Why Disney is Everything I Hate About Capitalism

Insert “Mine, Mine, Mine” from Pocahontas.

I’m not an economist.  I know nothing of stocks or anything like that.  I am just a millennial with limited expendable income who also likes Disney.  It’s a horrible combination, really.

Also, as someone born in 1986, I’ve grown incredibly jaded and cynical of the American system, known for a myriad of crimes against humanity, marinated in holier-than-thou neoliberalism, seasoned with pervasive white nationalism, with a pinch of toxic, xenophobic fearmongering.  But as I’ve watched my country stagger through the past two decades, I’ve watched in horror as a market system based on supply and demand has blossomed into a predatory force used to penalize the have-nots and reward the haves.  And sitting nice and pretty atop this mound of corruption is Mickey Mouse.

I know there are some who will decry this article for being some sort of communist propaganda (Hell, I was accused of that in my Dinosaurs article.), but I have no agenda beyond grumbling that the system we have in place now blows chunks and something needs to change…even though I have no real idea how.

So in a show of good faith, I’m going to acknowledge what capitalism is good for and how it has actually benefitted us.

The Good Stuff:

1. We use our money to show favor and disfavor.

If Disney won’t, then…

Those in favor of the free market insist this objective act is the great motivator in ensuring a truly functioning economy.  We need choices to determine who deserves our money, and whomever is the best gets it to be better while the less good falls by the wayside.  On the face of it, it makes perfect sense.  I’ll get into the nuances later why it actually doesn’t, but devoid of variables and nuances, it’s pretty obvious this is a highlight in capitalism.

Disney won our favor by creating quality animated films, ones that superceded that of studios like Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera.  They legitimately created a product that was superior to others, and we paid that back with gratitude and appreciation.  To this day, if a ride or movie or product is inferior, we still hold the power to say yea or nay by spending or not spending our hard-earned money on it.

2. Sometimes it backs good causes if it’s popular enough.

“Hey, you gays! We heard you have money!”

As we grow and develop as a species, we continue experimenting with various notions in advancing human society.  Like maybe there are religions beyond christianity.  Or maybe black people don’t deserve getting gunned down by police like Elmer Fudd blasting Daffy Duck.  Or that gay people, trans people and others that don’t fit the “cis het white male” demographic should be able to exist, period.

In recent years, Disney has wised up in noticing the broadening markets for our generation in accepting others.  The pirate wench auction in Pirates of the Caribbean, the removal of racist elements in the Jungle Cruise, and the retheme of Splash Mountain from Song of the South to The Princess and the Frog are such examples.  Disney absolutely would not be putting in the effort in these if they didn’t see our hard-earned money as a viable, or profitable, avenue.  Say nothing of the sale of pride merchandise gradually becoming mainstream as non-heterosexuality becomes less taboo.  It proves if we push in the right direction, we can, in fact, change the world for the better.  Even if they’re being incentivized by money instead of scruples.

3. Disney has unions.

That’s one up on Amazon.

Yeah, they hate ’em. They sure do. But they got ’em. That’s pretty big.

All right, that’s enough of that.  Let’s dive into the ugly truths about late stage capitalism and why it’s ruining my favorite thing.  In no particular order…

The reason we’re here:

1. Abandoned facilities.

Literally nothing to see here…

I brought this up in this article I wrote about improving the theme parks.  Basically, it was the realization multiple buildings existed in the park properties, often in plain sight, long after their active use.  The Odyssey Center, Wonders of Life, World Showplace, and most of the original journey into Imagination ride at Epcot.  The Fantasyland skyway chalet and Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn in the Magic Kingdom.  The peoplemover track in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.  The Premier Theater in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  River Country.  Discovery Island. In that article, I completely forgot to mention the time I worked at Frozen Summer Fun at DHS in 2014, where we made use of the nearby breakroom…and found an unlocked Backstage door nearby that lead to a most amazing discovery: a room FULL of Disney props from movies, shows, the parks, and so on.  It was a veritable treasure grove for a nerd like me.  Come to find out, it was just one of the many rooms used in the old Backstage Pass attraction.  An attraction that closed in 2002, meaning this incredible find had simply been boarded up for twelve years, gathering dust.

I bring all this up because the fact these facilities were simply abandoned.  Some were turned into flexspace functions for corporate parties or limited-time events, and some even did get reconverted into new functions, but there’s something strikingly shocking about it all.  Like, we were told as children to put away our toys when we were done playing with them, but a multi-million conglomerate like Disney can just leave empty buildings in plain sight.  I mean, places like River Country and Discovery Island are left to literally rot after all that was spent ripping up the ecosystem in the area, and they just leave it there?

