June 19, 2024

How the Culture Wars Came to Grow Disney

Josie Maida embodies the term Disney Adult. “I’ve had much worse things said about me,” said the 28-year-old Orlando-based content creator. “Life is short, and I’ll enjoy what I like.”

Maida lives a mile from Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle – not close enough to see it from her home but close enough that she gets to visit Disney’s cluster of central Florida theme parks at least once a week. While she is there, Maida makes a food related topic to share with her huge followers onlinelike Instagram a video from April in which she spins a soft pink-and-orange cone for the camera before taking a bite.

But not everything she posts is this light in nature. “I’m very, very liberal. It is a known thing. I share relatively liberal posts a little bit on my Instagram story,” she said, adding that she and other creators in her network tend to, for very obvious reasons, dislike the Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. “There have been many instances in the Disney community where people have found out that someone was over Trumpy and they’ve put it all on Twitter or Instagram.”

Maida is just one of many people whose relationship with Disney has become more political since DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidate running against former President Donald Trump, embroiled the company in the conservative culture wars, which has since trickled down to the niche – and once firmly apolitical – fandom known as Disney Adults. Almost overnight, Disney went from “deliberately inoffensive” was demonized in the right-wing media for allegedly, in a way, being the promoter of “grooming” and pedophilia, and the adult Disney super fans who will bear the pressure of the fall.

“Disney subs are mostly having fun and talking about rides and changes and stuff like that. It’s rarely political but desantis has made it political,” one Redditor who regularly goes to Disney for marathon races told HuffPost via Reddit DM. Like nearly everyone contacted for this piece via message boards, they asked that identifying details not be published but claimed to be Republicans who dislike DeSantis.

The whole sentiment is widely shared in the active community of the Disney subreddit, a purple space that has descended into chaos and locked up over DeSantis’ polarizing post.

“I’m done with this crap,” said the same person in May on a public post in r/WaltDisneyWorld – “The most magical subreddit in the world!”

Another Reddit user lashed out at DeSantis in April because he was lawmakers ordered the dissolution of Disney’s special tax district, a move DeSantis claimed was meant to level the playing field for competing fields: “But somehow despite taking L after L, the fascist class still hasn’t learned…. DON’T YOU FUCK WITH THE MOUSE!”

It might be expected that DeSantis is losing the Disney Adult GOP vote. But the trend also underscores the governor’s overall weakness in the race, as he currently polls 30 percentage points behind Trump in the national media. The battle against so-called wokeness that was supposed to attract him to the GOP mass of voters who can’t wrap their minds around the governor’s crusade against one of his state’s biggest taxpayers may have the opposite effect.

“Whether you’re a Democrat, an independent or one of your fellow Republicans, it’s something that has a lot of people scratching their heads, especially since [DeSantis] it doesn’t look like this battle has been won anyway,” Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat who represents Orlando in Congress, told HuffPost about the war on Disney.

“Why should you think I’m a Republican or a Democrat because of the fact that we like to go to the happiest place on earth with our kids?”

– Fans who mourn the new politics of Disney

The culture wars are especially fraught for Adults Disney, whose fandom thrives on the concept of escape and fantasy. This is what fans call the “Disney bubble”, the idea that reality stops at the park gates – or by scrolling deep enough into a Reddit thread. And what many fans seem to dislike is the space between DeSantis and the corporation they affectionately call “The Mouse.”

The bubble hasn’t burst yet – but for some it’s getting close.

“That’s the whole reason you go to Disney, not to escape that kind of stuff. That was one of the nice things: You can just go there and enjoy the fantasy,” said one fan, who had just returned from an eight-day Disney trip. Like true Adult Disney status, this person — who didn’t share his name for fear of getting in trouble at work and because people can look at you differently sometimes when they learn you. Disney has a $30,000 time shift – he said he’s been to Disney parks more than 100 times. But some of the magic of the Disney experience comes from the turmoil and politics that ensued.

Now, people are not only looking at him sideways “for drinking the [Disney] Cool Aid.” They’re wondering what his fandom says about his politics – and that’s even worse. “Why should you think I’m a Republican or a Democrat because of the fact that we like to go to the happiest place on earth with our kids?” said the fan, who happens to be a political independent. “That’s what created this, and that should never be allowed to happen.”

The fans have different opinions about who deserves the blame for the split, which started in 2022 with a backlash for Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” a law that restricts discussion of gender and sexuality in classrooms. The law was widely seen as part of a broader GOP culture war attack on LGBTQ+ identity, racial equity and gender affirming care for transgender people — all issues that data suggests deeply divided Most Americans, making them just an electoral slam dunk.

Some say that former CEO Bob Chapek had to deal with the tough calls from his employees speak out against “Don’t Say Gay” last year, which pitted the company against Republican leaders.

But many in Disney’s corner place much of the blame on DeSantis, who they say was acting out of spite — not level the playing field for other businesses in Florida – when he started turning the screws on Disney and making the company fodder for GOP influencers.

“There’s a significant shift among your most active Republicans, the hyperbole they use — pedophiles, groomers — they assign Disney as the corporate entity,” said David Jolly, a former Florida Republican and consultant who’s not particularly into the parks, if for no other reason than they really aren’t. “Now, I don’t know how many of them are still taking their kids there or how much of this is just fire and fury on Twitter. The change among many Republicans in how they see Disney, not from a brand perspective but from a cultural perspective – that’s a real change.

It is difficult to understand whether it has a material effect on Disney. The company, like competing theme parks, is continuing a summer slump, which it attributes to the heat and ticket prices. Some analysts also point to Florida political landscape as a factor in keeping guests away. The company did not respond to a request for comment on how politics is affecting its bottom line.

“It’s not something I want to be exposed to, personally. Not when I’m spending thousands of dollars to have a nice family experience.”

– Brittany Jean, GOP club leader in Tampa, on why she won’t go to Disney

But yes is people out there like Brittany Jean, 28 years old who said she will never go back to Disney World. Jean, the leader of the Young Republicans of Tampa Bay, said her frustration began with Disney’s COVID mask mandates. Republicans across the state have widely panned such public health measures. Now their deeper values ​​don’t match Disney’s.

“Disney is pushing a wake-up call agenda on kids,” Jean said, citing a video which went viral among the right wing last month for showing a gender non-conforming cast member greeting children at the park’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. “It would be hard to explain that to a child when they’re trying to enjoy themselves and have fun. It’s not something I want to be exposed to, personally. Not when I’m spending thousands of dollars to have a nice family experience.”

Maida, for her part, still sees plenty of people she recognizes as Republicans in the parks. “It’s funny because you hear these people who love DeSantis say they’re not coming to the parks anymore and they hate Disney. But then there are all these people wearing ridiculous Republican shirts,” she said. They will often come with clothes showing support for Trump or DeSantis. And they will cheer on Trump in the Hall of Presidents, the very exciting an animatronic display of every US president.

Democrats like Carlye Morgan are the anti-Republican force that Disney swears by. Morgan, 44, who works in government relations, said the Florida native has always been a fan of Disney. And while she’s not a full Disney adult, she stepped up her support this year by buying a season pass for her family.

“I now feel compelled to be public about that in a way that maybe I never was,” she said. “They show how I want my son to think about the world.”

Maida agrees with this sentiment, which she said guides her as a Disney Adult.

“Everybody’s seen something they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s cringey.’ But that’s any fandom,” she said. “I’m not the type of person to make fun of someone for something they like as long as they’re not hurting someone else.”

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