The NY Times Compares Walt Disney to Hitler for Apparently No Reason

In last weekend’s NY Times Sunday Magazine, the paper published a profile of artist Paul McCarthy in connection with his new show WS (which stands for “White Snow”). The epic performance piece, which opens June 19 at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Armory, will consist of “a massive, fantastical forest with towering trees, two off-scale houses, equipment and props from classic film-sets, and layers of film and sound.” During the piece, McCarthy—as Walt Disney—will participate in an orgy with Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

All that is well and good, but what alarmed me about the piece is why Times writer Randy Kennedy compared McCarthy’s portrayal of Disney to Hitler in the article’s second paragraph:

The transformation was startling not only because McCarthy, 67, had succeeded in making himself look quite a bit like Walt Disney, but also because his version of Walt smacked — obviously but also hilariously — of Hitler.

It’s hard to believe that the editors at the NY Times are naive about the implications of comparing any individual to Hitler, much less an important historical figure who is commonly—and falsely—portrayed as an anti-Semite in popular culture. It’s irresponsible at best, malicious at worst.

Kennedy says in his piece that McCarthy’s Walt “obviously” channels Hitler, but in the Times photo of McCarthy, the association is far from obvious. So how did Kennedy come up with such a far-fetched observation?

Perhaps the answer lies with one of the people interviewed for the piece: curator and former New York City Public Art Fund director Tom Eccles, who is helping organize McCarthy’s show. In an interview with another media outlet, Eccles also described McCarthy’s Walt to Hitler, calling the show a “gory, horrifying tale of Paul McCarthy as Disney, as Hitler, in love with Snow White.”

What I’d like to know is whether McCarthy himself endorses this comparison of Walt Disney to Hitler or is this something concocted by his handlers? McCarthy’s commentaries on contemporary media and pop mythology tend to be layered and thought-provoking, and I’d be surprised if he was personally promoting such simplistic, banal allusions. Whatever McCarthy’s views, it’s clear that a lot of people want to encourage this revisionist portrait of Walt Disney as monster, including, sadly, the NY Times.

  • I don’t think this comparison to Hitler has much to do with Disney’s supposed perception as an anti-semite, and everything to do with Paul McCarthy’s penchant for creating disturbing art work that has borrowed from cartoon imagery and concerned itself with sex, violence, and adolescence since his career began. I wouldn’t doubt that his depiction of Walt is reminiscent of Hitler — in all honesty, it’s applicable. Walt is a sigil for what has become the Disney corporation — a culture all its own that is hell-bent on a capitalistic domination of the entertainment world. They’ve absorbed other corporate entities while they’ve existed under duress, much the same way the Third Reich attempted to conquer all of Europe. Through Disney’s training and indoctrination of youth, they’ve created generations that look fondly back on their memories, rather than choosing to phase themselves with any sort of criticism of that entity’s current existence in the cultural landscape of the time. I mean, has whoever written this even SEEN any of Paul McCarthy’s work? Creating a Walt Disney/Hitler hybrid is precisely something he would do — don’t blame it on the journalists or the curators… I’m MORE than sure that McCarthy would embrace this idea himself. It probably does have something to do with the perception of Disney as an anti-semite in current times, but the associations could run so much deeper than just that.

    • Good points. Disney as a symbol –not as a true historical figure– has become emblematic with ruthless appropriation & homogenization of culture.

  • comeON

    So beyond tired of people promoting this false anti-Semite image. Especially establishments like the NY Times that imply there’s some legitimacy to the story. How about some bad press for the current Disney execs? (not encouraging any more Hitler comparisons, but REALLY wouldn’t mind a Frankenstein or a book-burning hell demon or something)

  • Meh, It just sounds like McCarthy is using this to stir up ‘controversy’ in order to draw more attention to himself.

    • Dave O.

      Swap Amidi for McCarthy and your sentence would still be true.

  • Nik

    Yet more “edgy” crap art from Paul McCarthy. He’s been doing stuff like this for a couple of decades. Weird how his sexuality seems tied in with cartoon imagery.

  • Elana Pritchard

    Walt Disney the man was a visionary and a pioneer. The Disney corporation on the other hand… a much more fair comparison to the Nazi party.

    In fact, I don’t think they really got bad until many years after his death.

    I could be wrong… I don’t know the full insider history,

  • jonhanson

    I always love your defense of Disney Amid. I’ll be the first to say that sometimes your writing can get on my nerves, especially some of your investigative work that tends to come across as terribly one sided. But it’s writing like this that reminds me that behind everything is your love for the art-form and its artists.

    It’s also ironic considering Disney’s rejection of your book based on their need to white wash history. Well when I see things like this I see them reaping what they sew. People can smell dishonesty, you present someone as a complete saint and the mind races to imagine what skeletons must be in their closet.

    I think it’s part of the disillusionment modern people feel, who have to slowly learn that they’re often lied to in the name of trying to create a better, more useful history. This always leads to a backlash where people swing in the opposite direction. “He can’t be an angel, he must secretly be a devil!” Notice all the TV shows, movies, etc. that play with the idea that the most perfect seeming families have the darkest secrets.