The reason this is here is because Disney does not clean up after itself unless there is financial incentive to do so.  And there is no desire on Disney’s part to spend the money to hire workers and equipment to return the area back to a natural setting.  Disney briefly announced the idea to build yet another timeshare resort where River Country lies, but that was before COVID shut that down real quick.  Regardless, capitalism means nothing happens unless money is involved, especially if it’s seemingly guaranteed money.  So sure, just keep eviscerating more of the local ecosystem when there’s perfectly good, unused space that’s collecting dust.

2. Sacrificing quality customer service for money.

Robin Williams would have been PISSED…

A long time ago, I got one of those thermos mugs you buy at the resorts.  Working at WDW at the time, I was able to grab a soft drink every time I had a chance.  Then one day…it stopped.  Disney decided that giving away free soft drinks wasn’t a smart business plan.  So they installed RFID chips on the bottom of the cups, which only after purchase, would they be activated for like a week or so, and then you could get your Coke from the All-Star Music food court.  While I understand the need to not be taken advantage of…really??  Soda?!  I’ve spent over two decades working in fast food, businesses with FAR more to lose than Disney, where my bosses literally do not care how much I drink as long as I do my job.  This means, in the end, Disney looked at the trade-off (increased cash flow or happier guests?) and decided nickel and diming this small aspect was worth the revenue boost.

I get that business is all about that tricky balancing act between providing a quality experience versus making a profit, but Disney seems to constantly think it can get away with just about anything because it has the Disney name on it.  Increased park admission.  No more free Fastpasses.  Ending the ticket book system.  Ending Magical Express.  I seriously doubt Disney was losing enough money in these free add-ons to warrant asking why they can’t charge just one more fee.  Sooner or later, something’s got to give: not every one can afford these amenities, and those who can will just get more and more frustrated until only the 1% can visit the parks.

Much more recently is Disney’s recent implementation of Disney Genie, the app that eliminated the thriving, free of charge Fastpass system.  Instead, guests can now buy a $15 app that allows only some attractions Lightning Lane access, but the popular rides charge even more per person for the formerly free service.  While I have no doubt this will reduce wait times in the whatever they now call their front-of-the-line system, all it really does is price out those who didn’t have the expendable income.  Standby queues are only going to get longer as fewer guests will stand for this price gouging, so I’m not sure if the small bump in revenue is worth the onslaught of complaints.

3. The One Good Thing holds no weight when it counts.

Go ahead and boycott the next remake.

Speaking of those increasing ticket prices, Disney feels they are unbeatable. Every year, they hike up the park prices, and every year, they trend for week or so as we all cry out how money-hungry Disney is, and we settle down, and pay the new annual pass, grumbling.

Or, you know how so many people are sick to death of all those live action remakes?  Most of us still watch them, even if out of morbid curiosity, and as a result, movies as reviled as, say, Beauty and the Beast (2017) still make $1.26 billion at the box office!  As I pointed out earlier, capitalist apologists advocate for a free market where quality products dictate success, but if the popular demand is “Disney, stop it with the crappy remakes”, or “Stop overcharging us for park tickets!”, all they have to do is look at their receipts and say: “…nah.” 

Disney knows we’ll pay anything because of the brand name, and they use it as an excuse to do what they want, regardless of how badly recieved it is.  Admission prices to Disneyland have never gone down and as long as thousands still buy them because we love riding Haunted Mansion, they never will.

4. Market Oversaturation.

You’re cringing right now, aren’t you?

I’ll admit this one’s more of a gripe.  When trying for mass appeal, you kind of have to centralize your product into a common denominator.  Yet the profit motive kicks this into overdrive to not just ignoring the stuff that doesn’t generate much capital, but also can oversaturated the market.

Franchises like Marvel and Star Wars generate billions in revenue from movies, but much more significantly in merchandise.  So Disney follows the money and makes hundreds of varieties of stormtrooper and Iron Man t-shirts.  Every adult and many children I know love these brands, but remember how Frozen blew up back in 2013 and 2014?  And remember the online forums and comment threads filled with vitriol and frothing rage over “Too much Frozen“?  Yeah, you do, admit it.  I was there when it went down, working at Hollywood Studios when Frozen Summer Fun took over summer of 2014, working at the ice rink and wearing the Oaken sweaters.  You couldn’t ignore it.  It burned everyone out left and right.

