The “Walt Disney hated Jews and blacks” accusation is one of the most vile mistruths tossed around about the old man, yet a quick browse on-line suggests that more young people believe it today than ever before. How did this happen? Why is the single fact that kids know about this 20th century entertainment giant a shopworn charge, long ago disproven, that he was anti-Semitic and/or racist?
I began to understand the situation more clearly after spending some time exploring Yahoo! Answers, which contains dozens of questions about Walt’s beliefs. The questions don’t stem from Marc Eliot’s notorious hack job Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince–remember, nobody reads anymore–but rather from pop culture references, particularly animated shows like Family Guy and Robot Chicken.
Writers of these shows, who can rarely be relied upon to come up with clever or original humor, recycle a playbook of dated pop culture references, among them that Walt hated Jews and that he’s frozen. Family Guy writers are so enamored of the anti-Semitic charges, that they’ve made the accusation multiple times, including this instance:
Combine the endemic laziness of animation writers with an every-child-left-behind educational system that has created a legion of TV viewers who can’t recognize that they’re being duped by old hearsay instead of being revealed new truths, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
I dropped by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco last year and it was one of the most well curated and delightful museums I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The museum achieves its aims of documenting Disney’s vast achievements and then some. The reality though is that most teenagers will never visit the museum. To address the rampant distortions about Walt, the Disney family and company must expand their on-line presence and make an effort to combat the inaccuracies with relevant information about Walt Disney’s life, history and legacy.
I’m sure the Walt Disney Company has plenty of employees already who manage their brand on-line and actively communicate with fans on the Internet. But seeing as how their company’s success is so indelibly tied to a single name, it would behoove them to also have a full-time employee or two dedicated to managing their founder’s reputation lest these lies are repeated often enough to be accepted as truth.
The problem of TV writers spreading disinformation about Walt is so widespread that even former Disney stars are perpetuating the stories. For example, take this appearance by Zac Efron on Saturday Night Live. Walt Disney appears in the skit, and along with him, the two stock Walt gags: he’s anti-Semitic and he’s frozen.
I’ve collected some of the most representative questions and answers from Yahoo! Answers that show the scope of the perception problem for Disney.
After analyzing all of the related Walt Disney questions on Yahoo, the most common sources of Walt’s contemporary character assassination can be traced to jokes on Family Guy and Robot Chicken, resulting in questions like this one:
Or this one:
Walt has defenders but the reasons are often as misinformed as the questions.
Here’s a defense from a “Disney historian, sort of!”
This Jewish girl is disappointed to learn that Walt, in fact, hated her.
Of course, he wasn’t just an anti-Semite, he was also “pro-white and hated people who weren’t.”
Thankfully, watching Disney cartoons is ok since “It’s not like you’re funding some Jew-killing operation.”
Oh, Family Guy writers, what clever comedy material will you come up with next? Perhaps a timely Hitler joke.
Saturday Night Live writers aren’t much better.
According to this person, supporting Walt Disney’s work is equivalent to supporting a media empire run by Osama bin Laden.
Walt won’t even leave Jews alone when they’re in the bathroom. This Yahoo commenter has a bright future ahead of him as a TV animation writer.
Frankly, Google’s Autofill isn’t much help in the matter either.
And yes, finally, some sanity.
UPDATE: A shameful example of misinformation can be found in this recent piece about Roald Dahl. In it, the misinformed author Alex Carnevale repeats the old canard about Walt’s feelings towards Jews:
[Dahl's] interest in writing, combined with his ludicrous tales of his wartime experience, quickly led him to Hollywood, where he immediately had much in common (appetite for clandestine inappropriate sex, hatred of Jews) with the Disney brothers. Walt Disney gave him the use of a car and put him up at the Beverly Hills Hotel!