Donald Duck—fearless, pantless American warrior—seeks healthcare, finds instead longtime friend Mickey pimping Disney


Donald Duck doesn’t wear pants. And now that his legs have been blown off by a suicide bomber in Fallujah, he never will.


Yesterday’s issue of the Washington Post carried a piece on the Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s recent decision to ask Disney to train its employees to be more sensitive to patient needs after its recent scandal involving manifestly inadequate care for the wounded soldiers it serves. (That the quality of care for U.S. soldiers on U.S. soil is in question in the first place is a testament to the bureaucratic negligence—the Mickey-Mouseness—of this administration.) The enlistment of Disney is momentarily touching but becomes disturbing: at least one thing that is occurring here is a commercialization of the already-controversial Patch Adams school of medicine, whose efficacy has diminishes with institutionalization (i.e., if we try to make everyone laugh no one will “laugh” in “the way we do now” because everyone will always already be laughing—or whatever). We have here not only institutionalization of the Patch Adams school but also, to borrow a corporate solecism, its “monetizing”: making sick people happy now serves simultaneously as a revenue source for Disney—”The Army,” says the Post, “is paying Disney $800,000 to help revamp attitudes at the hospital”—as an advertisement for Disney, and, in that advertisements produce revenue, as a potentially perpetual, self-replicating revenue source for Disney. Yes, I know: it is clichéd and reactionary to lambaste Disney as some sort of capitalist wolf in sheep’s clothes here. But in a very serious way that is at the least an essentially accurate, if admittedly hyperbolic, caricature of what is in fact ocurring: “A video montage of Disney-related images, ranging from Mary Poppins to Pirates of the Caribbean to Hannah Montana,” the Post contines, “was meant to demonstrate the sheer expanse of the Disney empire” (a statement with which the Post itself announces and reiterates that “sheer expanse”). The expansion of that empire is at least as important here as improving patient care. That the Army wants to improve its care for our wounded soldiers is clearly a positive development. But the notion that the foundations of good patient care are best imparted by a theme park tour guide (“Donnelly, who started working for Disney in the summer of 1986 as a guide on Disney World’s Jungle Cruise ride, warmed up the crowd. ‘We’re going to kick it off today with what we call “Sizzle,”‘ he said. ‘Here it comes!'”) is conspicuously, excessively obfuscatory. Walter Reed’s teaching its employees Mickey-Mouse “sizzle” (at considerable profit to Mr. Mouse) here stands in for substantively improving care as such. Big mouse ears cover up rather than cure iniquities. So if you find yourself at Walter Reed, be thankful (and proud) that our federal government has hired an American institution like the Walt Disney Corporation to make you smile while you wait for you substandard healthcare. [1]



[1] This final sentence was adapted from a similar sentence penned by a good friend of mine—one of my campaign co-chairs, actually—so, people, please: lay to rest right now any ideas you have about discrediting my authenticity. And, okay, to be entirely forthright, the sentence also rings of Atul Gawande’s final paragraph in his July 2007 review of Michael Moore’s Sicko. I have, at much potential risk to myself and my future political career, not sought Gawande’s consent for said ringing. Call it a sign of my moral courage.


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