For me, it’s Star Wars.  I’ve gotten so over inundated with the franchise it’s not even funny.  But I’ve beaten that horse well past its expiration date, so let’s move on…

5. Corporate Acquisitions.

“…it was all started by a mouse” -Walt Disney

In the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the infamous rubber barons like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt were slowly consuming their respective industries.  By buying and crushing all who stood in their way, they almost got away with monopolizing steel and oil, which meant their demands could override their consumers’ with impunity.  If their products were too expensive…who cares?!  It’s not like they can go anywhere else!

The metaphor about the frog boiling in the pot is super applicable here.  Even in hindsight, it’s hard to peg exactly where it becomes too much, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t agree that Disney’s gotten so big for their britches.  Was it the ABC merger?  ESPN?  Muppets?  Marvel?  Lucasfilm?  Maker Studios?  21st Century Fox?  We’ve benefitted in great ways, like the MCU, but Disney bought Maker Studios to disband it.  The Lucasfilm acquisition still has mixed results.  The only reason fans seemed interested in the Fox purchase was because we might have the X-Men in the MCU, but now with Disney owning franchises like Alien and The Simpsons, it seems terrifying.  While it’s nice to see Disney’s reputable quality being added to some of our favorite franchises, it’s not really worth the corporate interference and the hiking of prices.

Historically speaking, competition for Disney actually benefits them.  When imitators kept cropping up, Disney used to prove they could outdo them by applying greater quality of work.  When Don Bluth made successful animation in the 80’s, Disney had to concentrate and pull themselves out of the slump they’d been in, resting on their laurels in order to come out on top.  Walt had to make Disneyland with immaculate theming and cleanliness to outperform amusement parks of the fifties. They had to make better animated films when DreamWorks started outshining them. Hell, Pandora: World of Avatar was most likely built to stay ahead of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  So without competitors, Disney gets complacent, believing the public will buy anything as long as it’s Disney, and will crap out cheap products, all the while upping prices on Marvel action figures and Star Wars shirts, or just dismantling them with impunity.  That’s not being a free market, that’s economic totalitarianism.

6. Low employee wages.

No, but see, they get paid in DREAMS…

After 7 years at WDW, I moved to Arizona and told my friends as of January 2018, the resort paid cast members $10 an hour, which left them all stunned (The Phoenix suburbs at the time had a minimum wage of $12.45/hr, so imagine their shock hearing the federal minimum wage was a mere $7.25).  They’d usually respond with, “But Disney can afford to pay more!”.  To which I’d say, “Yes…but where do you think the money goes and why do you think they’re so wealthy?”  They got the picture pretty quickly.

Supposedly the line of thinking is if the company has a massive amount of reliable revenue, then they should be able to treat their staff with comfortable wages and decent working environments.  However, the opposite is often true, with horror stories coming out of corporate juggernauts like Amazon and Disney knowing full well the value of a job, however meager the rewards, mean front line workers will endure hell after hell if it means putting bread on the table, and all that revenue coming in can go to where it belongs: the suits who make decisions.  Especially since a company with a high turnover rate like Disney, who cares how many get burnt out and leave, knowing there’s literally hundreds of naive, young workers who don’t know what they’re getting into, are lining up to apply?

Cast members, Disney seems to think, are expendable, and wish they could pay them with whimsical emotional payoff of helping guests have the best day ever, all the while, paying lip service about how much they mean to Disney.  However, corporate oligarchy means there is no loyalty in return, so they lose no sleep you quit tomorrow.  So CM’s can endure heatstroke, verbal abuse, physical demands, physical abuse, meager wages, literally all with a smile, and they hope your loyalty and pride in the brand is enough to keep you pressing the dispatch buttons or reporting to your sets on time.

True story: during a five year anniversary celebration for CM’s, I won two AMC green movie tickets in a raffle.  It wasn’t until I got to the ticket window and found I couldn’t take my girlfriend to see 2017’s Beauty and the Beast…because the ticket SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDED all Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm movies.  While I still came out on top because we saw Logan instead, how is that anywhere close to fair?

Also true story: in 2011, after Toy Story 3 became a huge box office success, the first animated film to bank $1 billion at the box office, Disney shared that success by gifting us all with our own special release blu-ray edition of the movie. A great gesture, to be sure. However…when Disney found out most people sold their copies, gifts to cast members were reduced to pins and buttons. I’m sorry, but if I was being paid $8.35 an hour, and I had a family to feed, you’re damn right I would have sold that on Ebay if it meant I could get groceries.

