In his lifetime, Walt Disney honed an aesthetic to match the conservative, religious, patriotic and exceptionalist vibes that color Republican orthodoxy even to this day. His films and theme parks offered a façade of seamless, squeaky-clean sentimentality achieved through hidden labor and a ruthless degree of control. His utopian visions took the form of optimized suburban sprawl for the white middle class. Decade after decade, his brand practically screamed “family values.”
But more than half a century since Disney’s death, his name is triggering the same kind of Americans he once served. It began with a few small skirmishes: Trump supporters told to get away from Disney World after camping out with a cutout of Mickey Mouse in a MAGA hat. Furor over internal memos referencing a “white privilege checklist” and the need to move past “white dominant culture.” The latest issue, larger and more radioactive than any so far, is Disney’s opposition to Florida’s new law banning discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms — a position it took after employees pressured the company to condemn the anti-LGBTQ legislation. For the extreme right, this amounts to proof that Disney is run by pedophiles who want to subliminally expose your children to sex.
This is a fascinating crossroads for an important customer base: the diehard Disney Moms. While not everyone of this category is so invested in culture war rhetoric, plenty are, and they now have to navigate between their loyalties to different entertainment empires — the Mouse on one hand, and the Fox News outrage machine on the other. Both the GOP and right-wing pundits are discussing punitive measures such as blocking the company from renewing its copyright on Mickey or ending its special real estate perks in Florida. QAnon forums are trying to connect the brand to Jeffrey Epstein. Amid the carnage, pilled Disney Moms are saying hard goodbyes.
While dads are angrily announcing their cancellation of Disney+ and intent to boycott any product or tourist destination offered by the third largest global media conglomerate, it’s the moms who evoke a certain pathos as they recall the good old days. It’s especially funny and sad when they remark that Disney hasn’t been the same “since Walt died” — which was in 1966, long before Disney World itself was completed. You can feel that they are letting one cultish worldview eclipse another: Oh, Disney was magical, and it’s sad the kids (or grandkids) won’t have it in their lives, but the paranoid psychos I follow on Twitter said it’s evil, so that’s that!
The extent and impact of the far right’s attempts to sink Disney are sure to be limited even as they are exaggerated online. Perversely enough, the business won’t suffer as much as the people denying themselves the comfort and happiness of the movies and family vacations they’ve come to renounce. In their emotional, prolonged farewells, you can almost hear the moms’ higher reasoning struggle against the forced conclusion of a depraved conspiracy. From their own direct experience, they know that Disney characters, stories and fantasylands aren’t sexualizing children or coercing them into queerness. They know that if they walked into one of the parks today, they’d find the same old rides and castles and beaming employees as always, a place where basically any threat to the traditional American way of life is eliminated by design. They are “heartbroken” because they’ve accepted propaganda that tarnishes dear memories.
Should the MAGA coalition ever want to stop and question what they’re told by talking heads and grifter trolls, this demonization of Disney as a “woke” establishment provides one of the best chances to do so. Instead, we’re seeing that they’ll sacrifice a monolith of conservatism itself to feed a reactionary appetite for ongoing, ever-expanding fury. The actual left won’t shed a tear if Disney files for bankruptcy tomorrow, but if that’s the enemy the right wants to fight, then more power to them, I guess. Just weird to see them turning against the stuff that’s made for them.