Rethinking Disney, Chapter Five: Gay Days at the Disney Theme Parks

I never really gave much thought about the gay community or society’s tolerance level for the gay community in the 1970s and 80s, but it was a little appalling to read about how Disney went to such prejudiced lengths to deter gays from crashing Disneyland, and “prepared for the worst”. While I don’t exactly agree with the way that that first “Gay Day” in 1976 was handled by either side—because it sounds like those attending were just as obnoxious as those who worked there—it’s still disconcerting that “courtesy was optional” for the employees. It stands out in my mind as something that would not be tolerated today.

In relation to this, as I read the article, I thought at first that Disney coming from freaking out in the 70s, to holding AIDS charity balls and then moving into the 90s and today by having nice, safe frequent “Gay Days” was a sign of the changing times and the way gays are more accepted in today’s culture versus the 70s… But then that last line of the chapter—nope. “But what did matter—at least to Disney—was that the couple and the child had paid to enter the park”. They’re still a business. If Gay Days are one of the busiest of the year, they are certainly not going to turn away people’s money. And while I do think that the shift in public attitude towards acceptance does have a bit to do with why they won’t say no to any more Gay Days (because then there would be a huge backlash of people calling them anti-gay) in the end, they are still a business, and money is money, regardless of the sexual orientation of the person giving it to them.

Also, it’s interesting that Disney is know for placing such high value on and promoting traditional family values- heterosexual, nuclear families…. But then just about every Disney princess—at least at the time of the first “Gay Day” in 1976, came from a broken family… Snow White was an orphan with and evil stepmother; Cinderella was the same deal (and the prince in that movie as well only has a father, no mother); Aurora has 2 parents, but she isn’t raised by them, but by three “aunts” instead… (and again, Prince Philip has no mother, just a father.) I’m not entirely sure what to make of this in relation to Disney’s relationship with the gay community, but I do think it’s an interesting ting to consider. Perhaps it makes the company a bit hypocritical?

The Mouse That Roared- Prologue and Introduction

In reading the prologue and introduction of “The Mouse That Roared”, there was only one thing I agreed with, on page xvi: “It is as important to comprehend and mitigate what gives us pleasure as it is to examine what elicits our disapproval”. This I find to be true. The things that we don’t like always get a lot of attention. There is so much negativity in the news and media today. But isn’t it true that we should spend just as much time talking about why we like something, as we do about why we don’t like something. To really sit down and think: OK, why do I like this? Why do my kids like this? Why does everyone like this?

However, the rest of the book (as hinted at in the introduction) appears to be mostly negative criticism. Nothing is perfect, and Disney being Disney doesn’t excuse them from also being a corporation. So yes, they are going to employ sneaky marketing techniques to attract certain demographics. And the messages you want to see are going to be there.

Page 3 of the introduction discusses the article in the New York Times about the marketing techniques that Disney uses to appeal more to boys aged 6 to 14. The entire section uses some very negatively weighted words and phrases, such as “probe their minds”, “camouflaged”, “seductive”, and “exploiting children for profit”. The authors of this book clearly consider Disney’s actions to be horrible. Is it really all that bad though? Would kids see this as a bad thing? Or would they see it as Disney taking a true interest in exactly what kids want, and not “out-of-touch grown-ups” trying to guess. So, while the authors of this book may see Disney as being devious, I would argue that in the end, we’re all consumers. And Disney is still a corporation, a business. Kids in a certain demographic want a certain type of product, and Disney is in the business of satisfying customers, so why not do so effectively?

The seeming paranoia of the authors begins to show on page 6, where it says,

“…Disney’s influence as a major participant in youth culture must be addressed both as an educational issue and as a matter of politics and institutional power. Although we focus on Disney’s cultural politics and its attempt to mystify its corporate agenda with appeals to fun, innocence, and pure entertainment, the seriousness of the political and economic threat that Disney and other corporations present to democracy cannot be underestimated”. At the bottom of the page, it continues by saying, “Media conglomerates such as Disney are not merely producing harmless entertainment…” They go on to say exactly what my argument to these statements was, that everything is influenced by something else, and everything is an influence in one way or another. Furthermore, no two children are going to take away the exact same message from a film, TV show, etc… What one person might see as horrible racism in a film, might not even register with someone else. It might not even have registered with the filmmakers. Of course Disney is a large influence on every child, but to say that it is harmful to every child is a huge generalization. There is no “pure” entertainment; by this reasoning, nothing is safe, and children would be better off being completely cut off from all forms of mass media and culture.

