Recently, I was afforded the opportunity of interviewing Mickey Mouse at his Chelsea art complex. In a spartan loft of 6,000 square feet, the Marlon Brando of the mouse world sat in a warm buttermilk bath and sipped papaya smoothies (evidently excellent for the bowels) while we discussed his most recent body of work, which surrounded us. The colorful sculptures came in all shapes and sizes. From simple, abstract conical mounds, to large splattered globs, to flattering busts of famous Johns (John F. Kennedy to John Belushi).
John Reed: Mickey, what a wonderful chance this is for people to get to know the real mouse.
Mickey Mouse: Yes, I often think how exceedingly difficult it must be to get a sense of my importance through just my films— and I so rarely give interviews, as I can only sustain my enlightened state of awareness by way of a quiet, contemplative life, rich with meditation and debased stupors. But of course, even if the audience of the Earth can only glean the most transient sense of my holiness through my movies, it must do them a great deal of good, anyway.
Reed: Meditation and stupor? Is that the secret to your amazing longevity? You must be nearing eighty, which, as I understand it, is quite advanced for a mouse.
Mouse: Seventy. It’s all about quality healthcare. As it stands now, mouse health care is extraordinarily evolved. The testing process for mice, in terms of therapies, medicines, etceteras, is far more developed than it is for humans. Indeed, if a mouse receives the very best in the way of proper medical attention, he might expect to live forever. And that’s true, by the way, because mice are foremost supporters of the medical establishment—and the medical establishment can’t afford to lose me, as the world’s preeminent mouse.
Reed: You mean you sell a lot of candy?
Mouse: And soda, and so forth. But the medical industry owes a great deal to mice, not only because of my candy and soda, but because of Lyme disease and the Hanta virus and the Bubonic plague, and, moreover, because the general social theory of mice— that they can live anywhere, on any food supply, in any level of toxicity/adversity— has been a well-spring of surgical and medicinal necessities, and, henceforth, applications.
Reed: And, aside from your excellent health and prospects, as of the Sonny Bono1998 copyright extension, you’ve been made a protected species, virtually in perpetuity.
Mouse: Yes, as of the Sonny Bono bill, I won’t become public domain in 2004, but will remain protected under the new copyright law.
Reed: Which is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Mouse: But that challenge will fail. And that means, pretty much, that I’ll be around until the sun burns out. And with all the helpful Disney lawyers and all the helpful non-Disney lawyers who don’t want to do anything that might spark a lawsuit, as that would be expensive, and require they rise from their leather couches, in the current, and probably permanent state of things, well, not only am I immortal, nobody can even make fun of me.
Reed: As a matter of fact, I was recently challenged to try publishing a parody of Disney. How long do you think it will be before I hear from the lawyers?
Reed: How do you feel about being emblematic of the total impunity afforded large corporations? Let’s take, as an example, your own adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Mouse: Hugo would have loved it.
Mouse: Because audiences loved it. We tested and tested, and our boards finally came up with exactly what the target market wanted to see. No individual could do that. Besides, our Quasimodo was cuddly.
Reed: I’m not so sure I agree with your assessment of what Hugo would have thought of a "cuddly" Quasimodo. It seems to me you had nothing to add to the story, and that, quite the opposite, you subtracted rather liberally, and that, in terms of justifying your version, there is no critical or satirical element whatsoever— merely a bottom-line of capital gain, and the exploitation, and subversion of an individual’s—
Mouse: Individuals die. Corporations don’t die.
Reed: Like Walt, you mean— corporations continue to exist, unchanging, in perpetual stasis. Come to think of it, that harkens to your own untouchable, immortal state. Would you draw a parallel—
Mouse: I’m not immortal like Walt. Nobody had to freeze me. And nobody’s gonna have to thaw me out. I can lick the back of my own knee if I want to—you call that frozen? Besides, even when he was alive, Walt was just my hand puppet. I had my forepaw so far up his—
Reed: Ehem. We’re already pushing this.
Mouse: No, we’re not. This is nothing. You’re the one who asked the stupid question. You think you’re going to rattle me? You should have seen the time I sold the flammable pajamas to toddlers. I’ve got balls the size of my own head. Look.
Reed: Yes, uh, they are big, comparatively— but isn’t that just because you’re an animated figure, and you can have whatever you want? Much like the giant conglomerates can have or do whatever they want— and anyone who attempts to express something at odds with their agenda is—
Mouse: I’m not animated, I’m real, ask Wall Street. I live and change and there’s no reason to make fun of me in the first place. I’m on top of it. You make fun of me, you’re probably out of it anyway.