7. Sometimes it backs bad causes if it’s popular enough.

Not endorsed by Disney, but…

I’m happy as a clam Disney is now accepting progressive movements like Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community and less racism, in spite of the tantrums of right-wing pundits.  But remember: they only started doing this when they realized millenials have money.  Look no further than Gay Days, the annual event that welcomes all on the spectrum to spend a week at Disney.  However, despite this, realize Disney never once has endorsed the event, allowing plausible deniability should they be accused to be accepting of “the gays”.  Maybe they might actually make it a true blue Disney event one day, but as long as Disney worries about losing valuable income from homophobic boomers and religious zealots, they won’t.

Capitalism will always find a way to extort any idea, movement, or ideal if it makes money.  As glad as I am my LGBTQ brethren are being recognized, I’m still upset it took this long.  Up until the late nineties, catering to demographics outside the cis het white male christian demographic was laughable, or at best, very, very niche.  And it took serious effort: LOTS of protests, petitions, demands, outcries, and boycotts, fighting the establishments of both Hollywood and right-wing pundits to get this far.  While there’s an abundance of black superheroes in comics, why have we only seen Blade, Black Panther, and Cyborg?  Why only two Marvel superheroines – Black Widow and Captain Marvel – got headlining movies in the MCU?  The status quo of white men was so entrenched that when multiple women and people of color popped up in The Force Awakens,  the backlash was intense, all the more proving why representation matters.  Sure, we’ve come a long way, but this effort is only a couple decades young and we have a long way to go still.  Thank gods Black Panther was the highest grossing MCU film for a time.

8. Lobbying and meddling in federal law.

What, no cease and desist?

Supposedly law is the great equalizer in this country.  Ideally, if I were to murder five people, I should be be penalized with the same severity as say, Jeff Bezos.  Even though Bezos could afford a whole law firm intent on discrediting reality itself and I would get a public defender who can’t differentiate between “mitigate” and “litigate”, we SHOULD be on equal footing.  But as we’ve seen time and again, rich people do whatever they want because the law can barely touch them.  Nowhere is this more egregious than the corporations who shovel wads of cash in lawmakers’ pockets and force laws to bend their way.  Of course, paying off politicians to overlook environmental and tax regulations is one thing.  But Disney broke copyright law itself.

Copyright law is, of course, the deeply nuanced and tricky practice of determining when a product created by someone to be exploiting off another person’s established product in the interest if using the established brand to elevate their interests.  On the surface, it’s fair.  I certainly wouldn’t want people to bastardize my product with shoddy imitations that reduces the public’s opinion of mine in their eyes.  But it’s not just that the law on this gets abused, it’s that Disney made this situation what it is.

Back in the good old days, copyright just was meant to allow the creator to collect royalties pretty much until they passed away.  After which, the art would enter the public domain, which is why we can watch hundreds of adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and Wizard of Oz.  But in the seventies, and Mickey Mouse was set to enter the public domain in 1984, and Disney couldn’t have that.  So they lobbied congress to extend Mickey’s copyright till 2003.

In 1998, it was extended again. Literally in a bill derisively called the Mickey Mouse Bill, it was extended again to 2023.  And because Mickey is set to be in the public domain as soon as 2024 hits, Disney is currently trying to reform the law AGAIN so the Mouse doesn’t fall into our dirty peasant hands.  This alone is bad enough, but note this is the company that got famous by grabbing public domain works and making them their own.  Say nothing of the zealous pursuit of lawsuits when someone dares to draw three circles in one particular pattern.

You can claim it’s Disney protecting their assets, but it’s gotten ridiculous at this point.  They’re going to have to let go sooner or later, and we can finally use Mickey like we use Alice, Dorothy, and Sherlock.  After all, if Copyright existed today like it did in the twenties, you KNOW Universal would have sued Disney for copying Mickey off Oswald.  Food for thought.

Also, say nothing of them trying to copyright public domain concepts like Dia de los Muertos and the Norse god Loki. Seriously.

9. Cheap goods to cheat the system.

Yup. Back here again.

Laissez-faire capitalism is allowing the free market to do whatever it wants and basically rely on the honor system that entrepreneurs are doing what they’re doing out of the goodness of their hearts.  But of course, capitalism is all about spending as little as you can to make as much as you can.  So it’s far from uncommon for companies to use cheap materials, cheap labor, and flimsy laws to circumvent having to pay more than absolutely necessary in production.  Libertarians and objectivists will tell you that entrepreneurs are good people who are at their best when left to do what they do best while simultaneously warning us riff-raff and peasants that it’s our job to be wary of con artists who want to rip us off.  The mental gymnastics are astounding.