In another laughable, nit-picky, and paranoid statement, the authors bring up an excerpt from a Canadian newspaper, and express their horror at the “clearly disturbing, and perhaps inadvertent, indicator of Disney’s capacity to destroy individuality and to compel, even control, the will of individuals toward consumption” because the journalist says that being at a Disney resort makes her want to eat Mickey waffles even though she is trying to avoid carbs and doesn’t even really like waffles.  Saying, as the authors of this book do, that Disney has the power to control the wills of individuals makes it seem like they are accusing the company of conspiring to hatch some evil plan to change the world into their army mind-slaves. This is taking things entirely too far. The journalist is simply saying that Disney makes her want to caution into the wind, that it inspires a “carpe diem” kind of attitude that usually has no place in the “real world”. Wanting waffles is a far throw from wanting to obey the evil Disney overlords and aid them in their plan for world domination.

I still agree that it is just as important to examine carefully the things we enjoy as it is to examine the things we don’t like, the authors of this book always seem to come to negative conclusions. People like Disney so much because they’re sneaky and conniving and evil. But they’re no worse than any other corporation. The unique thing about Disney is that their entire image is the exact opposite of corporate America. It’s as if people are surprised to find out that Disney is no different than Wal-Mart. I wonder if Disney’s biggest critics, like the authors of this book, are the ones who feel the most let down by this revelation.

 

Reaction to The Mickey Mouse Club’s “Annette” Series

While watching the first few little episodes of “Annette”, there was one thing that became clearer and clearer: nothing has really changed when comparing this series or any of the other teen “dramas” the Disney produces. “Annette” has all the classic characters that “Lizzie McGuire”, “That’s So Raven”, and “Hannah Montana” had/have.

Annette is the titular character of the show. She is the “everygirl” that audiences can identify with and fall in love with. She is good and honest and loyal. She might be a bit clueless at times, but that just makes her all the more endearing. She has friends and crushes, just like any teenage girl. This has not really changed when looking at the modern day teen heroines of Disney Channel. The three newer ones are all certainly more unique (Raven can see the future; Miley is a pop star, etc…) but they’re still the loveable good girls. Not quite part of the popular crowd, but not complete losers either.

Laura and her posse have not changed so much from show to show, either. For every “good girl”, there is always the catty queen bee who is seemingly out to get the heroine. While watching “Annette”, I kept wishing that Laura would just stop complaining about her stupid lost necklace! She seemed to be harping on about it so much simply to antagonize Annette. Looking at the popular Disney shows of today, we find that this archetypal character is still around, and still just as annoyingly bitchy.

And what is always the main reason for the “popular girl” to hate the “good girl” so much? Why– the hunky nice guy, of course!  Steve is the perfect high school sweetheart– good-looking, well-mannered, and popular. Both Laura and Annette want him to be their boyfriend. This, too, is still a recurring theme in Disney teen shows.

Other identifiable archetypes in the show were the “quirky best friend”– Jet in this show; the “eccentric but loving parents/guardians”– I feel like parents in these shows are always written from the perspective of the kids. Like, this is how THEY view parental figures; and the “dorky kid”– in this case, Steady. I feel like this character usually ends up being exploited by numerous other characters. The only one missing from this show was the “annoying (usually younger) sibling”, which is very common in a lot of teen shows today.

So what does this mean? I think that these hallmarks are still around (though certainly updated) because they work. These are situations and people that a lot of American teenagers encounter in their high school years, then and now, and as long as that remains true, I think Disney (as well as other stations like Nickelodeon) will continue to produce shows with these themes.

It was certainly interesting to see basically “Lizzie McGuire” of the ’50s. The dialogue felt extremely dated, as did a lot of the clothes and customs. But already I look back at shows like the earlier seasons of “Boy Meets World” and notice how parts of that show feel a bit dated. I think it’s important to look at “Annette” as a product of its time and take it for what it is. The most interesting thing about it is how it seems to have been the start of a long line of Disney TV shows about plucky, loveable teenage girls and their day-to-day lives. And as long as people like them, they’ll keep making more.

Reaction to Disney Characters Video, Friday 3/2

There are two things I found interesting  about the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg7-BhpyfEc). The first simply has to do with the fact that the none of the people in the pictures (presumably the family members of whoever made this video) are little children. Secondly, I thought it interesting how some of the characters are portrayed as real people, and others as still very cartoony– even when they’re all based on animations.

