Disney's America



We will never know if Head Mouseketeer Michael Eisner and Cap Cities/ABC
CEO Thomas Murphy were holding hands under Larry King’s table during their
July 31 appearance, but they were gushing like eloped newlyweds (“you tell
the story”, “no, you”) coming back to their forgiving families. Their message
was simple: it doesn’t matter that this merger raises serious questions
about future diversity in mass media, given its unparalleled consolidation
of entertainment production and distribution — the point is we love each
other, damnit.

Who else besides David Hasselhoff is mighty enough to slay this rough beast
slouching towards Burbank? Certainly not Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose
Dreamworks troika with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg signed a deal with
ABC seven months ago. As we write Katzenberg tools around Malibu, weeping
into his cell phone, blasting the Who: “Meet the new boss/ Same as the old
boss.”

Eisner was at ABC when the then-dubbed Almost Broadcasting Network broke
out of the pack in the Seventies, led by Roone Arledge, the P.T. Barnum of
modern sports television, and Horshack of Welcome Back, Kotter. His
Saturday morning programming genius unleashed the Osmond Brother’s
cartoon on an unsuspecting world, and Eisner, in the wake of the merger, has
promised more “family programming” in the Distopic future. What that will
mean to a man who likens a $19 billion corporate merger to marrying a blood
relative perhaps only James Dickey, author of Deliverance, can answer.

What the merger means the world will soon discover (pending congressional
approval), for if Eisner has a motto, it’s “think globally, act globally,”
and it’s clear that the campaign map on his wall shows a planet comprised
of three-fourth’s water and one-fourth potential theme park. Responding
to a congressman’s fears on ABC’s Nightline (where Cokie Roberts resolved
the dilemma of throwing your boss softball questions by setting some of
them on a tee, eliminating the conflict from conflict of interest) Eisner
claimed he has no interest in phone companies, despite the fact that Disney
has current deals with three.

Mostly it’s been a swoonfest in the aftermath of the second-largest merger
in U.S. history, reported more like a royal wedding than a business deal,
the kind of coverage the other Michael and Lisa Marie probably expected.
America pays a lot of lip service to importance of small business but
there’s as much Willy Loman pathos as Horatio Alger mythos at this late
date. Eisner was born to rule and rule he does. The idea of a king may be
anathema to the American ideal, but what’s wrong with a prince or a baron?
Are these new information juggernauts really leading us to the oft-promised
techno-utopia? Or will we be serfing the net in a new cyber-feudalism? Is
Walt grinning or spinning in his cryogenic chamber?

— S. L. (August, 1995)

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