The Mouse that Warred

Dan ONeills underground war against Disney

The court found for Disney, fining O'Neill some hundred thousand dollars plus legal fees. According to the judge, O'Neill was entitled not to the "best parody" but only to "what is necessary" for political or social commentary. Lorne Michaels, you have been warned.

But the story does not end there. The parties settled out of court with no admission of guilt so long as O'Neill promised never to draw Mickey again. That agreement says almost everything you need to know about the power of corporations to shape reality. "Why can't I satirize Mickey Mouse, when I can [satirize] the flag, apple pie, presidents, Christ and the Virgin Mary?" O'Neill asked—and then he answered his own question: in America, corporations shape reality and are protected from criticism. Compared to such corporations, mere religions and nation-states are almost nothing. Disney is "so big," O'Neill concluded, "they don't even know what they're doing. They've sued everything that even looks like a mouse."

But draw another mouse? "I only got involved out of a vague interest on the First Amendment," said O'Neill. "There are other people in the country who can draw mice. I won't. I hate mice. I found four of them in my kitchen last week."

Through a series of seemingly endless legal battles, Disney continues to claim ownership of a copyright on morality. And just when we thought the silencing effect of copyright couldn't get any worse, Fox News announced that it is suing political comedian Al Franken and Penguin Books because his forthcoming book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, is subtitled A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Like Disney, Fox News has seemingly insulated itself from social commentary by ensuring that any parody won't too specifically hint at the subject of scrutiny.

In the end, Disney—like a monarchy of old—profits from creating the impression of purity and wholesomeness within the status quo. And it will use the law to convince us all that there's no Dumbo in the living room, even if it needs to trample on the First Amendment to preserve the illusion.

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