Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 18: Susan Ohmer on Animation and Cultural Geography

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar at 6:30 pm on Thursday, April 18 to welcome Susan Ohmer (Notre Dame) for her talk, "Animation and Cultural Geography: Disney and Standard Oil Remap the U.S." Elizabeth Tandy Shermer (Loyola) will provide the response. The CFS will be held at DePaul's Loop Campus in the Daley Building at 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Room LL 102, using the State St. entrance located at 247 S. State.

Thursday, April 18 at 6:30pm
Susan Ohmer, Notre Dame 
"Animation and Cultural Geography: Disney and Standard Oil Remap the U.S."
RespondentElizabeth Tandy Shermer, Loyola

Ohmer describes her talk as follows:

In May 1939, the Walt Disney Studio, in collaboration with Standard Oil of California, launched a national marketing campaign designed to promote travel to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. For the promotion, the studio ran ads featuring well-known Disney characters that traveled across the country to attend the exhibition, stopping at Standard Oil stations along the way. “Cries Sleepy: ‘Standard saves the day!’” as one proclaimed. In their travels, the seven dwarfs, Mickey, Donald and Goofy stopped at various historic landmarks, from Puget Sound to Carlsbad Caverns and Yosemite, on their way to the exhibition, which the studio called “Treasure Island”. Children were encouraged to follow these trips by tracking the characters across a large map of the United States and by collecting coupons from Disney comic books that they could paste onto the map. In newspapers, magazines, and comic books, the Disney studio remapped the U.S. as a series of tourist destinations visited by its fictional animated creatures.

Julianne Burton, Lisa Cartwright, Eric Smoodin and others have analyzed Disney’s construction of a touristic gaze in Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, films the studio produced as part of the “Good Neighbor” project for Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of Inter-American Affairs. Even before these films, however, the studio constructed a new cultural geography for the U.S., mapping its characters across a landscape defined as a combination of historic monuments and natural attractions. The Standard Oil promotion developed a car culture for U.S. children who would go on to become the adult drivers of the 1950s and mapped U.S. history and geography as destinations for family leisure fifteen years before the opening of Disneyland.

This presentation draws on methods from cultural geography, critical studies of the west in fiction and film, studies of car culture and road movies, and analyses of Disney’s films about Latin America to understand the development and significance of the Disney-Standard Oil collaboration. My talk will include slides of ads, the treasure map, comic books and other artifacts that have been collected over several years. Only a few items from this campaign exist in archives; thus, the presentation offers material unavailable anywhere else that can shed new light on the shifting representations of U.S. history, space, and culture in Disney productions.

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