The thing is, no one will fault a business for being pragmatic or sensible when finding ways to save money, as long as the same quality of their product or service is provided.  For example, reusing the animatronics from America Sings and using them on Splash Mountain is clever and commendable.  It in no way detracted from Splash Mountain as a quality attraction.  One might even feel the same about the spitting camels from the old Aladdin parade being used as a prop for Magic Carpets of Aladdin or Simba’s float being reused in Legend of the Lion King.  These are fine.  What ISN’T fine is refusing to spend money to create a quality experience that Disney is known for and cutting corners resulting in a subpar experience.

I will always rail against cheap attempts to inflate the guest experience at Disney with dance parties, dessert parties, and other gimmicks that are light on substance and often times still charge for the privilege. But to this day, I still can’t forgive the creation of Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama.  Everything about it reeks of cheapness.  The toys and auto parts that fill the gift shop are easily things found for 50 cents at yard sales.  The cracked asphalt is cheap to replicate a crappy parking lot because it’s the same exact stuff used to pave acres for cars to park.  The rides Triceratop Spin and Primeval Whirl were a basic spinner and wild mouse coaster with no substantial differences between them and rides at local carnivals.  The Fossil Fun Games are basic carnival games that, until 2020, only provided insanely cheap quality stuffed toys as prizes of such thematic appropriateness as…basketball player bears, sea serpents, octopuses, and neon fish skeletons.  Above all that, in a park as richly detailed as Disney’s Animal Kingdom, why did they ditch the original theme of “Intern paleontologists turn dig site into their personal playground” into “cartoon cutout dinos and their wacky shenanigans with extinction”?  The answer is simple: the latter one’s a lot cheaper.  And it shows.  Even with the twisted logic of using its transparent cheapness as a meta gag that it’s supposed to look cheap to parody actually cheap roadside carnivals makes no real sense when you spend more than three seconds thinking about it.

Some decry the same about things like screens as part of ride experiences, but I’m more flexible on that, knowing animated screens mean you can use actors’ likenesses and have characters that can do things animatronics and special effects can’t pull off, like flight.  Cheap, yes, but not entirely unnecessary. 

Food at the Disney parks is probably a debatable one, as many will swear by Dole Whips, the Mickey Mouse ice cream bar, and the turkey legs as not just amazing but iconic and standards.  Yes, I love them, too.  But like I said, I spent seven years there.  I ate at most every quick service restaurants, and a few of the nicer ones, and I got to say, I was only wowed a few times, and it was usually at the higher-end places like Artist’s Point at Fort Wilderness.  Heck, I even worked for over six months at Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Village Resort, and while I mean zero disrespect to the hard-working chefs who make it all happen, it’s pretty obvious the food is all supplied from the same vendors, overpriced, and typically pretty bland.  I get that having to feed millions of guests daily quickly and reliably is a tall order, and you have to streamline what you can.  But the food quality itself is terribly, terribly underwhelming.

10. True innovation won’t happen if there’s no money in it.

Inventing things for fun? Who does that?

I could come up with the coolest scientific breakthrough of all time.  Let’s say I invent a real, honest-to-gods light saber straight out of Star Wars.  Naturally, you’d think the number-one consumers would be Star Wars fans, but even if I were to break even, the cost to make it would be prohibitively high and far too dangerous except to rich eccentrics like Elon Musk and Martin Shkrelli.  I could sell it to the military, but melee weapons would be a hard sell to an organization focused on long-range weapons like guns and drones.  It might have some engineering purposes, but its lack of precision wouldn’t make it terribly useful.  In the end, as an astounding leap in technological achievement it would be to create a light saber…no one would fund the research and development because the profits just wouldn’t justify the cost.

A real world example is exemplified by He Who Must Not Be Named.  No, not that guy…the Hawaiian shirt-wearing co-founder of Pixar.  Yeah, him.  Let’s call him “Uncle Pervy”.  Uncle Pervy was a CalArts grad in the late seventies, early eighties when he and buddy Ed Catmull found these cool things called computers that made cool-looking animation.  After a pitch to use the technology in an animation test for Where the Wild Things Are, Uncle Pervy was told unless computers could speed up animation production or minimize costs, the executives saw no reason to invest in computers for animation.  Some might dismiss this anecdote since he met Steve Jobs, secured funding, and created Pixar, the point is nullified.  However, I would argue the opposite.  Why does innovation require this kind of leap of faith from a guy with money, instead of just making something cool for the sake of making something cool?  Hell, the question was even posed as the inciting incident in Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, that making new tech “for fun” just doesn’t fly. 