    The cure isn’t more hagiography, it’s telling the truth, warts and all. But the Disney company treats their founder like they treat Mickey Mouse, as an icon rather than a character with depth. This doesn’t fly with a generation that’s learned to distrust every institution. What we want is honesty, not perfection. If you give us perfection our minds will fill in the blanks, and just like in horror movies when information is withheld our minds will generate worse horrors than any writer could come up with.

    I’m not defending this sort of cynical invention, but I understand it. I reject both hagiography and slander, my ideal is the truth.

  • Josh

    They do it because it’s an easy and popular distortion.
    The Disney employed a number of African American artists and even made Anti-Nazi propognga, which derides the Nazis intolerance and hateful beliefs.
    But oooh! he had a little musatche and Family Guy made a joke abou it. Clearly he was a Nazi.

  • Veikko Suvanto

    “Kennedy says in his piece that McCarthy’s Walt ‘obviously’ channels Hitler, but in the Times photo of McCarthy, the association is far from obvious. So how did Kennedy come up with such a far-fetched observation?”

    The obvious answer to this question seems to me that a photo isn’t everything. There are all sorts of ways that a comedian can “channel” Hitler that are not visible in a single photograph, starting from the obvious hand-salute and continuing to Adolf’s stage gestures and histrionics. It could be (and indeed seems likely) that Randy Kennedy is referring to something like this in writing that McCarthy’s version of Walt “smacked” of Hitler.

    This is (obviously) not in defense of McCarthy, who is clearly just another hack in the Peter Jungk-Marc Eliot category, but like Dave O., I think your outrage directed at the NY Times is unjustified – except that they could of course find more worthy topics to write about…

  • Most of the Snorks

    It’s pretty obviously talking about the artist. And that’s Hitler’s face mixed in with Disney. So that’s why and how.

  • Whenever I hear someone say Walt was an anti-Semite or a Nazi, I go “Where’d you hear that? Family Guy?”. Because I always heard people repeating those Family Guy jokes (I’m pretty sure that’s why the rumor is so big, even if those making the claim don’t say it directly) but I never actually saw any legitimate proof of the claim. I scurried all over the internet and couldn’t find a damn thing. So when people make the claim, I pressure them, asking where they heard it, seeing if they can offer any source beyond Family Guy. If they bring up the “Donald Duck was a Nazi in one cartoon!” thing, I just facepalm.

    • They forget for the fact Donald only dreamed of what a harsh, horrible life he would have had as a Nazi in that cartoon, but I guess people don’t look to the obvious.

      • Exactly my point. If a person uses “Donald Duck was a Nazi!” as evidence that Walt hated Jews, you immediately know they never actually watched the cartoons, just saw the picture (an admittedly funny one) floating around on the internet.

        • 20 years ago I’d be lucky to see it at all outside the “usual places” I had to turn to!

    • Maybe they just take Art Babbitt at his word when they think Disney was a Fascist sympathizer?

  • Nate

    The free ride Seth MacFarlane continues to enjoy for starting the “Walt Disney was a Nazi” meme continues unabated. Only a long term, lucrative contract with Disney might manage further spill.

  • Allison

    This comment is so rage soaked. You are fired up about the princess sketches of Disney woman because you love the Disney women characters? Disney created them in the first place. Disney made them lovely and smart and independent and strong. Still I suppose if you’d prefer to slam the maker it is your doings. What a fun game.

    • Lauren

      Marketing didn’t make those characters; creative people with a passion for their art did. Sorry for the misunderstanding, but my comment wasn’t aimed at those creatives. It’s the companies job to defend their profitable past- not the modern creatives who’re trying to move forward with the legacy.

  • Eric

    I believe the Walt Disney Secret Lives documentary touches on stories of being anti-semite through some interviews with employees that worked for Disney. I wouldn’t say that there’s any smoking gun but they have compelling recollections. They’re either acting, lying or telling the truth, up to you to decide. One thing to keep in mind is the time period that Disney came from. It wasn’t uncommon or unacceptable to be racist. Disney was born in 1901, he grew up and lived a life where segregation was “normal” and seeing a man in black face at the theater was “funny”. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia about the history of the Jewish in America…Jewish Americans have flourished since colonial times in what became the United States, which before the Second World War had a general history of racism directed to non-Christian, non-northwest European groups”. So if Disney was anti-semite, it shouldn’t be such a shocker.

    • Agreed. I highly doubt he was a Nazi or a super racist, but I’d be surprised if he turned out to be 100% non-racist. Just about everyone during that time was pretty racist. Still, it would be unfair to criticize him and not the other people who lived during those times and before.

  • z-k

    Well, so long as public figures aren’t protected as off-limits by thought policing of whatever sort, folks will say very incorrect things about them that will upset others’ daily constitutions. Whether the incorrect is factual or simply political in nature, history will ultimately decide.

  • dan

    walt disney was radical anti-semist.

    there is many evidence that support this fact.

  • Matt Norcross

    Typical New York Times, this communist rag will demonize anyone that changed the world.