Life in Disney's world

Reality checks grow ever harder when the sublime meets the subliminal and pirates rule the waves and TV.

pirates flag 88 (photo credit: )
pirates flag 88
(photo credit: )
I have just been attacked by pirates. I survived. These particular marauders were armed with plastic swords and their assault consisted of loudly shouting "Boo" as I came out of the kitchen. In other words, they were Disney-style pirates. Anyway, I have grown used to being captured by my seven-year-old and as many neighborhood kids as he can muster. My son has always loved playing pirates. As a five-year-old, it was his choice of Purim costume. The following year he became Robin Hood. Not that the people of 12th-century Nottingham would have recognized him. The Robin Hood he has grown up with in this Disney world we live in is about as far from the original as Sherwood Forest is from Hollywood. I worry about accidentally fostering violence. But I am even more disturbed by the disconnect between the "reality," as these children see it, and the facts. Battles aren't fought to the background sound of stirring music, after all. And there is nothing romantic about piracy. It was not surprising to discover that the terrorists who attacked in Mumbai arrived by sea. And just look at what is going on in the Gulf of Aden. The world and its already rickety economy are being held hostage by hijackers who aren't acting in the hopes of winning an Oscar. They are terrorists and thieves who choose to operate at sea armed with military hardware that the average despot dreams of. These are not people out to fight injustice; they are one of the world's evils. While I can appreciate the beauty of a Baghdadi-style street urchin falling in love with Princess Jasmine to the songs of Aladdin, who are they kidding? Talk about tales of Arabian Nights. The buxom princess caught kissing a commoner in the souk would probably have been stoned to death. And Aladdin would have literally lost his head. That would be their fate even today in certain countries, including Saudi Arabia, currently being touted as "moderate" and a possible peace-maker. Even robin hood is a strange corruption of history. Only Disney can turn the man who stole from the rich to give to the poor into an animated fox - and make a huge profit in the process. I found myself recently struggling to explain that the "heartless" Prince John was in many ways a fairer and more efficient ruler than King Richard. He was not a soppy lion with Peter Ustinov's voice who sucks his thumb and cries "Mummy" whenever he is upset. And Richard the Lionheart - the absent "good guy" - was actually busy chopping down the "non-believers" on Crusades not far from where we live. That's after he had demanded ruinous taxes from the Jews in England to pay for his campaign and sparked many lethal anti-Semitic attacks in the process. SEVERAL YEARS ago on a visit to York, I took a walking tour of the (beautiful) city. When it ended, I asked the guide how to get to Clifford's Tower. Why do you want to go there, he asked suspiciously. Because of the massacre, I replied. "Oh, you've heard about that," said the guide. Go explain that a people who still commemorates the Exodus every Passover and mourns the destruction of the Temples has a long enough collective memory to recall the deaths of 150 Jews seeking sanctuary in 1190. Particularly as, Masada-style, most chose to take their own lives rather than submit to forcible conversion or death at the hands of the mob outside. The tour guide reluctantly gave me directions and I found the site, laid a pebble from Jerusalem close to the commemorative plaque that had taken years to erect there, and silently said Kaddish, the memorial prayer. There were no violins playing in the background. This was real life. I didn't even have a film crew to record the moment. It has been noted before that many of the older Disney movies resemble one another. Robin Hood's green costume and feathered cap indeed are so similar to that of Disney's Peter Pan that they often get confused. But don't get me started on Captain Hook and his pirates - they resemble the Somali hijackers of today as much as Mogadishu resembles Never-Never-Land. On the other hand, J.M. Barrie's original story is so scary that I had to heavily censor it as I read a chapter a night to my son in what turned out to be a poor choice of bedtime story. Such things are nightmares made of. And nothing is sacred. Mickey Mouse, the lovable Disney rodent, is celebrating his 80th birthday. In Gaza, he has been kidnapped by Hamas and turned into Farfur, the Palestinian freedom fighter urging children to blow up and become shahids for Palestine's sake. Newly published research by Dr. Yaniv Levyatan from the University of Haifa shows that the tools of Iran's new information war are short animated films, computer games and speeches. Certainly a comfortable way to wage war. Effective, too. WORRYINGLY, IT'S not just children being taken in by the world of escapism. It sometimes seems global leaders are living in an entirely different universe - as removed from the rest of us as the contestants in a reality show. (And thank you CBS for further romanticization in Pirate Master.) The unlucky TV show contestants aren't the only ones being cut adrift. We, the hapless public, seem to be afloat - rudderless and leaderless - as the country's politicians tackle the February national elections like the final episode of the reality series of the year: much show, much talk, much jostling for (political) survival. Is it the Truman Syndrome - the delusion named after the 1998 movie The Truman Show in which afflicted patients believe they are living their lives in reality TV shows? I don't know where outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lives but it doesn't seem to be the much publicized property he owns in Jerusalem. "In principle there is nothing to prevent us from reaching an agreement on the core issues in the near future," Olmert told reporters on November 25 following his farewell visit to George W. Bush. "I believe it is possible. I believe it is timely." Ahoy there! Is he the only one who has failed to notice that in the near future he is being sent home from the show he has tried to run after his ratings hit rock bottom? History is being distorted almost before it can be made, hijacked just as surely as a those ships off the Somali coast. India is the latest target of Islamic fundamentalism; Pakistan has The Bomb; Iran is nuclearizing; shipping to the Mediterranean has to take a diversion around the entire coast of Africa to avoid piracy on the way to the Gulf of Suez. There are Muslim-Christian massacres in Nigeria; extremists in Thailand have closed the airport. The global economy is in a meltdown. And the most important issue on the world agenda is Israeli-Palestinian relations? There's a war going out there and it's not childsplay. But, then, how can anyone looking at Hollywood's version of history learn from it?