If biographies like An American Original by Bob Thomas are any indication, Walt Disney was the kind of guy who loved tinkering around with whatever grabbed his attention at the moment and it often resulted in miraculous success, with almost no concern about money.  But sadly, at best, that just means he had a knack for knowing what the masses wanted.  Still, the company was in debt for nearly forty years.  That kind of financial leeway would be unheard of today.  Disney established itself as company spearheading numerous technological marvels from the multiplane camera to audio-animatronics.  And while they’ve made some significant leaps since the days of Walt, they’ve been fairly limited in comparison.  But to illustrate my point, allow me to point to two technological inventions that speak to their greed.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom debuted in 2012 as an interactive game using scanning software to have guests battle villains (You might recall it in my review here.)  But aside from some merch that didn’t sell well, the attraction didn’t involve directly making money and didn’t expand, causing interest to dwindle.  It closed in 2021.  Its novelty as a free attraction couldn’t be sustained.  In contrast, the Magicbands were also state-of-the-art scanning technology, but between literally thousands of designs and motifs, Disney could sell like their beloved pins, and make serious bank.

Now, it’s clear Disney could do a lot as technology advances.  Sooner or later, they’ll find a way to make character interactions as realistic as possible.  You know, so that they can talk, emote, be the appropriate sizes, etc.   But of course, that’s a ton of money on R&D with no immediate guarantee. So of course little if anything will be spent, but they’ll filch the technology as soon as someone else comes up with it.

11. Taking advantage of us when we’re a captive audience.

Nothing beats extortion during quarantine.

Disney gets how easily hyped we get over new announcements.  They wield it quite effectively using the D23 Expos, Disney+ Day, and Destination D to strut on stages with swagger and allude to their next projects that often have a 60% chance at best of becoming what we’re promised.  That’s not a problem, that’s being a salesman, especially when using social media like a bullhorn.  But the devious side to this is turning a want into a need.  Thus, in certain situations, the need becomes so strong it overrides common sense.

I love my Disney movies.  That is without doubt.  But over the past year, when Disney had to find a way to release its backlog of movies delayed from the pandemic, they also queried about how to make even more money when people were already paying $8 a month to watch Disney movies.  Like, sure, incentivize those still hanging onto their DVDs and blu-rays with a streamlined, digitized process.  But now certain original content has to be an extra $30?  Disney caught a lot of flak over the past year for releasing movies like Cruella, Black Widow, Raya and the Last Dragon, Jungle Cruise, and the critically-panned Mulan on their “premier access” tier, which meant if you wanted to see these when they came out, your meager $8 a month wouldn’t cut it: you had to open your pocket book and PROVE how loyal a fan you are…or risk seeing these movies (gasp!) a whole three months later!  This touched several nerves when A) Pixar, the former cash cow of Disney,  found out their releases Soul and Luca did not get honored the premier access treatment, sewing seeds of resentment, B) Scarlet Johanson was cheated out of her back-end deal with her solo Avengers film since the contract specified box office ticket sales, not streaming revenue, and C) we average joes were stuck indoors BECAUSE OF A FREAKING PANDEMIC and we already watched every Netflix and Hulu release!

Again, I’m gonna pick on Disney’s high theme park prices here.  But seriously, food prices are insane.  Merchandise I can forgive because outside the parks’ official lines, you can get Disney anythings anywhere, and if you NEED those rose gold mouse ears, the Shop Disney Parks app lets you buy them and get them shipped.  But we need food when you get off Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters and lugging around picnic lunches is unwieldy and heavy.  So instead, stop by Alien Pizza Planet for a slice of pepperoni!  For only…

Yeah.  And for point of comparison, for another same-day comparison (12/18/2021) at a Barro’s pizza in Arizona, a slice of objectively higher-quality pepperoni pizza will run you…

Yeah.  They can get away with this not just because of a placebo effect making us think “Disney brand, ergo, better”, but also because no one’s able to easily leave the park and get lunch elsewhere. We’re captive, thus Disney can charge us an arm and a leg for heated frozen pizza.

12. If meritocracy actually existed…

“Ha ha ha! Why can’t you just be born rich?”

