Simpsonwave might have attracted a decent amount of online media attention back in the tumultuous year of 2016, but one vaporwave offshoot that's remained relatively low-key is Disneywave. At the time of writing, the majority of Disneywave videos to be discovered on YouTube were uploaded by a user going by the moniker of R E L A X, and are typically comprised of various looped moments from classic Disney animations set to a succession of lo-fi beats. Like Simpsonwave, Disneywave trades heavily on the cultural currency of familiar characters, only whereas Simpsonwave will generally pinpoint and emphasise the moments within the series that reflect the characters at their most vulnerable, and are suggestive of the wider angst, despair and loneliness that pervade the characters' lives on a day-to-day basis, Disneywave seems to have a greater interest in straight nostalgia. Through the distillation of familiar Disney imagery, it seeks to create a kind of nostalgic purity, as if to transport us back into a lost land of childhood idyllicism - one such video by R E L A X even advertises this upfront with the non-ambiguous title N O S T A L G I C. The effect is strangely beguiling - there's something infinitely reassuring about seeing Bagheera the panther swish his tail back and forth for just shy of twelve minutes. The introductory sequence prefacing each Disneywave video by R E L A X juxtaposes VHS distortion with the Walt Disney Pictures logo, has me instantly yearning for my own childhood spent getting acquainted with most of these classics via Disney Home Video, as if the lost state of being it alludes to is to be found hidden away within the glitchy flickers of the VHS lines themselves.
The tremendous power of these videos lies in their ability to conjure up a collective reaction, in which these replayed images become a shorthand for our a universal childhood experience we all immediately feel mournful for. Did such a land of lost childhood purity ever exist? Probably not - anyone who was actually around during the VHS era knows what kind of nightmares were actually nestled away within those tapes, what with their insistence on incorporating some of the most unsettling production logos imaginable (although no more unsettling than what anybody else was doing at the time). They were hardly a safe haven of childhood warmth. To say nothing of the curious duality between Disney the signifier of a spotless childhood utopia and the function Disney also serves as a child's indoctrination into the world of consumerist culture. Having grown up during the Renaissance era, which I now (semi) affectionately refer to as the Happy Meal era, I can recall only too well the experience of attending a screening of the latest Disney feature, only to be bombarded with imagery promoting said feature's numerous product tie-ins. Disney taught us the joy and wonder of the cinematic experience, and equally they knew how to exploit that awe to make us ardent consumers from a very young age. As I write, Disney is in the process of converting my generation's nostalgia for that very era into further cash by releasing a slew of live action remakes (or faux live action, in the case of the upcoming remake of The Lion King), so that we may repeat the process all over again (the Happy Meal tie-ins, after a long hiatus, even made a conveniently-timed comeback in 2018). Our tireless quest to uncover that little piece of our souls we see as taken from us by the sands of time is putty in the hands of the corporate fat cats.
By isolating evocative Disney images, removing them from context and looping them over and over, what Disneywave effectively accomplishes is to capture and preserve little bubbles of the so-called Disney magic; to freeze them in time, impervious to any form of change or progression, and let them run on for infinity (and beyond?). I would propose that the allure of such videos lies in their own curious duality - the thin line they straddle between a sincere embracing of this yearning for an untainted state of youthful bliss and an awareness of the regressive line of thought that accompanies our cultural fixation with the past. There's a certain obstinance in the way in which these videos sever these individual moments from the bugbears of narrative and character trajectory and keep them suspended in their own parallel universes, in which the subjects are unable to move past a solitary moment. The videos are charming in their constancy, and yet their monotony is suggestive of its own existential nightmare, an entrapment in an imagined past that doesn't so much as transcend time as quietly numb us to the process of time altogether. We may think we're gazing into a window of our bygone youth, but really we're stuck in a time loop of our own making, as we endeavor to recreate a past that never was while remaining firmly entrenched in the same consumerist plane we never left.
One Disneywave video that does not conform to this model is "D I S N E Y W A V E" by kristopher hori. Instead, a promotional video for Disneyland (more specifically, the Disneyland Fun VHS released as part of the Disney Sing-Along Songs series in 1990) is given the vaporwave treatment, an ethereal makeover that simultaneously acknowledges the eye-popping surrealness of the Disneyland experience and the banalities of its manufactured joy (it self-describes as "The Happiest Place on Earth", although the thing we all know about happiness is that when it's enforced it becomes anything but). The video seems designed to transport us to yet another haven of lost childhood bliss, one with a heavy aura of both strangeness and artifice; so persuasive is the imagery that we immediately find ourselves reminiscing about our own childhood visits to Disneyland, irrespective of whether or not such a trip ever featured in our personal histories - and if we were fortunate enough to have gone, we end up pondering how much of that visit we merely imagined, as it flickers and blurs with the Disneyland of cultural ideal. What makes Disneywave as a whole so fascinating is the obvious reverence it has for the special place that Disney holds within all our hearts, as it demonstrates the power in evoking that place as a means of striking us at our most vulnerable.
PS: While scouring the Disneywave videos currently on YouTube I also discovered that Donkey Kong Wave is a thing. What that's all about I have yet to investigate.