In this article, Ong tackles the question of the popularity of the Disney cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, an American icon that Ong asserts is free of criticism precisely because he embodies the most basic values in American culture.
Ong’s analysis of this pop culture icon begins with a comparison of Mickey Mouse to other characters in the “animal story” tradition. Unlike characters in Aesop’s fables, the Sanskrit Panchatantra, medieval stories such as Reynard the Fox, and even Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling, stories that are “entertaining” but also “serious,” with specific morals accompanying the plot, the stories of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters are only entertaining. This fact disturbs Ong, who asserts that the uncriticized presence of Mickey Mouse in American culture encourages a way of life in which people fill their time with endless activity and spend little time reflecting on philosophical questions.
Ong especially takes issue with the creation of new insignia for the U.S. military, which seem to be modeled in the style of Disney characters (for example, the traditional American eagle on the insignia is overshadowed by a cartoonish version placed in the foreground and wearing boxing gloves). Ong believes that the seriousness of military issues (particularly in 1944 when the article was published, current readers may note) makes the use of this kind of insignia inappropriate.
This article, the first in a series of articles Ong wrote for the “Literature and Arts” column in America, reflects the author’s early interest in cultural issues and how those cultural issues raise philosophical questions about how Americans live and think.