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Of mice and merch: Disney T-shirt rankles rock fans

by Alexander Smith /  / Updated 
Clever mash-up or rock sacrilege? Disney's Joy Division-cribbing T-shirt design
Clever mash-up or rock sacrilege? Disney's Joy Division-cribbing T-shirt designDisneystore.com

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Somewhere in the Magic Kingdom, someone’s getting a rigorous talking-to right now.

Since it was first reported in the online music site Pitchfork earlier this week, a certain story has brought together the heretofore incongruous communities of wholesome family entertainment and ferociously-opinionated music geekdom. Believe it or not, the above T-shirt design – which some might recognize as the iconic sleeve art of Unknown Pleasures, the debut album from storied British post-punk band Joy Division, manipulated to form the silhouette of Mickey Mouse – is not the work of an artist attempting to make an ironic statement (or not intentionally, anyway), but rather an actual, officially-endorsed product that was being sold at retail outlets at Disneyland, DisneyWorld and via Disney’s online store. Presumably, the Disney organization was trying to tap into a hipper market by mix-and-matching images from their own brand with some of rock’s uber-cool iconography. While arguably a shrewd and inventive marketing ploy, this particular venture has backfired, and Disney has subsequently pulled the shirt from its shelves and Website.

The original sleeve of Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division
The original sleeve of Unknown Pleasures by Joy Divisionneworderonline.com

For a start, the disparity between the well-established Disney brand and the music and overall aesthetic of Joy Division could not possibly be greater. Formed in grim, industrial Manchester, England in 1977, Joy Division’s stark, haunting music dealt almost exclusively in bleak, abjectly dark themes. The very moniker of the band is said to have been taken from a cryptic nickname for the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp. More to the point, Joy Division’s lead singer, Ian Curtis, hung himself in 1980, on the eve of the band’s inaugural American tour. Had anyone at Disney done even just a little bit of research into any of these readily-accessible facts, they might have discerned that Joy Division was not the perfect band to allude to. The Mouseketeers they were not.

On a more practical level, music purists around the Internet have been crying foul over the audacity of the T-shirt design, given Disney’s somewhat strident reputation for copyright control. That said, the album cover’s designer, Peter Saville himself did a bit of appropriating, manipulating the image of successive pulses from the first discovered pulsar from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy. The kerfuffle reached even greater heights when it was reported that the surviving members of Joy Division (who continued on and found global success in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death as New Order) had no involvement in the shirt's creation.

While the pairing of Joy Division and all things Disney might be a juxtaposition that seems alternately awkward, hilarious or positively profane to some, it should be noted that black-clad goths have been flocking to Disneyland in California for annual “Bats Days” for over a decade. While Disney does not officially recognize these gatherings, perhaps this influx of stylized gloom inspired the creation of the T-shirt.

These points are now all academic, however, as Disney has since pulled the offending garment from their stores and website. For their part, Disney is reported by Pitchfork to be “reviewing” the situation. Meanwhile, existing editions of the divisive garment have since been elevated to collector’s item status.  If you’re an avid Joy Division fan, curio-collector or Disney completest, I’m afraid you’ll just have to start scouring eBay for it. At the time of this posting, one such shirt was up to a bid of $255.00.

And for the sake of context, here’s a little Joy Division…

 

Alex Smith is a Senior Editor for TODAY.com and probably takes his music and his T-shirts more seriously than he should.

 

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