The Null Device

The decline of Mickey Mouse

What shall it profit a rodent if he shall gain the pop-cultural world but lose his soul? One could ask that question of Mickey Mouse; since his debut in 1928, the ubiquitous rodent has gone from being a mischievous, somewhat sadistic cartoon prankster (in the classic slapstick style of the medium) to the corporate identity of an intellectual-property behemoth and, arguably, a symbol of McWorld itself. Of course, as this happened, the once lively character lost his own story and personality and became, at best, as bland and anaemic as any friendly, helpful corporate mascot, and at worst, a symbol of heavy-handed corporate hegemony over culture:
"If I was looking for the crossover point where Mickey's story morphed into the Disney story, it was `The Sorcerer's Apprentice,' " said Mr. Hardison, referring to the Mickey segment of Disney's 1940 classic, "Fantasia," in which the mouse, as an aspiring magician, attempts to harness his master's tricks. "That's where he cemented his place as the source of Disney magic. Magic is such an important characteristic of Disney, but it wasn't an important characteristic of Mickey. Once he becomes magical, he is no longer the everyman underdog. He went from being the little guy against the world to a symbol of what Disney does."
And so a logo was born. A brilliant one, at that: any close approximation of the two black ear-disks is enough to say "Disney" anywhere in the world. "For the sheer power of the graphics," the sculptor Ernest Trova once said, "Mickey Mouse is rivaled only by the Coca-Cola trademark and the swastika." By making itself inseparable from its beloved mascot, Disney made it impossible to see Mickey and not think of the company that backs him -- one whose public profile is a lot more controversial than that of your average stuffed animal.

(via bOING bOING, of course)

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