“Disneyana” is a blanket term for all Disney-related memorabilia.
A corporation as large as Disney has product for sale spanning every sector - from the ill-advised (pocket knives) to the plain absurd (reusable sanitary pads - because who wouldn’t want to unleash their monthly menstruation on Olaf from Frozen?). And finally, the origin of all nightmares: The Disney Gas Mask (yes, really.)
The merchandise circulating is at once bootleg and official, cheap and expensive, mass-produced and highly collectable. So why are people so continually fixated on Disneyana as a product category in an era when it risks feeling a bit childish and even old-fashioned?
My curiosity was sparked when during a recent wholesale order for Trendlistr, I decided to experiment and take on some Disney pieces myself. They are quite simple garments that have a kitschy quality to them that makes them endearing. They almost feel like the clothing equivalent of pop art: as they are often worn ironically, their intrinsically American popular-culture symbolism is usually subverted.
One could evaluate the psychology of buying Disneyana from three angles.
The first is linked to nostalgia - customers buying back the emotional capital of their childhoods that perhaps they never fully enjoyed the first time around, or that they idealise in retrospect.
The second is linked to the impulse to collect and categorise - customers gravitating towards Disney products as parts of a greater ‘whole’. Pokémon said it best, it’s all about catching them ALL.
The final is the social element: the items inherently and automatically connect them with a huge global community of like-minded people. The far-reaching impact of the Disney corporation results in large numbers of collectors in every corner of the world; giving the hobby some legitimacy even though the products are modern (and often produced en masse) and could be considered ‘childish.’
With recent trends for reviving the 90s and 00s aimed at easing the collective Millennial crisis of confidence (think the Spice Girls reunion or the return of glitter body gel) nostalgic consumerism feels more mainstream than ever. Consumers and collectors buy Disneyana as a performative expression of sentimentality.
Furthermore, ownership denotes a degree of control over an item and therefore what it represents. By purchasing the product and having it in your domestic sphere, you have the jurisdiction over how it is displayed, what role it fulfils, who comes into contact with it etc. This control is a factor of the symbolic reclamation of the childhood icon in adulthood.
In wearing or displaying these pieces the collectors are celebrating and and proudly associating themselves with a cultural subject that may, in other contexts, feel childish.
It almost affords the artefacts a sense of legitimacy - through increased price tag and having ‘collectable status.’ bestowed upon them. The ubiquitous nature of these characters and their stories make them permissible as objects of adult admiration. Would a 50 year old collector of generic stuffed animals be viewed in the same way?
A Safe Space
Disney memorabilia also represents a sort of symbolic safe haven. The incredible PR machine of the Walt Disney corporation has largely been able to control the popular narrative of the company and keep it ‘untarnished’ from controversy within the mainstream population (even in an era where almost everything is subject to social media fuelled slander…)
Disney has created a host of characters who occupy a powerful but also uncontested position in American popular culture: feeling at once significant yet safe in their connotations.
Add this to the fact that most adults associate Disney with their younger years and the idealisation/hero worship of these characters is unsurprising. At a time when not only our actions, but our affiliations to objects can come under question (see the recurring debates on, for example, Nazi artefacts) is it any wonder that we are increasingly gravitating to less contentious emblems of society to surround ourselves with?
The Collector’s Impulse
There are many ‘root causes’ attributed to collecting. Some theories posit that people accumulate objects to compensate for a lack of love in childhood. Some suggest that evolutionary biology may be the culprit and that we subconsciously collect objects to demonstrate our ability to ‘hunt & gather’ in order to impress mates (although my exceptional ability to accumulate clothes never did much for my love life, especially during periods of cohabitation).
But in my opinion it is the social aspect of Disneyana in particular that separates it from other collecting pastimes. Collectors and consumers are buying in to a global legacy that is near-universally recognised, understood, loved. By extension they also gain access to access to a community of like-minded enthusiasts.
Not only do collectors share their knowledge of Disneyana on internet forums and at trade fairs, but there is also an ecosystem of bartering that a majority of buyers take part in. The swapping of items to expand or complete collections satisfies our human need for interaction, but also the impulse to systemise and organise.
In conclusion, while the world of Disneyana remains mysterious to me, the objects it encompasses are set to only increase in value. However a word of warning - if you’re going to buy into the world of Disney, stick to older pieces (pre 1968) or unusual bootlegged items that will satisfy the desire for something slightly off-kilter that still has that familiar Disney corp friendliness to it.