Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jennifer Armstrong: Why? Because We Still Like You

The story of The Mickey Mouse Club, a kid-centered variety show that ran for four years on ABC in the late 1950s, may not seem like it has much to say to contemporary readers. (Even the 1990s revival, which produced future superstars like Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake, has been off the air for 16 years.) But those old enough to remember its original run can testify what a massive influence it had on the then-burgeoning teen culture. Rock ’n’ roll was just coming into its own, and teenagers were finally being recognized as an indispensable consumer demographic; The Mickey Mouse Club, with its telegenic pubescent cast, grabbed the attention of young TV watchers like the jaws of a Gila monster, and wouldn’t let go. Declaring your fealty to one Mouseketeer or another was just this side of swearing a loyalty oath to stand with America against communism, and the audience’s fickleness made some young actors into superstars and cast others into obscurity. The Mickey Mouse Club was one of the first, and still one of the most important, examples of the power of mass media in popular culture.

A fascinating book about how The Mickey Mouse Club presaged and helped shape all manner of future youth-culture crazes could be written, but Entertainment Weekly scribe Jennifer Armstrong hasn’t written that book. Why? Because We Still Like You: An Oral History Of The Mickey Mouse Club (the title is drawn from the inescapably catchy Mickey Mouse Club theme), is easy to digest and just as easy to forget. Short on cultural analysis and strong on personality, it reads more like a celebrity memoir than a thoughtful consideration of its topic, and as a result, it’s hard to see exactly who its audience is meant to be. Fans of Hollywood history are often on the lookout for sordid tales of drugs, sex, and debauchery, and there’s precious little of that here; for the most part, The Mickey Mouse Club was made up of genuinely wholesome kids whose biggest skeletons were petty jealousies and overbearing stage mothers. Armstrong recounts some interesting bits about how the show helped form the foundation of the Disney empire, and what it was like working for the Mouse when old man Walt himself was still in charge, but the book isn’t a business treatise any more than it’s a work of cultural study. Its easygoing charm and breezy style seem to aspire to an audience of something more than merely retirement-age Boomer nostalgia-hounds, but little in the actual content moves it in that direction. Unless you’ve been dying to find out what happened to Sharon Baird after all these years, Why? doesn’t do much to answer its title question.

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