Editor’s note: The Orlando Sentinel posted this column on Friday, which provoked quite a controversy, some praise and a lot of criticism, including this pointed tweet from Democratic state Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, who represents Orlando: “So this adult man from Las Vegas is mad about Disney removing racist characters and animatronic rapists from their rides? Did I get that right?” Here is the original column.
My family and I have been loyal Disney customers for decades. We vacation at Disney World every year. We take a Disney cruise every year or two. Consequently, we spend way too much money in Orlando.
Unfortunately, I am strongly rethinking our commitment to Disney and, thus, Orlando. The more Disney moves away from the values and vision of Walt Disney, the less Disney World means to me. Disney is forgetting that guest immersion is at the core of its business model. When I stand in Galaxy’s Edge or Fantasyland, I know I am in a theme park but through immersion and my willingness to set the real world aside, something magical happens.
That spell is broken when the immersive experience is shattered by the real world. And boy, has Disney been breaking the immersion.
Recently, Disney announced that cast members are now permitted to display tattoos, wear inclusive uniforms and display inclusive haircuts. Disney did all of this in the name of allowing cast members to express themselves.
The problem is, I’m not traveling across the country and paying thousands of dollars to watch someone I do not know express themselves. I am there for the immersion and the fantasy, not the reality of a stranger’s self-expression. I do not begrudge these people their individuality and I wish them well in their personal lives, but I do not get to express my individuality at my place of business.
What’s next, is Disney going to end the rule barring on stage cellphone use by cast members as an infringement on self-expression?
More broadly, like many corporations, Disney has been politicizing its business. Full disclosure: I am a Christian and a conservative Republican, so the people who run Disney and I do not see eye to eye.
Regardless, corporations have always made politically motivated decisions. Usually, it is due to the desire to make a profit, but sometimes it is due to the values of the people in the corporation. Walt Disney used his corporation to express his patriotism during World War II and his pro-capitalism beliefs afterward. The difference today is that the people who run Disney use social media to scream to the whole world that a decision has been made for political reasons.
Disney is in the process of taking the woke scalpel to the Jungle Cruise. Trader Sam is out because he might offend certain people. Every grown-up in the room realizes that Trader Sam is not a representation of reality and is meant as a funny and silly caricature. It is no more based in racism than every Disney caricature of an out-of-touch white American dad.
The next time I ride Jungle Cruise I will not be thinking about the gloriously entertaining puns of the skippers, I will be thinking about Disney’s political agenda. That’s a mood killer.
Disney proclaims that Splash Mountain must change because of its association with “Song of the South.” Disney owns Splash Mountain so it can do what it wants. But if Disney screams at the top of its corporate voice, which is pretty loud, that it is changing it to appease a certain political point of view, now every time I look at the ride I am thinking about politics.
The same with Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney has made significant changes to Pirates of the Caribbean over the years. Whether Disney caved to political pressure or really thought the alterations were necessary is irrelevant.
Pirates used to be one of my favorite attractions. My family would always ride it first on our first day at the Magic Kingdom. Now, we do not even ride it every trip. When my family rides Pirates now, each of the changed scenes takes us out of the illusion because they remind us of reality and the politics that forced the changes.
Disney World is going to lose us as customers if it continues down this path. I do not want to have Disney World taken away from us because Disney cares more about politics than happy guests.
This should matter to the people of Orlando because, if Disney drives away customers like me, Orlando loses money. I can take my tourist dollars elsewhere. I would rather keep spending them in Orlando but people like me feel more and more excluded by Disney’s decisions.
The parks are less fun because immersion and thus the joy is taking a back seat to politics.
Disney, please return to the values and vision of Walt. The customer experience should be the core of your business model. Immersion should not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and appeasing the Twitter mob.
Jonathan VanBoskerck lives in North Las Vegas, Nevada. He wrote this for the Orlando Sentinel.
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