Last June, the 19,000 delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott the Walt Disney Company for its “promotion of homosexuality” and the other “anti-family” values. The convention pointed to Gay and Lesbian Days sponsored by Disney theme parks; to such twisted fare as Priest, Powder, and Kids, all films produced by Disney’s Miramax; to such books as Growing Up Gay, published by Disney’s Hyperion subsidiary; and to the company’s granting of marital-type benefits to homosexual employees’ partners.

President Clinton, a “lifelong Southern Baptist,” promptly had his mouthpiece mouth the usual objection: “He doesn’t agree with that particular position. That doesn’t change his faith or membership in that denomination.” While the two segments of this statement are typical Clinton in their mutual exclusivity, it does not follow that Clinton really is on both sides of every either/or. In his actions, at least, Clinton always favors the immoral, amoral, and abnormal. At this late stage of the game, it is no longer possible to put into words what is wrong with the Clintons and their associates. It is a wrongness so fundamental that one either grasps it profoundly, intuitively, or one cannot be brought to grasp it at all. This sense of wrongness beyond words has begun to define a physical boundary between the America of our fathers and another, entirely incompatible one.

More illuminating was Disney’s retort to the Baptists, which justified the benefits policy as necessary in view of the intense competition for top talent in the entertainment industry. Thus it would seem that Disney equates “top talent” with homosexuality. This may begin to explain why the company’s attitude toward society has changed so markedly.

Compared with the toxic products of most studios, the creations of the Disney Company always seemed righteous, upright, and wholesome, at least until the consolidation of the new executive powers that captured the company after Walt Disney’s death. Each time Michael Eisner introduces himself on television as “chairman of the Disney Company,” he appears to dance a little jig on Walt’s grave and toast himself with a draught out of Walt’s skull. Conservative, traditionalist, and pro-family critics have looked on in dismay as the old playful, good-hearted Disney anarcho-cosmic subversion—Four Legs Good/Two Legs Bad (Bambi), Underdog Good/Overman Bad (Dumbo), Red Man Good White Man Bad (Tonka), Children Good/Stepparents Bad (Cinderella, Snow White, The Sleeping Beauty)—has marched further and further astray, rewriting classic literature as it goes.

In 1987’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up her family, identity, and environment, literally becoming a “fish out of water” to pursue her infatuation with Prince Eric. The mer-folk are shown ignorantly demonizing the land-dwelling humans, like a bunch of Texas skinheads disparaging Mexicans, while Ariel persists in dreamily championing humans despite the pain this causes her father, the ruler of the sea. Though the original Andersen tale ends with the protracted death of the mermaid, out of her element and condemned to watch her beloved marry another human, in the Disney version Ariel turns her back on her native ocean and switches species by magic. In 1993’s Beauty and the Beast, it is not the father who opposes Belle’s love for the Beast, but the traditional community of townsfolk led by tall, handsome, vigorous Gaston, who in a classical fable would have been Belle’s natural match. There exists no such character in the 18th-century La Belle et la bête; he has been added both to rub in Belle’s rejection of a natural match and to be the “dumb and dumber” butt of her sarcastic feminism.

There are many interpretations of Beauty and the Beast, and many meanings, no doubt, to the tale. One thing it does symbolize is the need for nubile girls to overcome their fear of men, to recognize the human tenderness that lurks beneath the alien, sometimes frightening exterior of the male. The Disney version focuses not on this leap of faith but on Belle’s preference for a “monstrous” mate over a (despicably) “normal” one. For this is the new specialty of Disney films: the subversion of that most important of choices, the marriage decision. It was once axiomatic that, since Similia simili gaudet, the wisest course was for like to marry like, for the background of your spouse to resemble your own to foster a harmonious, empathetic marriage. The widespread violation of this common-sense axiom in recent decades is surely one of the reasons for our extremely high divorce rates. Yet the Disney canon has reveled more and more in pitting parent against child anent this most crucial decision, and reveled still more in bestowing victory upon the wayward know-it-all child.

In Disney’s recent The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the artistic reality of the Hugo novel has been snatched, and not merely revised, but replaced. Minister Frollo is obsessed with eliminating the Gypsy presence from Paris. He is a piety-mouthing hypocrite who is capable of any cruelty in the name of law and order. Quasimodo is his prisoner in the belltower of Notre Dame, brainwashed into believing he is a “monster” who can never participate in the outside world. The link between Quasimodo and the Gypsies is explicit. “I’m not—normal,” sadly explains Q to his gyrating gargoyle pals Victor, Hugo, and Laverne. Just as Q is far more sympathetic a character than that champion of normality, Frollo, so the Gypsies are shown to be unjustly maligned, innocent outcasts who pray for God’s help for “people who are different” while the “straight” Christians bay instead for riches, fame, and glory.