The family in these photos looks to be made up of two boys and their mother, but both “boys” look to be in their mid- to late teens, or maybe even a bit older. And yet, they’re posing and smiling with a whole slew of Disney characters, and all wearing Disney t-shirts as well. I’m also going to venture a guess that one of the two boys is the one who made this video, and he certainly wouldn’t have done that and put it on the internet if he wasn’t completely enthusiastic about sharing his Disney experience with others. You’d expect that only little kids would get excited about meeting their favorite characters, but this video shows that apparently that is not always the case. People of all ages love getting to meet Donald and Goofy.

The other aspect of this video that I found a bit strange was that some charcters are people in normal costumes- like Pocahontas, for instance. She’s a woman who looks like the animation of Pocahontas, in a dress like the character wears. But then other characters– even other human characters, like the family from The Incredibles, are portrayed in the parks by people with these giant cartoon masks. Why not just find a woman who looks like Elasti-Girl? Why have her wear the creepy head?

My one answer to this could because I noticed a lot of the cartoonish characters are children– the kids from Incredibles, as well as Lilo from Lilo and Stitch. Perhaps Disney has some rule about not making kids walk around in the hot sun all day being personable and charming. But then, there’s still other characters with the giant cartoon heads, like Capt. Hook and Smee. I don’t understand it, and I kind of think it’s really creepy. If I were a little kid, those masks would terrify me…

Lastly, I noticed there were Power Rangers and Star Wars characters in these pictures. In the comments of the video, someone brought this up, and the reply was that you can meet them at Hollywood Studios, which I did not know. But when you think about how Disney is such an American thing, and how all these characters have become part of American tradion, it makes a certain kind of sense that other beloved American franchises would be represented at the parks as well. Also, Star Wars and Power Rangers are both typically aimed at boys, so perhaps by having these characters, Disney keeps the character-meeting hype up for all ages and genders.

Yet, this brings us back to the beginning. It seems like even if Darth Vader and the Pink Power Ranger hadn’t been at the Park the day this family went, the two teen boys would still have been excited to see and meet all of the other characters. I’m pretty sure Disney just owns this family.

Disney Musicals and Disney Travel- Great “Firsts” for Kids

The chapter about Disney on Broadway was very interesting for me, because I remembered (or at least knew of) a lot of what was discussed.

I think that the Disney musicals have the potential to be very good shows—The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast certainly show this. But in the case of the other musicals, it seems to me that Disney is trying too hard to rekindle that same glory by going for spectacle, rather than focusing on what could be a truly good film-to-stage adaptation. Not every Disney film is adaptable to the stage; some are just better as films.  Tarzan, Aida and The Little Mermaid all seem to be very showy, with their elaborate sets and costumes. While it worked for The Lion King, it clearly isn’t working as well for these other adaptations, and Disney needs to realize that. I think they need to look for films that have the potential to translate well to the stage, not films that have the potential for a lot of spectacle. If people want spectacle, they should go see Disney on Ice.

Of course, all of the Disney Musicals are good introductory musicals. My first Broadway show was Beauty and the Beast, when I was four or five years old. My brother’s first show was The Lion King, when he was around the same age. If you already know and love the story, or even if you just know and love Disney, you’ll come to see the show, especially if it is already one of your favorite films.

All I could think as I read the chapter on Disney Travel (especially the cruises) was “I want to go to there.” Beyond that, the main thing I picked up on in this chapter was basically the same thing as with the Broadway musicals: the Disney cruises and guided tours all seem really wonderful if they’re going to be a child’s first travel experience.

With the cruises, it seems like they’re all very safe and oriented around providing a kid-friendly atmosphere. And even though it says that there is a lot to do away from kids, I have to wonder what sort of person goes on a Disney cruise who doesn’t have, or at least like, kids? If you don’t want kids everywhere, don’t take a Disney cruise.

And once again, it’s the same deal with the Guided Tours. I love guided tours. They can be really fun. And if you want to go to Vienna or Hawaii or Wyoming or anywhere that offers a Disney Adventure- with your little kids, I think it’s the perfect way to get a child into traveling in a friendly, fun, safe way.

Basically, this chapter gave me extreme wanderlust. Not necessarily to sign up for a Disney vacation—but it definitely sold me on the possibility.

