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Walt Disney, lemmings and atheists

March 24, 2011

Tomorrow I want to start an arc about PTSD and my relationship with it.  So today

I’d like to deal with two lighter matters.  The first one is a scandal 53 years in the

making.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Take a slow, lengthy breath and know this:

lemmings do not commit mass suicide.

I beg you, get a grip.  I asked if you were sitting down.  Granted, this may not have

been on your mind as much as Libya or Japan, but it is now.  Here’s the back story.

In 1958 Walt Disney released the nature film “White Wilderness”.  It won an Oscar

for best documentary.  But one segment was B.S. on several levels.  It led viewers

to believe that lemmings had a “strange destiny” of stampeding off cliffs into the

ocean to their deaths.

They do nothing of the sort.  Being some of the most fertile vertebrates around,

they do sometimes spread out and drown in unfamiliar waters.  But they don’t kill

themselves on purpose.  Why should they?  Lemmings don’t have mortgages or

basic cable.

Disney established this myth in the Magic Kingdom in 1955, with an Uncle Scrooge

comic named “The Lemming with the Locket”.  The film perpetuated it by showing

the rodents hurling themselves off a bluff into the “Arctic shore”.

Two things: (1) they were being hurled off a big snow-covered turntable run by

Disney employees; and (2) the “Arctic shore” was actually a river in the Canadian

province of Alberta, known among other things for being landlocked.  The tiny

actors had been bought from Inuit children in Manitoba Province for 25 cents

each.  With clever camera angles and film editing, the few dozen rodents became

a “mass”.

I’d love to think this revelation would have Walt spinning in his grave, but two

more things: (1) he had to have known about it; and (2) he was cremated, which

impedes rotary motion.  I’ll have to settle for the urban myth that he was cryogen-

ically frozen and stashed under the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland.

There’s a buried treasure for you, Jack Sparrow.

Speaking of loss of faith, there’s a new study out by a group of mathematicians that

projects “religion will be driven toward extinction” eventually in nine countries:

Austria, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands,

New Zealand and Switzerland.

Okay, I understand why it would diminish in Austria, Finland and Switzerland.  I’m

sure roads to the churches are blocked by snow during Christmas and Easter.  The

Commonwealth nations of Australia, Canada and New Zealand are still influenced

by the British Empire, particularly Monty Python.  One only need think of the

prayer in “The Meaning of Life”: “Ooh, You are so big.  So very, very big.  Gosh, we

really are impressed down here, I can tell You.”

I’ll vouch for Canada.  It’s much more secular than the U.S.  Religion here doesn’t

influence politics much at all, no matter how much Conservative Prime Minister

Stephen Harper tries.

The Netherlands is an easy call.  What would you expect from a country famous

for selling psychedelics and renting hookers?  Oh, and it had some painters of note.

I don’t know enough about the Czech Republic to even make a joke.  So that leaves

the one that truly baffles me.

Ireland.  How could religion be waning in a nation renowned for “The Troubles”,

the conflict from 1968 to 1998 that took 3500+ lives?  It was driven by violence

between Catholics and Protestants.  Tension like that doesn’t go away quickly.

Nonetheless, the Emerald Isle has gone from .04% religiously unaffiliated in 1961

to 4.2% in 2006.

Daniel Abrams, lead author of the study, stressed that it’s not a criticism of religion.

He and his crew were merely crunching the numbers.  Experts say that the group of

“unaffiliated” respondents are not necessarily non-believers or atheists, but rather

“people who do not associate themselves with a particular religion or house of

worship at the time of the survey,” according to CNN.

Just wait.  If the rabid religious righties gets wind of this, they’ll go nuttier.  But

they may be too distracted to bother with a fact-based document.  Ex-SNL cast

member Victoria Jackson was on TV recently, literally waving a Bible and making

up statistics as she decried a gay kiss on “Glee”.  She assured us that this is the end of

civilization, with that unblinking, unfocused, glassy-eyed look that concerns me so.

Franklin Graham, Billy’s kid, is busy hinting that the Japan disaster “could” be a

sign of The End of Days.  Notice the “could”.  The really skilled fearmongers build in

some wiggle room.  S. Palin might be able to work it into one of her screeds against

Obama.  However, she’d have to read about it first in one or all of her many favorite


If no one else picks up the gauntlet, leave it to G. Beck to find room for the study on

his blackboard.  With a few arrows, some tears and his opaque logic, he’d soon prove

that atheists have Baptist babies for breakfast.  I’d like to use that last phrase for the

title of the post, but that “could” certainly bring The End of Days.

  1. Chris permalink
    March 24, 2011 9:49 pm

    I’m with you on both rants, ‘ol Buddy! I have always been irritated with the Disney world’s blatant disregard for facts and their unerring ability to distort or otherwise defile every single fairytale classic they can get their hands on. As far as religion goes – I firmly believe organized religion to be the root of most evils.

    • March 25, 2011 8:19 am

      I found out researching this one that a lot of the “wild” animals seen in nature films are trained. A bear devouring a carcass might just be eating jellybeans planted by its trainer. On issue two, I’ve faced hostility simply for not being a Christian. John Lennon said “If you say you’re non-religious, people think you’re anti-religious.”


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