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BOB BROWN: On Dreaming and Disney / Freud

Walt Disney (1901-1966) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), separated by race, time, and thousands of miles, were remarkably alike.  Both Disney and Freud are identified as significant figures of the 20th century.  Both men were fascinated with and established themselves as devoted to dreams and dreaming.

I found no evidence the two men ever met, but Disney left home at 16 to attempt to join the military during WW I.  Too young for the military, he joined the American Red Cross Ambulance Service and served in France during the WW I.

Disney grew up on a farm in Missouri.  His harsh father viewed Walt’s talent in art as useless, even though his drawings at age 7 were purchased by others.  His father, a strict disciplinarian, woke Walt and his brothers at 3:30 AM for farm chores before school.

Freud’s father was reared in poverty, was never successful, was extremely passive, and was incapable of closeness with his son.  Both Disney and Freud were favorite sons of their mothers who saw their jobs as rescuing their son from their fathers.

Freud’s most important book, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900, introduced his theory of the unconscious mind, observing that dreams during sleep are similar to daydreaming, are best understood as wish fulfillment, and may be rewarding when carefully analyzed.  He referred to the remembered dream as the “manifest dream,” but the importance of a dream is discovering the “latent” or hidden dream.

Converting the manifest to the latent dream is accomplished by freely associating with each element of the dream.  In his book Freud described sexuality in childhood and the “Oedipal Complex.”  It took a decade for the book to be accepted.

In Disney’s movie Cinderella, 1950, Jiminy Cricket sings, “A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep. In dreams you will lose your heartaches; whatever you wish for, you keep.  Have faith in your dreams and someday your rainbow will come smiling through. No matter how your heart is grieving if you keep on believing the dream that you wish will come true.”

The song is based on Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No.9.  Dreams are a recurring theme in many of Disney’s productions dating back to “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from Pinocchio, in 1940.  Disney seemed obsessed by Freud’s declaration that dreams are wish fulfillments and “the royal road to the unconscious.” Disney creatively depicts the visually satisfying and pleasurable fulfillment of the wishes of children and adults.

I encouraged Soldiers at Fort Lee who suffered from unimaginable combat trauma to experience the soothing, comforting, and healing effects of quietly viewing the early films of Walt Disney such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937, Pinocchio, 1940, Fantasia, 1940, The Reluctant Dragon, 1941, Dumbo, 1941, Bambi, 1942, Treasure Island, 1950, Alice in Wonderland, 1951.

Studies of dreaming did not begin until 1952 when twitching of the eyes of a sleeping person was observed. The subject in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep was dreaming.  REM occurs in the lightest stage of sleep, not when “fast asleep.”  The stages of sleep are quantified by electroencephalography (EEG), with light sleep, Stage I through deep sleep, Stage IV, a 90-minute cycle recurring throughout the night.  REM sleep occurs at the end of each stage IV.  Restorative or refreshing sleep is a function of Stages III and IV.

I find it rewarding to keep a Dream Journal, recording the details of my dreams, freely associating them with each element of the dream.  After pondering every element of the dream with my associations, its meaning becomes apparent.  Sometimes, an interpretation of my dream provides a dimension to my thinking that I may not have without the effort.

In my recent book, Your Innermost Poetry, I report another route to the unconscious element of life, that which is stored in our minds but outside of our awareness.  Any of the fine arts can open up channels to one’s unawareness, releasing pleasant memories.  Perry Como’s life and music have a meaningful place in my relationship with my wife.  Listening to his “And I Love You So” can awaken my mind, body, and spirit to transcendent bliss.  The early music of the Beatles was popular when I was in medical school.  Hearing their music brings a series of fine memories of my classmates.

Disney and Freud were creative dreamers.  Both had troubled fathers and loving mothers.  Both were interested in childhood, perhaps searching for a better one than they knew. Both were entrepreneurs.  Both were fascinated by the power of the mind.  Both died of cancer.  Freud was diagnosed with oral cancer (jaw) at age 67.

Disney died of lung cancer at 66.  Today, both cancers would be considered lifestyle diseases or the result of addictions to nicotine: Freud from cigars and Disney from cigarettes.

Dreams are important.  Biblical dreams are critical sources of the truth. A Royal Yellow Brick Interstate to an in depth understanding of God’s Word is available to all who open their heart, mind, and soul to the Word.

Robert S. Brown Sr.

Robert S. Brown, MD, PHD a retired Psychiatrist, Col (Ret) U.S. Army Medical Corps devoted the last decade of his career to treating soldiers at Fort Lee redeploying from combat. He was a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Education at UVA. His renowned Mental Health course taught the value of exercise for a sound mind.

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