It’s common practice in the corporate market to throw at least some lip service at its employees with phrases like “We can’t do what we do without you!” and it is factually true. Bob Chapek could not run Disneyland without help. But this line is completely hollow at best. It’s bad enough to say something like that and still pay your staff minimum wage, but it’s even more frustrating when he has a 8 – 5 job in an air-conditioned office making decisions – while far reaching and impactful – at least he can outsource those decisions to his board of directors and accountants. Oh, and strut onto a stage or in a televised interview and boast about how the next $500 million plan is going to be even more interactive and technologically cool while charging another $15 per person. Meanwhile, cast members working at Casey’s Corner will sleep in their car and get fired for eating some uneaten fries off a guest’s tray.

See, the question becomes, how do we quantify “work”, exactly? Chapek works, most certainly. He controls how Disney operates. He is the be all, end all decision maker. So was Iger and Eisner before him. But does his paycheck reflect how hard he works? Just because he operates a Fortune 500 company doesn’t necessarily mean he works hard. It just means he says yea or nay when an idea gets brought up at shareholder meetings. But compare him to Walt, who built the company from the ground up, spending 40 years in debt until it was paid off. Or Eisner, who moved it into the 21st century with new ideas and modernity. Or even Iger, who wrangled some incredible negotiations? Chapek’s thing seems to be more about flaunting the Disney brand because it’s awesome and we got characters. But again, does that constitute as “work”?

Conservatives frequently argue that a good, hard days’ work is the backbone of American life, and that upward mobility will reward the ones who work the hardest. But this has only been true for a handful of people, because between the curtailing of social programs and corporations VERY skilled at silencing its workers, what ends up happening is millions of workers struggling to pay their bills and feed their families, under the delusion that if they work even harder, even longer, and kowtow to every demand from the boss, their ship will come in tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then the day after. See, they’re not so much “poor” as they are “temporarily inconvenienced millionaires”.

But I don’t really care what metric you use. Though Chapek talks about how he had learned about work ethic from his parents, his Wikipedia article shows he worked for Heinz’s marketing department in his 30’s before jumping over to Disney. Most 30-year-olds these days can’t get gigs like that without connections, so the idea that he “worked hard” for it bears questioning. Bosses promote and refer you if they like you, not by objective work standards. Compare that to the 35-year-old custodian working third shift. Unless his boss really, really likes him, especially if he does his job AND doesn’t upset the system, he MIGHT get a supervisor position. But to work his way up to CEO? Laughable.

Walt’s rags-to-riches story is often fetishized as one of the few examples how an average, broke American dreamer could make it big, but that’s just one of only a few, when there have been billions of Americans who have come and gone, and by default, only a select few are allowed to succeed like that. But I will argue til my dying breath the in-between animator who was up all night trying to nail a nuanced microgesture…

The young lady who endured groping and sexual harassment by horny dads while staying character as Ariel…

The mother working at the confectionery who is sleeping in her car because she just got evicted, yet still shows up on time, every day with a smile…

The actor who stars in one of the highest-grossing box office films of the year but only receives a fraction of the back end because of slippery weasling…

The imagineer applying plaster to the next ride in the background of a shot while Joe Rhode and and Tony Baxter are interviewed to boast about the dedicated but unnamed staff do the physical work…

The underlings and interns who submit genuinely good, quality ideas, but are always met with at worst, silence, or at best, disclaimers to waive ownership IF the company ever acts on them…

And every other underpaid, disenfranchised worker bee who happily obey a renowned brand in the vain hope their loyalty will be repaid, either with a bigger paycheck or some level of control. My heart goes out to them, and make me wish I could find a way to swap out that third-shift custodian with Chapek and see how things turn around.

13. Artificial Scarcity

The last known location of Song of the South…

If you grew up as a millennial like me, you’re probably very familiar with the term “The Disney Vault”. It’s not a literal vault, it was barely a figurative one. And it was one of Disney’s most effective and devious marketing ploys.

When Disney began releasing its biggest hits on the home media market, they were scared that its constant availability would deter potential consumers from going to the theater to watch them. It started tentatively, with Disney pricing the VHS tapes highly to promote rentals over ownership. When that plan fell through, the idea became to only allow the videos to be for retail for a short period of time before the studio would take them off the shelves, unable to be seen for a good 7 to 10 years. While this practice isn’t necessarily evil, what IS is when the marketing campaign really went out of its way to emphasize how if you miss your chance to pick up a copy of Cinderella or Dumbo…that was it, buddy. The kids are gonna be heartbroken because you let them down.

