The real victims of the Disney/Fox buyout, from a movie fan's perspective

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Published by: Robert Laurie on Friday January 05th, 2018

Mr. Moto, Sonia Hennie, Film Noir....                                                                                                                                                                             

Those of you who have read the site for a long time know that I'm a pop-culture junkie.  I grew up loving music, film, TV, books, comics, and theme parks.  Those interests took root a looooong time before my interest in limited government, they'll remain long after I stop working in and around politics.

I regularly argue that the greatest mistake conservatives ever made was abdicating influence over popular media. Instead of engaging with it, the political right deemed pop-culture an enemy.  So, pop-culture moved on without the political right.

That will pretty much be the extent of politics in this post. I'm not going to attack Disney's political leanings, I won't utter concerns about monopolies, or anything like that.  In fact, it's going to be almost entirely politics-free. So, if that bugs you, feel free to tune out.

With that said, I'm worried about the Disney/Fox buyout.

No, I'm not worried about Disney as a mega-corporation.  The nature of art is to thrive in an existence of constant disruption.  Yeah, Disney will be the big boys on the block, but someone will come along and do something that completely undermines them. I don't know what that thing will be, you don't know what that thing will be, but it will happen, and they won't see it coming. So, the "Disney is going to control us all" argument doesn't carry a lot of weight with me.

...Besides, I love Disney.

I've enjoyed the parks, loved their films, and ingested their output since I was a kid in the early 70's.  I'm living proof that a producer's politics won't necessarily determine the politics of the consumer. That means the "Disney is left-wing garbage" argument doesn’t really bother me either.  I'm not interested in your boycotts, and I never champion them myself.  Enjoy what you enjoy, and I'll enjoy what I enjoy.

Want to know what does bother me? Disney's treatment of its own back catalog bothers me.  

Disney, for reasons I'll never understand, seems to simultaneously love and loathe its own history.  It trades upon its iconic status, presents itself as the staple of Americana that it is, and never fails to remind you that it has been at the forefront of its business since the 1920's.

But.... If you want to view those classic films, TV series, and shorts, guess what? You're pretty much out of luck.  At best their vintage output is hard to find and shoddily presented.  At worst, it's completely unavailable and fans are forced to seek out bootleggers. I'm not just talking about "sensitive" material like "Song of the South," either. 

Like most companies, Disney likes to bury past racism, anti-Semitism, and politically incorrect bits of ephemera.  However, in the pursuit of synthetic scarcity, Disney buries everything.

Want to see your favorite Dean Jones movie from the late 60's/early 70's?  If you're lucky, there's a VHS tape or terrible pan&scan DVD floating around that was released back in the mid-to-late 90's.  Want to see "Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" or "Victory Through Air Power?" Again, you can pay through the nose for out of print standard-def DVD's that were released over a decade ago. Looking for complete seasons of the Mickey Mouse Club or Wonderful World of Color that you enjoyed when you were a kid? Sorry, no dice.

Disney has produced thousands upon thousands of hours of extremely popular programming - both televised and theatrical - and, while they talk a good game about their "vault" and genuinely seem to care about preservation, they seem utterly disinterested in offering you a chance to re-engage with their golden years. They may relentlessly re-re-re-release their animated output, but their live-action stuff is notoriously tough to enjoy.

Now, they're going to own 20th Century Fox and the entirety of the studio's back catalog.  My fear is that Disney will treat Fox's history the same way it treats its own.

like Disney, Fox has thousands upon thousands of hours’ worth of vintage material.  That doesn't just mean modern franchises like Alien or Planet of the Apes, but a staggering number of lesser-known films and series stretching all the way back to the dawn of cinema. You might argue that a lot of it is already completely unavailable.   But Fox has been better than many when it comes to releasing or licensing their classic material. Since Disney will almost certainly care more about its own history than that of a newly acquired subdivision, the odds are that all that old stuff is about to become just that much harder to see.

OK, yes.  This deal means the X-men can fight the Avengers. That's fun.  It also, probably, means we'll finally get a legitimate 4K version of the original, unaltered "Star Wars." If you were born in the early 70's, that's essential.

However, If Disney can't be bothered with a decent hi-def release of Kurt Russel's 60's movies, what chance do Fox stalwarts like John Payne and Sonia Hennie have?  What about Fox's film noir output? Will a politically skittish corporate overlord ever let us see the politically incorrect (but excellent) "Mr. Moto" series in HD?

My bet is that the real casualty of the Disney/Fox deal won't be democracy, politics, movie-goers, or free-market capitalism.  The real casualty will be those of us who find ourselves outside the "cult of the new." If you love and consume classic pop culture, you're in the crosshairs.

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