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Guest Editorial 
This page was last updated on January 06, 2009 .

Disney’s deceit tarnishes Jiminy Cricket’s mission
by: John F. Borowski. 10/27/02

The Jiminy Cricket cartoon character represents a quality essential to human goodness: possessing a conscience. He helped Pinocchio understand that honesty, remorse and the courage to face the truth determined true fulfillment as a human being. Now, the creators of Jiminy, the Disney Corporation itself, are playing the Jiminy character, minus the conscience. Their audience is children and their goal is to use education as a vehicle to generate more brand loyalty and nurture the myth that “consumption is good”, especially for Disney’s bottom line: profit.

Jiminy Cricket’s Environmental Challenge apparently promotes environmental education throughout the state of California (where some 359,000 children have been involved in past competitions) and is available to fifth grade teachers and their classes. The winners can revel in a “dubious environmental” windfall of Disney paraphernalia. Winners receive Disney posters, plaques and hats, as well as an opportunity to earn an all-expense paid trip to the Disneyland Resort. Sadly, this is a partnership between Disney, the California Environmental Interagency Network and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their promo reads, “It’s easy. It’s exciting. It’s educational.” The question that is being raised: is Jiminy whispering into the ears of the adults “is it not wrong to manipulate children to care for the environment, while tantalizing them with an orgy of materialistic payoff?”

This is no quick gimmick; this program was shrewdly constructed to suggest that lofty educational goals would be met. Each suggested activity is tied into “California Content Standards” creating an atmosphere focused on education. I searched for a California content that exposes the corporate invasion of schools, with an eye on growing more faithful consumers and future adults addicted to the manufactured world of Disney where happiness is just a dollar away. Actually, in most cases, true happiness may be many dollars away. 

The cheapest tickets to Walt Disney World are four-day passes that are $150 for kids and $190 for adults. Just for fun, Jiminy told me to go to the Disney website, and find out what a 5-day stay at Disney, with meals and entrance into the park would cost: a mere $2,199 experience! Then Jiminy whispered into my ears, “save the money for the kids’ education and take them to a national forest for a walk!”

Maybe teachers can do this research?

Maybe some good can come out of this foray into “environmental education.” Here are some topics
sure to make Disney squirm and to provide a true test to the whole concept of a Jiminy character:

  • Disney is becoming intimately involved with agencies overseeing public lands, as seen in this contest they are working with the folks who oversee wildlife refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Maybe the kids can find out some startling facts about Disney’s agenda concerning federal lands. Disney is one of the most powerful members of the American Recreation Coalition and sat on their Recreation Roundtable (formed in 1989). ARC and Disney have been instrumental in creating the ‘Demonstration Recreation Fee Program’ on public lands. ‘Fee Demo’ allows federal land managers to charge citizens for the privilege of visiting their own federal lands! Why would the “environmentally conscious” Disney Corporation be involved in such a scam? Disney loves the message of ‘man as consumer’ and now the under-funded national parks and forests can be rescued by a ‘Disneyfied version’ of nature: along with concessions and user fees. Disney even has a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the US Forest Service and six other federal land agencies (dated, 1995). The stated purpose of the Memorandum is to “work together in partnerships on issues of common interest.” Disney is described in this document as a “diversified international entertainment company with operations in businesses such as: theme parks/resorts, films and consumer products.” Imagine, paying fees to hike your own tax-paid for wilderness areas and having Disney concessions on the way! Maybe Mickey and Goofy could greet you at Old Faithful in Yellowstone! Scott Silver, a lone voice that has brought national attention to this issue ( paints a sinister picture. “Unless we halt this trend, the American Outdoors will soon be transformed into little more than a series of highly structured theme-parks and scripted adventures.”

  • The Maquila Solidarity Network (Toronto based organization) picked Disney as the “Sweatshop Retailer of the Year Award 2001” just beating out Wal-Mart by a nose. Based on a report by the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, Disney had major sweatshop abuses in 12 factories in China. Young migrant workers making Disney clothes and toys were forced to work up to 16 hours a day, 6 and 7 days a week. Paid slave wages and receiving no benefits, these workers labored long and hard to provide the cheap trinkets and Disney theme clothes to more highly regarded children in the United States. Young girls of 17 were forced to work 9-10 hours a day for less than 0.2 French francs an hour in Vietnam to produce “Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas” pajamas for Disney.

  • Disney sold four newspapers for $1.65 billion while avoiding capital gain taxes, in a practice called “stock swaps.” This saved them payment of $600 million in taxes! Disney/ABC have grabbed up new space on the public airwaves (along with other major networks) for their digital television for free. Common Cause referred to this as the “corporate welfare program to end all corporate welfare programs.” Disney took a $300,000 grant from the Department of Energy to create “brighter fireworks.” Michael Eisner had a salary of $8.7 million in 1996 with $181 million in stock options! The New York Times claimed this as “the largest single grant in corporate history—brought his compensation to over $189.7 million or $101,000 dollars an hour! A Haitian worker sewing Disney garments would need 156 years to earn what Eisner earned in one hour based on his 1996 salary!

  • Now Disney has even spawned a partnership with the World Bank! Disney stated that it was dedicated to innovation and communication: to learn new means of communicating and how to use new technologies to feed the world’s hungry. Some question attracting 1000’s of tourists to Florida’s fragile ecosystems at Epcot Center to highlight “Gardening for Food Around the World Exhibit” in the name of assisting third world countries. How does this exhibit help third world countries? Wouldn’t raising wages and creating benefits in Disney shops abroad be a better first step? Kathy Moss Warner, the director of Disney’s Horticulture and Environmental Initiatives stated at a World Bank meeting the following hollow and incredulous message. “Stakeholders at both Disney World and the World Bank, realized the importance of scientists delivering the message of hunger and scientific solutions in an easy to understand, interesting, fun, entertaining and compelling way.” As if we need Disney to put a face on the 35,000 children who die of lack of food a day worldwide! Disease and malnutrition is a stark fact of a society that has turned its’ back on those less fortunate and to depict their plight in an “entertaining” fashion is the height of human debasement.

Jiminy ask teachers to tell their kids the truth!

Teachers should bring fascinating and hands-on environmental learning into the classroom. Learning about nature is not an exercise in winning a prize that runs diametrically opposed to the exploration of nature! We live in challenging times, where 4% of the earth’s human population called Americans use nearly 40% of the world’s resources. Children should be asked to consider the cost of overt consumption. Does the “throw away” mentality of theme parks and much of entertainment today jive with the moral imperatives of leaving a better tomorrow for our children’s children? Focus should be put on the intangible rewards of a healthy environment, those that Disney cannot manufacture or sell. 

Disney’s attempt to fabricate nostalgia, foster the growth of continued consumption and to depict nature as no more than urbanized, packaged fun simply steals the word ‘environment’ out of environmental learning. This Jiminy Cricket Environmental Challenge is a hoax that plays off the emotion and excitement of children. Teachers should say no to this exercise in Disney hypocrisy and engage children in loving nature minus the lights and the glitzy come-ons.

Jiminy should whisper into all our collective ears, “woe on those who look to use children in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.” 

John F. Borowski (Environmental and Marine Science Teacher at North Salem High, Oregon). His pieces appeared in the UTNE Reader,, Liberal Slant, PR Watch and EducationNews. He can be reached at