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Over the years, Disney has made a lot of changes to its theme parks that have no explainable basis other than the pursuit of more politically correct attractions and experiences. This is no surprise, given that we live in a sensitive society. To be sure, some of this sensitivity is absolutely justified. We should live in a society that is aware of its past transgressions and is intolerant of intolerance. However, attempting to sanitize all elements of culture to be politically correct is a fool’s errand.
In the past, we have seen some of these sanitation efforts at play in the Disney theme parks. Famously, Pirates of the Caribbean was altered so that instead of pirates chasing after wenches (err…sorry…females), pirates now run around with gold or are chased by females. Now, I’m not contending that the scene in its previous form could not have been construed to ascribe ill-intentions to the pirates, but I think it takes a fairly literal interpretation of the attraction in order to view that scene as offensive. If viewing the attraction in such a light, where do you draw the line? Consistency would require taking offense at women being auctioned off as “brides,” and actually, should require taking offense at the premise of the attraction, in general. After all, pirates are hardly model citizens. Historical and contemporary pirates are heinous individuals who commit murder, among other terrible things. Is it really appropriate that we glamorize such atrocious human beings with a popular attraction and a series of blockbuster films?
Yes, yes it is. It is acceptable because what’s depicted is not a glamorized version of real pirates, but a whimsical version of fictional caricatures of pirates that bear little resemblance to reality. Essentially, they’re nothing more than a historically rich (albeit inaccurate) theme for a story arc in an attraction. It’s acceptable because it doesn’t aim for anything beyond lighthearted entertainment, and any arguments that it has any sort of causal connection with the promotion or legitimization of piracy are absolutely laughable. Without having any statistics in front of me, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that Pirates of the Caribbean has not caused generations of children to become pirates or become more accepting of real pirates nor has it caused an increase in violence or other issues.
Simply put, it hasn’t bred any sort of unacceptable insensitivity (or misplaced sensitivity) in our society, which is what properly-aimed political correctness should seek to address. It’s a theme park attraction, and a fun and detailed one, at that. Overboard attempts at political correctness are exactly what’s wrong with the ideology. Offense could be found in a myriad of culture, and attempting to strip all culture of offense would have the unintended consequence of stripping culture of a lot of…well…culture, too. Entertainment would be dull and flat as it attempted to gloss over our rich and complex world history, which sometimes includes less than proud moments.
Disney, thankfully, has recognized this and not butchered Pirates of the Caribbean any further. The Company has refused to budge on other occasions, arguably when there was justification for the criticism. Peter Pan remains on store shelves despite its portrayals of Native Americans. Dumbo is still celebrated despite its crows. The Jungle Book is still sold despite criticism of King Louie. Heck, even The Fox and the Hound has been criticized with the rationale that because it tried so desperately to avoid insensitivity that it was actually insensitive and inaccurate. More recently, The Avengers drew criticism for its inaccurate stereotypes. This list could, literally, go on and on.
The point with these examples is that no matter what a prominent entertainment company does or releases, there is going to be some group that takes offense. The CliffNotes and comical nature of the entertainment industry pretty much guarantees this. Not everything can (or should–see PotC) hit the requisite levels of accuracy to satisfy politically correct concerns while simultaneously telling its story and entertaining. Now, this isn’t to say that we as a society should throw our collective hands up in the air at anything that’s in poor taste simply because “it’s in the name of art.” Moreso that, going forward, we should seek to toe the line between what is reasonably and what is unreasonably offensive while looking back at the past not with an eye toward revisionism, but acknowledging where our society has taken missteps. As the adage goes, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Just because entertainment and art (and theme parks are art) past and present has imperfections doesn’t mean that it should cease to exist or be altered.
With this in mind, we turn to Country Bear Jamboree. The elephant in the room. I’ve made my strong opinions about Country Bear Jamboree pretty clear in the past: I think it’s one of the most intelligent and witty attractions at Walt Disney World. There are presently a lot of rumors floating around about what’s going to change or be cut from Country Bear Jamboree when it reopens from its refurbishment. I have no clue as to the veracity of these rumors nor am I into rumor-mongering, but they’re out there if you want to find them. Without commenting on the likelihood of these rumors coming to fruition one way or the other, my stance is that Country Bear Jamboree should never be altered out of concerns about its political correctness. (This is not to say it shouldn’t be altered for some other reason.)
Like any entertainment, there are certainly those who take offense to Country Bear Jamboree. It could be construed as glamorizing child abuse, violence, alcoholism, and even promiscuity. Beyond that, it presents a certain period-stereotyping of the culture of the American South. If people are seeking things to find offensive, they’ll likely find plenty in Country Bear Jamboree.
You know what else Country Bear Jamboree has? Bears. Bears are vicious, cold-hearted murder-machines (just ask past Presidential candidate Stephen Colbert). Country Bear Jamboree glamorizes the savage lifestyle choices of bears! Given this, shouldn’t the whole thing be ripped out? Of course I’m kidding, but only because the idea to me that Country Bear Jamboree contains an unacceptable amount of offensive content is a joke to me. Country Bear Jamboree tells the story of a band of singing bears. Singing. Bears.
Now, I haven’t met a lot of singing bears in my time, but I’m fairly certain that this is just their brand of innocuous humor, and that the bears don’t intend to make serious commentary or endorsements of any “questionable” topics that have passing reference in their shows. In fact, I think these singing bears have less of substance to say about these topics with their punchline-laced jokes than do the average G or PG rated movies, general-audience television programs, and news media that frequently address these topics in more detail, with humans, and in a far more serious manner. I’d hazard a guess that the vast majority of guests feel the same way given the frequent, audience-wide laughs I hear when I watch the show multiple times on each trip I take. Like Pirates of the Caribbean, I’d make a large wager that Country Bear Jamboree has never caused any child abuse, alcoholism, violence, or has even inspired anyone to become a singing, man-eating bear.
Disney has surely received some complaints about Country Bear Jamboree’s subject matter (TouringPlans.com has received at least one such complaint), just as there likely have been complaints about every attraction and film Disney has ever made. As a purveyor of rich, themed entertainment and as a responsible corporate citizen, I do think it’s important for Disney to evaluate all of these claims and concerns and maintain a certain level of sensitivity in its parks, but while also maintaining the amusing and rich nature of its offerings. That said, if Disney does choose to err on the side of catering to the offended, I’d like to officially register my complaint that Stitch’s Great Escape and Journey into Imagination deeply offend me.
What do you think about Disney’s role with regard to political correctness? Let us know in the comments!