Reed: People worry about machines taking over life on Earth, but maybe the real threat is animated figures. You’re like a higher form of life— you reproduce more easily, live forever, get loved and respected like a living being, and yet suffer no moral or physical consequences for anything. You can kick anyone— push anyone off a moving train. You can eat a whole cake if you want to, and only get fat if you’re so inclined. In some ways, you, as a representation of Disney, truly are a kind of divine mouse. God and mouse— everywhere and nowhere, free and yet totally dependent on the laziness and waste of others. And, best of all, as supreme vermin— no glue traps.
Mouse: I told you I’m real. And if that’s some kind of threat about the glue traps, let me tell you—nobody sets glue traps for me. You set a glue trap for me, that’s punitive, and nobody wants a punitive judgment as far as The Mouse is concerned. Nobody messes with The Mouse.
Reed: Yes, I’d agree that’s a fair assessment. And, in a genuine sense, you are real. Did you know that in the Nineteenth century corporations were afforded the rights of individuals?
Mouse: Enough about the damn corporations, the damn copyright law, and your damn campaign of disinformation. I thought this was going to be about my art.
Reed: Uh huh. Well—
Mouse: And, by the way, I saw those articles, in The New York Press and Publisher’s Weekly, about you ripping off George Orwell, and I hope they throw your ass in jail.
Reed: I don’t think there’s too much chance of that. Even with the Sonny Bono extension, which kept Orwell’s work out of the Public Domain in 2000— the year that marked fifty years after his death and the end of the previous term of copyright on his works— my book is pretty clearly a parody. And I’m not the only one taking a second look at Orwell— George is facing some legitimate reassessment after the attacks last September. Animal Farm in particular represents a cold war mindset, a formulation that the enemy is out there, while, contrary to that formulation, we must now realize that, to a large degree, the enemy is within. By applying the Orwell model as it currently stands, via Animal Farm, there’s little room for the realization that we’re not living up to the ideals of our own society, and that, especially abroad—
Mouse: Shut up, Orwell was a great man. Great men can pump heavy metals into frog ponds, if it’s for the greater good.
Mouse: If this isn’t in Artforum, I’m gonna sue.
Reed: Uh, how about The Brooklyn Rail?
Mouse: What the hell is that?
Reed: The Brooklyn Rail? Oh, I don’t know. I’ve published a couple of reviews in the Rail and I’ve been surprised by not only the number of people, but the number of really good people who read it.
Mouse: Yeah, well, I better get the cover.
Reed: That’s really not up to me, but I’ll mention it to Phong and Ted.
Mouse: What? Who are they? And get me their social security numbers. And just forget plugging your stupid knock off of Animal Farm.
Reed: Snowball’s chance.
Mouse: Jail, buddy.
Reed: I really don’t think anything will happen. Everyone close to the publication is frothing at the mouth, but all that’s happened so far is we got one kind of grumpy, not-too-bright e-mail. The representative for the Orwell estate wouldn’t even talk to The New York Times.
Mouse: The Times should be ashamed of itself. They must be getting their writers out of the same cesspool that spawned you.
Reed: I’m not sure how much importance you’d attach to my opinion, but I found myself amazed by how—
Mouse: Anyone who wants to be a writer, anyone who wants to be an artist, they should have to get a license, which could get taken away at a moment’s notice. You have to have a license to do everything else, and, generally, a creative person is more careless and destructive than a drunk driver. Frankly, I think it should be illegal to be an artist at all.
Reed: I see, but don’t you consider yourself—
Mouse: Not me, you moron. Everyone else. And I want approval on the text in this "interview."
Mouse: Run it by my lawyers.
Mouse: Hey, wise guy, try asking this question— in what ways are you, Mickey Mouse, the most influential artist this century? In what ways does your latest, brilliant sculptural expression bring yet more enlightenment to a planet you have already brought enlightenment?
Reed: All right, what of it?
Mouse: Well, I developed film, obviously, and animation, and special effects— almost entirely on my own. Music as well. Consider what we did for Rock n’ Roll on the Mickey Mouse Show. Certainly the music video— I had fully reconciled music and image in the 1930s. And art—figurative, and abstract. Just look at Fantasia. That says it all. From that source alone, you could trace almost all of contemporary culture. From MTV to Jackson Pollack.
Reed: What about Walt, didn’t he—
Mouse: Without me, Walt wouldn’t even be a hunk of ice. By the way, Marc Quinn owes me big time on that.
