Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Disney Dilemma: Which Side Are You On?

Cherished Friends... or hated enemies?

Several weeks ago, three deaths occurred on Disney World property within a seventeen day period. One was a monorail driver who crashed into another parked monorail, one was a performer who fell from a show stage, and the third was a stuntman at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. Unfortunate tragedies, all of them.

I remember reading about the last death online at AOL. At the bottom of each article, there is a comment feature that allows the reader to voice their opinion on the subject. Normally there are only a dozen comments at the most. On this particular article there were 236. As I skimmed through the various comments I began to come to a perplexing conclusion. Alot of folks out there in cyberspace hate Disney. Not just dislkike, but downright hate the kingdom that Walt built. In the case of these particular comments, it came to about 80%. Twenty percent expressed their sadness and condolences over the death of the stuntman, while all the others cracked tasteless jokes or leveled blame and accusation at Disney officials, citing unfounded negligence on their part for all three deaths.

I've come across this Disney-hating phenomenon for years, on a smaller scale. It seems that folks either love Mickey Mouse and all he stands for, or they hate his guts. The degree of emotion the very mention of Disney seems to conjure is usually spelled out in distinctive shades of black or white... there never seems to be any gray area at all. While Walt Disney World remains the number one vacation destination in the country and Disney films are among the highest grossing in the business, there are still folks out there who harbor a deep-seeded resentment of the entertainment organization and its offerings.

Personally, I love Disney. Of course, it wasn't always that way for me. When I was a younger man, Disney-related stuff seemed childish to me and I had no interest in it whatsoever. But when I married, things changed. During the second year of our marriage, Joyce and I traveled to Disney World (on six hundred bucks, no less... can you imagine that?) and, since that point, I have been a lover and supporter of all things Disney; the theme parks, the movies, the music... everything. I've also become a great admirer of the late Walt Disney himself. Not only was he a champion of family entertainment, but his vision in many areas was way before his time. It was just unfortunate that he died before he could see many of his innovations come to life.

My love of Disney only seems to grow now that I have children and I see the joy that it brings them. Since 1992, we have been to Disney World six times (with a new trip planned for June of 2010) and the planning of each trip is full of excitement and wonder, like a trip to heaven on earth. The same goes for Disney movies. When a new one is released, the Kelly family rushes off to the local theatre to discover what magic the newest Disney flick has to offer.

Disney-Haters, on the other hand, live at the opposite end of the spectrum. They come in two varieties: the snide dismisser or the venomous antagonist. Some are satisfied with making crude jokes and comments and simply leaving it at that. Others whole-heartedly despise Disney and let it be known in no uncertain terms. All Disney-Haters seem to believe Disney is some evil corporate entity that is out to pull the wool over the eyes of the public; a modern-day Adolf Hitler in mouse ears, out to conquer the world with candy-coated cyanide pills. I have no idea where this idea originated, but it continues to be perpetuated with an animosity that borders fanaticism.

Oddly, there seem to be more male Disney-Haters than female. This is likely due to testosterone-fueled machismo. Alot of men would rather have bamboo slivers hammered beneath their fingernails than confess any allegiance to Disney. Many of these Disney-Haters consider it unmanly to express an interest in anything that is fantasy-related. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they refuse to let their guard down and enjoy anything other than the customary male interests and pasttimes (football, hunting, NASCAR, etc.). To love Disney is a sign of weakness in their eyes. But there is hope for the die-hard Disney-Hating Male. I've witnessed it firsthand during visits to the World. I've seen burly, bear-like men, obviously resentful of being dragged to the parks, grinning like happy six-year-olds after exiting rides like Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

One stringent Disney-Hater has always been right-wing religion, or some particularly relentless factions of it. Disney boycotts have been orchestrated by organized religion groups, and myths and misinformation have been perpetuated by their leaders and followers; that all Disney films include subliminal messages of a subversive and sexual nature and even that Walt Disney himself was a pornographer before turning his talents to family fare. Much of the religious-right's animosity toward Disney has to do with the Disney corporation's obvious respect for their gay employees (their healthcare plan covers an employee's significant other... be they male or female) and an annual week-long gay and lesbian celebration at Disney World (actually this is not Disney-sponsered, but is a privately-sponsered event that encompasses all of Orlando.)

Another thing that strikes me is that Disney-Haters are also in the same league as Barney-Haters. The big purple dinosaur that everyone loves to make fun of and bash, has probably done more to prepare pre-kindergarten children for school than anyone else; instilling manners, good health practices, and respect for others, as well as teaching colors, shapes, numbers, and the alphabet. Sure, the big fella can grate on your nerves if played on the DVD player a dozen times in a row (like at my house!), but all in all, he is of great benefit to today's youngsters. Disney has the same effect -- promoting healthy imaginations -- on a more entertaining level. Most of the Disney/Barney-Haters are single people with no children, who are sadly ignorant of this benefit. But then I've also encountered family folks who steadfastly forbid their children excess to Disney or Barney, simply because of their own personal preferences or biases.

The best of both worlds!

One recent point of debate involves Disney's forthcoming purchase of Marvel Entertainment for a staggering sum of $4 billion dollars. Some see great benefit in this transaction, while others are only spouting gloom and doom. Being a lover of both Disney and Marvel, I see it as an incredible melding of two grand universes. Of course, Universal Studios (Disney's main theme park competitor) may see it much differently. What will become of their Marvel-themed rides and character showings at the Island of Adventures theme park? Will they be forced to do away with that section of the park entirely, or will they be required to pay Disney (what a blow to their ego that would be!) for the rights to keep their Marvel-oriented entertainment intact? In any event, you can be certain that Disney will take full advantage of its ownership of Spiderman, the Hulk, and Wolverine. Personally, I would love to see a fifth theme park pop up on the Disney World property, devoted entirely to the Marvel Universe. A farfetched idea? Perhaps not.

So, which camp do you belong to? Do you love Disney and its many magical offerings? Or do you feel as some do... that Disney is a wolf in mouse clothing; money-hungry corporate villians with less than Walt-like intentions? In any event, this is America, where everyone's opinion counts. You have the freedom and the right to embrace Mickey Mouse... or set a trap behind the refrigerator for him.

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