People Hate Disney?

What is it in the much loved Disney name that poeple can hate so much?
Hate - Verb; to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.

Hate is a strong word with a powerful meaning, so why do so many people hate Disney? I loved my time with the Mouse. Okay, like some parents of young children I do have issues with Disney's commercialism, my son loves a trip around the Disney Store, my wallet is perhaps not as keen - but on the whole I don't think of Disney as the Evil empire. Which is possibly the reason I find so much of the research I did for this post so fascinating.

A most controversial Princess

It was started this week from an article the free newspaper in London, the Metro. They ran this story and it got me thinking, why do people hate Disney so much?

The article is based around the upcoming release of the new film "The Princess And The Frog." Disney probably thought it would be applauded for its first black princess but her 'prince' has stirred up the internet - he is thought to be white. "Prince Naveen of Maldonia", voiced by Bruno Campos, is meant to be from the Middle East but bloggers say "He simply looks white". Others think Disney has missed a chance to give a black couple the happily ever after treatment.

'It's saying that black love isn't good enough and that black men could never be princes,' said one woman. 'Disney had the perfect chance to make its first black prince but instead it decided to go the controversial route.'

Some complained the evil voodoo villain - who turns the prince into a frog - is black and voiced by a black actor. Disney defended its choice, saying it wanted a multi-cultural cast featuring a 'Prince from a far-away land'. It added: 'Many high-profile leaders from the African American community have applauded our efforts on this film.'

This is after earlier allegations of when it emerged Disney had wanted the heroine to be a servant to a spoilt white socialite in 1920s New Orleans. This sparked a backlash from critics who said it reinforced prejudice and demeaned black people.

There are groups out there however who seem ready to hate the Mouse and all it stands for.

In 1996 the Southern Baptist Convention, disturbed at Disney's equal treatment of heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals, started a boycott of all things Disney. They seemed to be overwhelmingly concerned about sexual matters: equal employment plans for persons of all sexual orientations; and theme days sponsored by gay and lesbian groups. One source cites the American Family Association as believing that Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog in "Lion King" are not only homosexual lovers, but inter-species lovers as well. It was for them all a long way from their view of what Disney meant.

While Disney earned $21 million in 1996, its stock fell when the boycott was announced. Rev. Roy Fisher of the First Baptist Church in Nashville said: "I know of hundreds of people who have dropped the Disney Cable Channel. Disney has abandoned traditional family values to promote the homosexual agenda. The time has come to stop patronizing any company that promotes immoral ideologies and practices."'

Some published opinions went further. One of the strongest tirades I have read whilst researching this post was from the jesus-is-savior website.

'The naming of the first weekend in June as "Gay Days" along with Disney's new program to extend employee insurance benefits to homo and lesbian partners along with ABC-TV's Ellen DeGeneris' (read: DeGenerate's) open lesbian show was the final straw. Richard Lamb of the church morals and ethics panel said: "You can't walk the family side of the street and the gay side of the street in the Magic Kingdom at the same time - there's a sense of betrayal and outrage." Disney owns ABC-TV, ESPN, A&E and Miramax films which produced "Pulp Fiction" with John Travolta which glorified blatant cocaine use and race-mixing. They also made "The English Patient" that is anti-German and ends with an assisted suicide.'

Disney, the reality or the ideal does seem to stir up deep emotions. There is a deep love in many people's hearts for the Mouse and the childhood memories attached to Disney. Perhaps some of the haters feel that Disney has let them down, that Uncle Walt doesn't share their world view any more, has he turned his back on them?

There was of course a lot of rumor and controversy about Walt and his beliefs, we do know is that he was certainly understood to be from a religious family. [Quoted from Roland Gammon's book - Faith is a Star, New York E. P. Dutton & Co. 1963.] Gammon went on a search of famous people for content on his 1963 book about prayer... Walt Disney wrote the article above for this publication. Walt Disney apparently held deep personal beliefs. Elias Disney (Walt's Dad) was a deacon and named Walt after the family minister Walter Parr. (St. Paul Congregational Church in Chicago). Then Walt's own niece Dorothy married a minister a Mr Glenn Puder. It was at Walt's request that the Reverend Puder delivered the invocation at Disneyland's grand opening on July 17, 1955. Also represented at the dedication were Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths. I am inclined to think that, while this in itself proves nothing, it shows he had an awareness of religion to the American people and he would himself have been disinclined from alienating too many people on grounds of their beliefs. There is of course the continuing suspicion that Walt Disney was anti Semitic.