Esmeralda is a beautiful aquamarine-eyed Gypsy girl who dances like a houri but is pure, even frigid at heart. She entrances the foul Frollo, who vows to have her even if all Paris has to burn. She also wins Quasimodo’s heart, and, in perhaps the film’s weirdest scene, a production number worthy of Springtime for Hitler, the gargoyles egg him on to believe he could win her, too. Meanwhile, Captain Phoebus has come to Paris from the provincial wars as Minister Frollo’s second-cousin-in-command. Looking exactly like the Disney John Smith of Pocahontas, Phoebus reprises the Smith role of blond sap set up to lure the audience into the film’s agenda, another eye-rolling, livetalking stooge for the relentless ressentiment of the outcasts, who convert him to their side in no time flat. Phoebus, voiced by Kevin Kline, and Esmeralda, voiced by Demi Moore, are the most obnoxiously modern pair of smart aleck lovers yet hatched by Disney. Sample repartee: “You handle a sword well—for a woman.” “Funny, I was just going to tell you the same thing.”

All the action comes to a head on “Topsy Turvy Day,” Disney-speak for those pagan/peasant festivals of “the world turned upside down” that set servant over master for a day. To Disney, however, every day should crown the clown king; cartoon anarchy should reign supreme, not merely leaven the daily bread won of toil, tears, sweat, and blood. Disney affects to want a society dedicated to the Gypsy Prinzip, but Gypsies do not build societies, they parasitize them, at best colorfully and entertainingly; and their “Christianity,” contrary to the Disney fantasy, is far more Haitian than Parisian, or so all civilizations familiar with real Gypsies have concluded.

Victor Hugo’s novel has much in common with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which preceded it by 13 years. Each seems to be an inescapably tragic vision of the outsider’s longing for love and assimilation. While the reader’s heart may be rent by the pathetic account, these great novels do not shrink from hard truth. Only death pacifies the longing for what cannot be. Disney’s Hunchback must have it both ways, of course, feeding Frollo to the demons of Hell, wrapping Phoebus and Esmeralda in each other’s arms and sending Quasimodo happily off to play with some children, as if that will compensate for never knowing Esmeralda’s love. A happy, Disneyfied ending, it would seem.

To Paul Goldberger of the New York Times, The Hunchback of Notre Dame “is merely the latest and most spectacular evidence of how our popular culture is literally devouring itself, a maw that grinds all in its path into a form of commercial entertainment.” Disney “doesn’t seem to believe that audiences can handle pain, or hard edges, or ambiguity. [The film is] not high culture, with its tradition of complexity and ambiguity; yet it isn’t quite pure, just-for-fun pop culture, either. Maybe we should call it Disingenuous Culture.”

Goldberger’s critique is insightful but does not go far enough. The sentimentalized ending is not the principal subversion intended by Disney. There is a clear direction, an agenda to the recent Disney oeuvre, and it merely uses literature (and history) for “name recognition,” to provide both hook and cover to sell its propaganda. And we continue to buy because, borne on the momentum of the expressive and technical breakthroughs made by earlier generations of artists, musicians, storytellers, and lyricists, Disney can surf that ebbing inertial wave with style. Hunchback‘s score, reminiscent of Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast, is well crafted, and the computer- enhanced animation is gripping; the credits list literally hundreds of animators, assistants, roughness inbetweeners, cleanup artists, visual effects animators, computer and digital technicians, scene planners, checkers, color stylists, painters, compositors, editors of every sort, choreographers, technical managers, Foley artists, production assistants, etc., etc. (no mention of Victor Hugo).

The principal subversion is not the happy ending, but the stylized hatred of straight, mainstream, adult society. Back when actual adults were in charge, this vision of kids in control, of the inmates taking over the asylum, was a harmless distraction. But now look who’s president. And look at the ugly chaos spreading throughout the school system and wherever else youth congregates; nihilism is no longer just a cartoon.

What next for Disney? The trajectory is only too calculable. If Beauty can marry the Beast, if Princess Jasmine can marry a street Arab, if the minister is a monster and the monster a mensch, surely Lord of the Flies is ripe for a remake. Rewrite the bits biased against the pig’s-head brotherhood, leave out those grownups showing up and spoiling the fun in the end. Or perhaps the heartwarming tale of two gay mice (one black, one white) living and loving in Greenwich Village.

Then there is the temporarily stalled project to build “Disney’s America,” a sort of virtual reality Washington, D.C. After the professional wrecking crew at Disney gets finished with our national history, Pocahontasizing the European encounter with Amerindians, deleting the stubborn ambiguities of the slave system (just as the classic Song of the South has vanished from the Disney canon), setting noble animatronic FDRs and Bill Clintons to preside over the “progressive” version of America, extolling the joys of unlimited immigration with an “It’s A Small World” gala, the body of our past will have been truly snatched. Now that Disney has bought Capital Cities/ABC for $18.8 billion, making it for the moment second only to the Time Warner/Turner giga-entity as the world’s largest entertainment conglomerate, the Eisner Empire wields still more unholy global power to turn its fantasies into our realities. Lock up your sons and daughters.