Wokeness at WDW: A Rebuttal

You’ll see soon enough…

On April 23rd, 2021, the Orlando Sentinel published a commentary called “I Love Disney World, but Wokeness is Ruining the Experience” written by Jonathon Vanboskerck.

Isn’t that just a title you get good vibes from?

I’m reprinting the article verbatim here, as context is neccessary, but it does not make it that much better. Shall we?

Oh no. The wokeness. It hurts.

“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.”

Oooh. He means business. Spending money as a consumer is the metric by which we measure seriousness, apparently! To be honest, even if you’ve been only once, you’ve spent too much money at Disney. Just the admission tickets and a single plush and you cross that threshold. But this establishes that because he spends money, of his own volition, he demands to be heard.

“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.”

Let’s see…immersion…immersion…hmmm…

Dude, the values of Walt Disney? Yes, Walt was very focused on immersion, but to say it’s the core of their business model is a bit of a stretch. Their four keys have been safety, courtesy, show, efficiency, and recently, inclusivity, but not immersion. Frankly, reality has to be a part of it. You’re still in a park where a bottle of water is $4 and the water fountains taste like sewage. There are still queues and humidity. But if you’re willing to forgive those, then great. Enjoy. Done?

“That spell is broken when the immersive experience is shattered by the real world. And boy, has Disney been breaking the immersion.

Yeah…when I have to choose between an expensive Dasani or crappy tap water. Or when a ride goes 101. Or when the crowds make waits too long. What’s your point?

“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.”

Dude, how cool would it be to see a cast member with this?

That’s…a charitable way of putting it. Disney still won’t allow things like crazy colored hair (As awesome as that may be). But Disney was doing this less to be inclusive than as a PR boost. You want the values of Walt Disney? Tap profitable markets, like young adults who love Disney but no longer are interested in the social norms our Boomer parents were happy with.

It’s clear he clings to the old-world fear that colored hair, tattoos, and gender-neutral costumes meant you were a sexual deviant, but that hasn’t been the case for a while. Some of the nicest people I ever met have nose rings and arm tats. Limiting your hiring pool by excluding someone with some sick ink limits the options in finding the best cast members to host the Most Magical Place on Earth.

“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.”

Okay…so why does it affect you? No, seriously. Why does it bother you? Does it humanize them so you can’t demean them when they deny your fastpass? I’m at a loss. I’m so used to seeing tattoos these days I probably wouldn’t have noticed if Disney hadn’t said anything. I don’t pay attention to CM’s forearms.

And if you don’t get to express yourself at your job…so? Why shouldn’t they? Lots of places now don’t care what you wear unless you’re wearing their approved vest or nametags. A lot of office jobs allow you to decorate your desk. Is this a jealousy thing? You jelly?

“What’s next, is Disney going to end the rule barring on stage cellphone use by cast members as an infringement on self-expression.”

Um…that’s quite a “slippery slope” narrative of a take. No. No, because phones are a safety issue. No one’s going to be injured by someone else’s tattoo. But taking out your phone steering a ride vehicle? That’s a no-no.

I’ll give you I had a brief period as a cast member where I pulled my phone out and used my translator app to help guests who didn’t speak english. While effective, the act was shut down pretty quickly. But I get it. You don’t want those darn kids checking their whatsits for their Twitter-Dees for memes. The same way they haven’t allowed CM’s to read the newspaper or a book while at the greeter position.

“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.”

Okay, fine. So? You admit you love going to Disney regardless. So the politics of the company clearly don’t bother you THAT much. And they’re “politicizing” because they’re realizing just how important it is to acknowledge marginalized people after decades of at best, ignoring them, and at worst, demeaning them. Cynical, yes, but still progress.

“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.”

Remember, kids: Nazis are bad.

Basically, from what I can tell, he’s less mad at Disney for making changes than he’s mad at Disney for taking advantage of how social media works. Social media, by design, is meant to put certain topics on blast. Disney is well-loved and often controversial, so any time an announcement turns out with a hashtag, it’s guaranteed to trend for a day at least. On top of that, Disney knows the power of PR, so of course they’re going to take advantage of the bullhorn that is social media and get people to notice them.