However, we found a way: secondhand media stores, in my case, like Bookmans and Zia, both of whom buy, sell and trade used books, toys, CD’s, cassettes, VHS’s, DVD’s, and Blu-rays. Thanks to these stores, I was able to buy ALL of the Disney movies on DVD. Of course, Disney would have had to move mountains to stop me from owning my favorite Disney movies, really incentivize some system where they can completely control-

Boom.

Oh.

Yeah, the crazy thing about the streaming service is if Disney were to decide one day to yoink Avengers: Endgame or The Lion King off Disney+, they very well could. Either lock it behind a premier access paywall or withhold them for a month while they rerelease them to theaters. There is literally no stopping them except bad PR, but not even then, as long as they have the means to spin it in a positive way. They made products we like, if they yank it away, we’ll happily fork over $40, $50, even $100 just to have the pleasure of enjoying it, and they’ll laugh all the way to the bank. I regret selling my DVD’s for this reason, but like everyone else…I needed the cash more importantly. So wouldn’t they create a system where you can force whether or not a product is accessible?

14. Hates the poor ‘cuz they’re inconvenient to look at.

Why don’t you just wish upon a star?

Like in most American cities, Anaheim is vulnerable to a homeless population. Regardless of why they’re there in the first place, these folks are just looking to survive on a day-to-day basis and – seeing as how they, too, are stuck in a society that requires money, a thing they are renowned for not having – need to panhandle so they can at least eat. Of course, this makes travellers uncomfortable. So do you A) work out a generous social safety net that ensures homelessness is reduced by making sure every citizen has access to a home, food, and a bed, or B) shoo them away so we don’t have took at them and feel guilty?

American cities are renowned for putting spikes, bumps, arm rests, and other deterrents to make sure no one has to see a homeless person where it’s inconvenient. This is called hostile architecture and it’s a cruel practice because it simply defers the issue elsewhere rather than fix the underlying cause. Cops are regularly called on them to do the same, often more concerned about getting rid of the person instead of providing a place to go. America is not wanting for resources to help its citizens like this, but the mindset is hellbent on moralizing homelessness and sweeping the problem under the rug, when a strong welfare system could actually curtail this issue significantly.

What does this have to do with Disney? In 2017, the City of Anaheim removed bus stops around Disneyland to deter the homeless. Concerned too many homeless were using the benches and the stops, the city just up and removed them because, as the article states, an unnamed spokesperson claimed they promote illegal activity. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a city council decision that worried precious dollars weren’t being spent at their biggest cash cow for the city because a homeless man was sleeping on a bus bench and made everyone uncomfortable. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney bribed a few officials to make sure no revenue was lost because of a few panhandlers.

The net result is the same: it’s more important Disney gets their full revenue, uninhibited by homeless people on the sidewalks of Harbor Boulevard. Again, it’d save the city a lot of money if they fronted the effort to help all these folks who need it, but it’s just easier to shoo away the problem then enact meaningful change while morally aggrandizing about it. Again, it’s just easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, hide it away, and not think about it. And in the short term, cheaper, too!

Of course, try doing this in Florida. Disney owns so much of the surrounding area around their parks, you’ll NEVER have to see a bum just outside Epcot!

*****************************************

Disney, I love what you’ve created. I love what you’ve done. But let’s be super clear…capitalism is not the ally of the proletariat. It rewards the haves, penalizes the have-nots, and has taken advantage of every opportunity they could in the market and rigged it against everyone else. This is why capitalism angers me so much. Being forced to rely on this system creates class disparity, misery, wealth inequality, and in the end, a dystopia that will end in a revolution unless something is done on a federal level to limit Disney’s corruption. Tax the rich! Strengthen monopoly laws! Empower welfare systems! Incentivize reuse of space and preserving ecosystems! Take money out of politics! Raise the minimum wage! Seriously, we can’t keep doing nothing. Letting Mickey get away with this egregiously criminal extortion of the people, we’re silently admitting it’s okay that they’re taking advantage of us.

I’m not doing much myself, I’ll admit, because I just don’t have time. As an American citizen, I’m currently working three jobs and raising a family, the kind of scenario conservatives salivate over, but I am no closer to being the next Walt Disney than I am to becoming a rock. There is no ship coming in to save me. But if it does, by some miracle, you can damn well bet I’ll fight and advocate for a system that helps everyone, and not just holding some crappy gala charity benefit where a few thousand dollars benefits a single organization and gives me a bloated tax write-off. Because we deserve better than what we have now.

We’re coming, Mr. Chapek. And you can’t stop us.

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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