Much of the anti Semitic allegations were raised in Marc Eliot's now largely discredited biography. - Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince
. The book presents the darker picture of Walt Disney than his popular image. Eliot presents 'evidence' of life-long anti-Semitism and covert employment by the House Un-American Activities Committee as a spy against Communists in Hollywood, and intense right-wing politics.

The book also claims that when Disney received the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson just before the 1964 election he wore a badge supporting Johnsons rival Barry Goldwater, and repeats urban legends such as Disney's alleged refusal to lower the American flag at Disneyland after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Walt Disney is known to have been in Florida on the day of the assassination, looking for land for the WDW project). The book has been called "an effective hatchet job" and the book's claims are disputed by other authors, including ones who have reviewed and published information from the same FBI files as Eliot. Again time to make your own mind up from the jumble of interpreted facts, myths and fictions. Personally I cannot imagine an astute businessman, with a keen sense of the American people publicly and deliberately disrespecting two Presidents and the on looking public.

What is true however is that Disneyland hasn't always been the gay friendly place that the Southern Baptists find so troubling. In 1984 three gay men successfully Sued Disneyland alleging that Disneyland had violated their civil rights when a security guard at the Anaheim park told them that "touch dancing was reserved for heterosexuals". (Exler v Disneyland #342021 - Superior Court, Orange County Cal. 1984) The men dropped their lawsuit in 1989 after Disneyland officials pledged not to discriminate against same-sex couples.

What I do know from more than a decade with the company is that times have changed. The May, 1995, issue of Buzz magazine reported that a homosexual rights activist said that she was once told by Disney Chairman Michael Eisner that "as many as 40% of the company's 63,000 employees might be gay!" The cover story also reported that Disney has the "largest lesbian and gay employees organization in the entertainment industry."

I think the greater part of people's hate of Disney is not a hate of the Mouse but perhaps a feeling of betrayal. The childhood image of a benign Walt Disney introducing 'Disney Time' each week on our television screens is a powerful memory. A safe familiar face, a friend of the family perhaps. Then as we got older and some of our values and how we saw in the world around us changed. Walt Disney's name became associated with things that we didn't agree with or didn't fit in to our world view.

In the Walt Disney Company early years it concentrated on it's animated films for children. This led by 1950's to the first theme parks and television programs suitable for young people. The world can only handle a handful of new animated movies each decade. So, the company broadened into other areas of the entertainment business: books, a television network, and movies of all types.

The Walt Disney Company tended to reserve the Disney name for their children's films and theme parks and brand the other businesses. Their subsidiaries have different names, ABC Television, Touchstone and Miramax movies, Hyperion books etc. This separates them from the Disney name, and gives them the freedom to explore mature themes without impacting on the "family oriented" Disney reputation.

The strategy seems to work well allowing the company as a whole to expand financially. However, some religious groups believe that the subsidiaries should confine themselves to child and family themes and not cover controversial topics, like sexual orientation, tensions within religious denominations, and other mature topics.

I am as worried as the next father about how much of my pay check still goes back to the Mouse, especially as I no longer have an ID. But I do not resent them their commercial success.

As for the first Black Disney Princess - Better late than never. Her possibly white Prince - Lets wait and see what he looks like next year when the movie airs.

Lastly, and perhaps most controversially, Disney's stance on sexual equality. Disney has in the past not been the glowing beacon lighting the way to equal rights for all and there are some that some think they haven't yet gone far enough to recognise their Gay Guests but I am proud to say that I worked for a company who have publicly stood behind their employees, taken a hail of verbal abuse for there stance and taken the hit on Wall street for it.

If you may in any way offended by other peoples sexualities and lifestyles there is some very good advice and debate prayers available on line from Christian groups, Gay Disney enthusiasts and Family vacationers alike.