And honestly, what’s wrong with them being politically motivated as they were in the forties? Sure, it was Walt’s choice to go all in on the war effort, but he also received a ton of funding from the government to make the propaganda shorts he ended up making. But if he has no problem with Walt making Der Fuehrer’s Face but bristles when they allow a few tattoos, are you really mad about politics or that Disney’s not on the side you’d prefer?

“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.”

This is bad, somehow.

I despise the context of “Might offend certain people”, as if there have been zero people who have been actually upset about Sam’s presence. There have been. I guarantee it. You just never heard any because they don’t live in your bubble. And it’s not about being immature and thinking having Trader Sam be there is a personal attack. It’s the fact that making fun of POC or other indigenous peoples has been a bread and butter punch line in Hollywood for friggin’ decades. The context has always implied “ha ha, lookit the backwards jungle man who can’t civilize good”. Sam is just one of many, many, many examples of stereotyped brown people, and removing him won’t solve racism, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And even if it’s the same as making fun of “out of touch white American dad” (Which it very much isn’t), he doesn’t realize the historical context in society plays a larger role in this. Europeans have been demeaning non-whites (And in some cases, like the Irish, Italians, and Jews, fellow whites) since they first stepped off their boats hundreds of years ago, and only in recent centuries, we’ve come to acknowledge that’s not really a good thing. Making fun of American fathers, though? Well, we’ve idolized them as patriarchs and moral leaders since forever, and even as late as the nineteen fifties, we saw Andy Griffith and Ward Cleaver as perfect fathers. Before long, we got our Archie Bunkers, our Fred Flintstones, our Homer Simpsons, our Earl Sinclairs, our Peter Griffins, and so on…but even that trend is dying down. So no, you can’t compare centuries of institutionalized racist attitudes to maybe 50 years of making fun of dopey dads. Context matters, and guests do not experience Disney attractions in a vaccuum.

“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.”

Oh, boo hoo. Cry me a river. You can’t stomach a ride that is keeping integral parts – the jokes and the animals – but the tertiary bits ruined it? Imagine if I got this upset if Haunted Mansion removed the musical instruments in Madame Leota’s seance room? If you told me to get over it because the ride hasn’t fundamentally changed, then there ya go.

“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.”

How does this not look promising?

Look, dude. I’m just as saddened about the loss of Song of the South in Splash Mountain as anyone else, but c’mon. Disney may have done this for cold, calculating reasons, but what matters is the execution. At the time of this writing, the Splash Mountain with Br’er Rabbit hasn’t even closed yet. For all you know, the Princess and the Frog version might be even better.

Disney knew this was a move to improve its self image, and even if they didn’t blast it out on social media, it took no imagination to understand why this was happening. Rehabilitating Song of the South was never going to happen. So might as well utilize one of their most popular animated films this century and give it its own ride.

And again, look at yourself. “Appease a certain political point of view”. This isn’t pandering to five kids on a college campus. Have you not seen the magnitude of all those BLM demonstrations? These are marginalized voices that are sick and tired of being told to shut up and go away. Just because your echo chamber features one black man who agrees last summer’s demonstrators got too uppity doesn’t mean everyone else’s voices barely exist.

“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.”

“She’s not a sex object anymore, and it makes me mad!”

In the grand scheme of things, yes, it is irrelevant. Because time will bear out if this was the right move. And this progressive ideal that mocking women because implied of rape jokes are losing their luster, then what’s the problem?

By the way, did you know pirates had tattoos? Just saying, if you’re so obsessed with immersion…

“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.”

I discussed the changes in a previous article, but let’s go over them: the first was the pooped pirate snickering about a naked woman in a barrel and the potential harrassment and even implication of gangbanging (“I be willin’ to share, I be!”) was seen as a bit in poor taste. Wait, aren’t conservatives usually the first to cry out “Won’t someone think of the children?” When it comes to sex in children’s entertainment?

When the joke about women chasing the pirates in lieu of women being chased by lusty pirates was replaced, what was being lost?

If you miss the Auctioneer’s iconic lines, or the Redhead seductively catfishing the horny pirates, fine, but what’s wrong with the Redhead being a captain auctioning off rum? Are you mad that these weren’t in effect to begin with? Is that was this is about? Nostalgia?