Reed: Hm, you think so? Could you explain that in more—
Mouse: Stick to the subject. Ask about my new medium.
Reed: Oh— just consider yourself asked.
Mouse: I’m working with excrement and pigment, much in the same method that I have for all of my animated pieces. (Incidentally, I’ve always had that technique on the table, and I’m investigating whether artists such as Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, Franz West, Tony Labatt, Chris Ofili, John Miller, Wim Delvoye and Piero Manzoni don’t owe me royalties.) It’s an organic process of intake, digestion, and yield. The medium has always been crucial to me, and I’ve always spread it literally throughout my projects— as a kind of fertilizer in which the viewer might take root. But now, I’m looking for a more pure art. All excrement. Next, the theme park.
Reed: That’s heavy.
Mouse: Now, ask me about my influences. And be sure to print it just the way I say it— I mean, that should be easy for a plagiarist like you, but you never know.
Reed: Whatever you say.
Mouse: You’re darn tootin’.
Reed: Please, go on.
Mouse: Right, then. Influences. As for myself, I studied alongside Anthony Quinn, under Picasso. As for influences— Andy Warhol, Mathew Barney, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. All totally influenced by my work. And totally derivative, I might add. Looking back at this period, the only other artists of any merit will be David Bowie, David Byrne, Paul McCartney, Johnny Rotten, and maybe, Sylvester Stallone, who made some pretty important paintings when he was—
Reed: Righto. Moving on. Not to be a rumormonger, but what about the 1994 article in Star mag—
Mouse: No. Absolutely no basis to it. There was never anything between me, Liberace, and a forceps.
Reed: But it does seem to, pardon me, fit in with your artistic concerns.
Mouse: No, it doesn’t.
Reed: What about the talk of homosexuality at the old Disney studio? If you look at the photo documentation, there are quite a few dapper-looking fellows in v-neck sweaters.
Mouse: What is this, a smear piece?
Reed: No, not at all, to tell the truth, I thought it made Disney more interesting.
Mouse: No comment.
Reed: What about CBGB Gallery’s recent "Illegal Art" show— of parodic images that have been quashed?
Reed: Disney was featured prominently in the exhibition. Most notable, of course, would have to be Wally Wood’s 1967 "Disneyland Memorial Orgy." I guess Disney really got into the bacchanal spirit of the sixties.
Mouse: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Reed: Oh, well, what about the theory published last month in Zoology mag—
Mouse: No, not so. I am not a rat.
Reed: But straight-up, Mickey, you must be tipping the scales at 12 pounds.
Mouse: Listen, I’m too important to be a rat. You, you’re a rat, and that’s pretty good. Most of the global population is maggots, and those are only good for between-meal snacks. Me, I’m so damn important that I can be whatever I damn well please.
Reed: Aha. Lastly— and I must say your nose does seem a little smaller lately— what about the rumors that you had an eye enlargement as early as 1940, and that, as of 1985, you’ve been sharing a plastic surgeon with Michael Jackson?
Mouse: No, untrue, and as far as I know Michael hasn’t had any surgery either— though he does give excellent sleepovers. And, just for the record, I gave him his first sleepover back in the late seventies when we briefly brought the Mickey Mouse Show back to prime time. Returning to the subject of cosmetic surgery— you know, I lived in Hollywood a long time, and for all the talk in the tabloids, the only celebrity that I know of who, notwithstanding the gossip, really has had some work is Pinocchio. And that was just a little shave of a nose job— back when he was still made of wood.
Reed: And on a more personal note, how’s Minnie?
Mouse: Actually, that’s a common misconception. We’ve been replacing Minnie with a new mouse about every four months since—
Reed: Is that so?
Mouse: Yes, to be perfectly honest, we’ve got a whole new litter to choose from in the back.
Reed: But what about the males?
Mouse: Don’t you know anything about mouse fathers?
Reed: You mean?
Mouse: Yes, occasionally one hankers after more than a maggot.
Reed: Um, thanks. That’s just about all I’ll need for—
Mouse: Yeah, yeah, hotstuff, we’ll see. You think you’re real? I could have you erased. I could have this erased. I could have the whole Brooklyn Rail erased. All I have to say is the magic words— Abracadabra the mouse gets his way, with a wave of his tail this newspaper…
John Reed's novels include A Still Small Voice (Delacorte 2000) and Snowball's Chance, which will be published by Roof Books this September. He lives in Manhattan.