Disney is a Marketing Genius… (“Why We Love Disney” Chapters 5 and 6)

The one thought that kept coming to me as I read these two chapters was how good Disney is at identifying and pleasing its audience, despite its few failures over the years. Disney seems to have always been good at marketing, right from the beginning. Additionally, the company seems to have always been open to experimentation and trying new forms of media and entertainment. Disney is able to go back and forth between giving the audience what they want, as well as giving the audience something new and different.

Right from the beginning, with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I noticed this trend beginning to form. No one had ever dared to make a feature-length animated film before, and people loved it. Subsequently, there appeared many different Snow White products, from records to soap. This shows how Disney has always been good at identifying what its audience likes and exploiting it in every possible way. The same was true of Mickey Mouse and all of those related products, as we read in the other book. Much of the same thing is true with the way Fantasia was promoted and presented. The film is something new and unique, and as such, Disney needed to find creative ways to market it to the public.

Disney is also very wise when it comes to adjusting to their audiences. For example, the WWII films show how they shifted their priorities to suit the public interests and to stay relevant. Similarly, Song of the South is an example of a film that did well and was accepted by the public at the time of its release, but has since been swept under the rug by the company, because they know that today’s audiences would (and do) not approve of it. As far as trying new mediums of entertainment, Disney has managed to carve a permanent niche in both live-action  film as well as in television. With both of these forms of media, Disney was at first reluctant, but them accepting. In television, you can see this in the way they began to target teen and tween audiences with relatable, iconic young actors and actresses. From Annette Funicello to Miley Cyrus, and beyond, they have always been good at finding new talent and turning them into household names.

I think we still see these characteristics of Disney to this day, and I think it is one reason why they are still so successful and beloved. The best example of this that I can think of is with the film Tangled, and the way its promotion was handled. First of all, it is a computer-animated film, as opposed to a traditional 2D, hand-drawn film. Almost all popular, wide-release animated films these days are computer-animated, so it makes a logical sense that Disney would embrace this technology for such an important film. (I say it is important, because even though this is not the first computer-animated film they have release, it is the first one to feature a new Disney Princess, and I think that even if the film had been a failure, the Princess aspect would have been pushed and marketed to death. I hope this makes sense. I can’t really think of a better way to explain this.) Secondly, there is the way that the film was marketed. I’m sure I’m not the first one to notice this, but look at this promo poster for Tangled: 

The characters are looking very mischievous, almost edgy. The cocky expressions seem to say “Hey, this might be a Disney film, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be cool and hip.” It’s very reminiscent of a lot of the posters for various DreamWorks animated films: 

What is it with that cocky eyebrow expression?! This shift in promo technique shows Disney’s adaptability. They clearly have taken note of the popularity of films such as Kung Fu Panda and Shrek, and are doing their best to grab the audience’s attention with a similar marketing technique.

The trailer for Tangled does much the same thing:

To be honest, I felt severely let down by this trailer. It made me not want to watch the film. The obnoxious music, the fact that her hair seems to have a mind of its own or something… it all just left a sour taste in my mouth. I wanted another classic Disney Princess movie, in the style of my beloved Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. I was sure that the film would be—if not outright horrible—at least not something anyone over the age of 10 or 11 would really enjoy. It would be the start of a new generation of Princess films, full of snarky, stupid humor and obnoxious pop songs.

Obviously, I was wrong. Tangled is nothing short of pure Disney magic. It has it’s shortcomings, but all in all, it follows the same classic formula and delivers a Princess film no less wonderful or beautiful than any of the others that have come before it.

But it’s all in the marketing. Ultimately, I think that Disney was very smart in the way they presented Tangled. Regardless of what the film actually is, they knew that promoting it in a certain way would attract the most viewers. Perhaps if it had been marketed as another standard Princess film, box office sales would not have been as good.

I realize that this post has become a weird review of Tangled, and not so much about the chapters. But this is all I could think of as I did the reading. Disney’s adaptability has allowed the company to stay relevant while at the same time remain loyal to their own tried and true formulas. I think this is one reason why the company is so successful. No matter what medium of entertainment they endeavor in, they find a way to make it their own, and make it work.

Drunk in Disneyland (News Article and Video)

Found a story today about a man who apparently got drunk and caused a scene in Disneyland the other day. There’s video and everything. Considering how protective Disney is of their image, I wonder how they’re going to handle this? I wonder if they’ll ask the person who posted the video of the incident to take it down…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2103867/Moment-belligerent-man-Disneyland-gets-pepper-sprayed-adventure-park-security-guard.html?ito=feeds-newsxml