickey Mouse Club" provided another lens through which Disney could track its audience, which by 1957, Disney reported to its stockholders, reached "...7,045,000 homes daily and [was] watched by audiences totalling 21,000,000" (Walt Disney Productions 1958). For Disney, this translated into a guaranteed audience for as many product placements as it could safely work into each program, as well as for the program's many sponsors. This was in addition, of course, to the uniform hats and clothing that offscreen mouseketeers could purchase, all of which were licensed to Disney, as well as to the myriad Mickey Mouse products long since on the market, including everything from bath towels to milk of magnesia and weather vanes.

The "Mickey Mouse Club" was thus designed to provide an appropriate "babysitter" for mothers who found in television an extremely useful device for occupying their children while they attended to necessary domestic labor, such as cooking and cleaning. In addition, the idea of a `club' allowed for the construction of a semi-private space accessible through `membership' which offset the very new and very real sense of an unbridled televisual public sphere taking root in the privacy of the domestic. Disney's character-identified and program-identified merchandise became (directly or indirectly) tokens of membership in a society of viewers, and which extended to activities and rituals outside of viewing which suggested the building of a community of practice among children left in the care of the television. Thus it was no surprise that Parents' Magazine carried a positive review for a collection sing-along records from Disney, recommending the "Official Mickey Mouse Club March and Song; Mickey Mouse Club Pledge and Sho-Jo-Ji; You and The Mickey Mouse Club Book Club Song; Mickey Mouse Picture Book Song and When I Grow Up..." along with numerous other Disney books, films, and records, and awarding a medal to Walt (along with Jonas Salk) in 1956

For his two fine TV shows, beloved by children, "Disneyland" and "The Mickey Mouse Club," for Disneyland, his imaginative amusement park for children; and for his extraordinary nature studies in the True Life Adventure film series, including the current one, "The African Lion" (Parents' Magazine 1956).

  Disney's Road to To Education/Career/Natural Ability

To reinforce the sense of Disney programs and products as good for children, the studios also issued a viewer's guide for teachers, titled Disney On Television. The guide provided a viewing schedule for the upcoming season, as well as capsule synopses of the programs and suggested classroom activities. Its introduction, capped with a picture of Walt Disney and closed with a reproduction of his trademark signature, explained the rationale behind the guide:

This publication... has been designed to be of direct help to our many friends in the field of education who have told us they find educational values in our programs. Our mail has been heavy with requests from teachers who seek additional supplementary materials which relate to the programs and which can be used in the classroom (Walt Disney, in Walt Disney Productions 1956b).

Seemingly responding to spontaneous requests for assistance caused by the inherently educational nature of Disney's programs, the company produced thousands of the guides for distribution in the schools, and by extension (since they were meant to augment home viewing), in the home.

This guide was ostensibly meant to supply a substantial link between the child's formation in two distinct environments: the home and school. To a certain extent, those worlds were antipathetic: school was a regulated, structuring organ more or less associated with the state, while the 1950s middle-class home was imagined as a haven from the excesses of that rationalization. Yet the figure of the child and the discourse of media effects--the competing ideas that television might adversely or positively affect a child's abilities--linked both worlds through a set of competing hopes and anxieties. The themed experience of "Disneyland," with `Professor Walt' as narrator, seemed to bridge these two realms via `educational entertainment.'

The company furthered the network of imbrication anchored by its television shows by urging its distributors and exhibitors to involve a wide variety of community groups in the promotion of its nature films:

Such groups as The Child Welfare League, The Community Chest, The American Legion, University Clubs, The Kiwanis, Rotarians, Lions, and Police Benefit Leagues are always anxious to place their "seal of approval" on motion pictures with...wide community appeal (Walt Disney Productions 1954)

For another nature film, Disney added to that list the:

....[the] Curator of the local museum.... Editors of school pages, photographic pages and science pages of local newspapers.... Officers of PTA, Women's Clubs.... Lions, Rotary, Elks.... President of the Garden Club....Adult Advisors of Girl and Boy Scouts...(Walt Disney Productions 1953b).

Finally, the company previewed many of its nature films in museums and schools, earning the gratitude of administrators and teachers, such as one from Los Angeles who wrote,

Yesterday I was one of the teachers of Los Angeles County privileged to attend a special screening of your new True-Life Adventure film, "The Living Desert". I was thrilled beyond words with what I saw.... I'm wasting no time in letting my boys and girls and fellow teachers know about this picture. This is just to let you know how much your work is being appreciated by members of the teaching profession....THANKS! (Knight 1953).

A Member of Community and Structuring Community

The effectiveness of Disney's landscape lay not entirely in the performances of its animal actors (i.e., its animators, editors, and script writers), nor entirely in the receptiveness of an audience primed for life on the new frontier. What marked Disney's practice was the degree to which the company was willing to engage in practices of imbrication, and to clearly signal the value of their products (including Walt) as detailed guides to the natural (human) family. For what made these many efforts work was that they found an audience hungry for a coherent model of a rapidly rationalizing and modernizing American culture. In a 1949 article in Parents' Magazine titled "What I Know About Girls," Disney played the role of one of his naturalist/cameramen, observing his daughters in their natural habitat of home, carpool, and school. Among other things, what Disney learned by observing his wife and daughters was that, whatever outward show they might affect, an essential women's nature was far from gentle and retiring--at least when the search for a proper mate was on. "I never knew females could be so aggressive and predatory!" the astonished Walt informed Parents' readers. Four years and several True-Life Adventures later, in a 1953 article in American Magazine titled "What I've Learned From the Animals," Disney would complete the cycle by explaining the nature of mating to his daughter, Diane. When she complained to him about the inequity of the polygamous mating habits of the seals he had depicted in Seal Island (1948), he gently replied:

...this is sometimes Nature's way in the animal kingdom and among primitive people, although it may seem cruel and even immoral to us. Since only the biggest and strongest bull seals are able to win mates, this means that only the best of the race breeds. Nature considers the race rather than the individual in the battle for survival (Disney 1953).

Whether higher order animals (such as his daughters) or lower order animals (such as seals and primitives), all obeyed the same laws, and all ultimately served their respective species. When one stripped away the extraneous layers of civilization, one found the common behaviors of which culture was simply an elaboration. In its products Disney provided the map for reading the natural landscape over which was written culture, and in its public relations it provided directions for reading the map. Disney's claim to an expertise in delivering an unadulterated nature resonated in a discursive environment in which the naturally raised child was considered essential to the future well-being of an equally natural democratic capitalism, and in which parents in particular were considered unreliable arbiters of the process of enculturation in which the child moved from nature into culture. The natural animal families that preceded and underscored Disney's popular frontier human characters were templates for their human suburban counterparts. The company promised an unbroken line of sight from the new suburban landscape back toward an unpeopled frontier. Operating as a symbolic template for the new suburban frontier, Disney's thematic deconstruction and reconstruction of American culture--written on the ground at Disneyland and in the air in "Disneyland"--traveled circuits of anxiety and desire created through arguments about the positive and negative effects of mass media on children. Far from constrained by these concerns, Disney found in them a tool for shaping itself as a natural part of the cold war landscape, a landscape that Disney itself helped to produce.