Seriously, nothing’s being lost here. The pirates are still ripping apart the town for food, treasure, and booze. They’re still devils and black sheep and really bad eggs. They’re just no longer targeting women’s victimization as the be all, end all punchline. It just sounds like you’re complaining about change because you’re nostalgic, not for any substantial reason.

And I think I speak for the rest of us when I say, “Cool. Can I take your place in line?”

“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.”

You do realize those aforementioned thousands you spend are a drop in the bucket, right? Everyone who goes to WDW spends thousands. What makes you more important everyone else? Your boycott will not hurt them. You are part of a generation that is okay with comedy demeaning others. The newer generation now has expendable income, and a fiery love for Disney. The company knows it has to adapt to the times and modern sensibilities if it has a chance of surviving the next few decades. Millenials and Gen Zers are okay with black people, trans people, people with tattoos, etc. It just makes sense to go with it and stop catering to the legions of close-minded boomers who take the time to write articles screaming into the void about how scary change is. Yes, I’m taking time out of my day to do something similar, but I’m trying to do so as a cis het white man who is trying to advocate for the marginalized.

“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.”

Look, it’s no secret Disney is a HUGE boon for the Florida ecomony. But it’s far from their only source of income, especially when it comes to tourism. And it is awful cute to think your attitude is widespread enough and important enough that Disney’s going to go back to its old ways.

Seriously, go to International Drive. Go to Legoland. Go to SeaWorld. Heck, Universal Studios is basically Disney with different IP’s and a prominent attitude that geared toward those who think Disney is too cute and inoffensive. And they also don’t have much in the way of offensive humor toward the marginalized. Disney’s adapted. No one cares whether Universal did or didn’t. It’s like how no one cares about Warner Brothers’ Censored Eleven, but talk about Song of the South, and Facebook threads go bonkers.

And again, you think your corner of the world is the world, thus you think you and all your fellow cis het white male friends constitute a sizable portion of Disney’s consumers.

“The parks are less fun because immersion and thus the joy is taking a back seat to politics.”

Remember, dear readers, this is about letting cast member men grow out their hair, tattoos no longer being hidden, and costumes being more flexible in regards to gender. This man has admitted that these new announcements will ruin his trips to Disney because he doesn’t want to see tattoos on the girl who dispatches the bateauxs at It’s a Small World. Somehow this ruins his fun.

“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.”

Okay, I’m gonna have to ask you to stop invoking Walt’s name here. You don’t know what he would have thought. This was the guy who hated the idea of Disneyland being near a beach because he didn’t want guests showing up in swimsuits, but he also had no problem with his staff drinking during work hours so long as they did their job. He had early 20th century standards and beliefs. He was supposedly racist against Jews and blacks, but both claims are unfounded. He hated communists. At best, a reference made by Bob Thomas in his biography revealed his only regard to homosexuality was a studio staff member who was arrested. Walt rationalized it was a “mistake” and offered his job back, and this unnamed worker stayed for years afterward.

But you’re talking about the guy who gave us It’s a Small World, an attraction specifically about acceptance and compassion. The guy who married a woman who was very vocal in her disapproval of anything he did. A man who loved to travel and learn all he could about different cultures, like he did for his South American goodwill tour. He could barely have imagined the idea of gender fluidity, so stop putting words into a dead man’s mouth.

And customer experience? Yeah, that hasn’t changed. Just because the girl who greets you at the Main Street Emporium has an awesome Minnie Mouse tattoo and is now wearing pants doesn’t affect how she treats you. If anything, like I said before, Disney can now expand that hiring pool to seek out potential cast members who better qualified rather than booting them from the interview because of their ink.

Look, immersion is important, but as long as they wear the costumes to evoke the setting and the ride itself does its job. Beyond that, it’s hardly relevant. And why it affects him this much is anybody’s guess.

But if I could address Mr. Vanboskerck directly…Sir, the next time you go to Walt Disney World, and you’re walking up Main Street U.S.A., take a look around you. How many people of color do you see? How many younger people who don’t seem traditionally “masculine” or “feminine”? How many have tattoos? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that there’s a lot more than you see in your Facebook groups. And – surprise! – their lives do not affect you. If making changes to cast member attire and attractions are so anger inducing, then I reiterate: just go up the road to Universal.

And I’ll happily take your place in line.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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