The Dangers Of A Politically Correct Disney

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Not even going to touch this attraction's source material...

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.

Big Al

A face only...EVERYONE...could love!

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!

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Posted on August 24, 2012

42 Responses to “The Dangers Of A Politically Correct Disney”

  • Wonderful thoughts on this subject! I too worry about the “vanillaing” as I call it of Disney. Where we lose the rich history of attractions and some of the imperfections that make it what it is. These attractions have actually been conversation starters for the older kids that get it in my family and when they were younger, they were younger and din’t get it, simple.

    • AMEN! (Oh, wait… was that un-PC of me to use a religious expression?) LOL!

    • This is an excellent point and one I didn’t really touch upon. I’m curious as to whether the kids of these parents exclaiming “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” even understood the terrible, terrible message they heard, in the first place. The humor is so nuanced that it hits adults at different levels than kids.

      My feeling is that any child who does “get it” isn’t too young to hear it, but instead should be having an open dialogue about these types of things with their parents, anyway.

      Quite simply, theme park attractions don’t turn children into bad people. It’s a convenient excuse.

  • Enough alread with the PC! Deal with it! If you try to please one group you have to please them all. I can understand you must consider how serious the offense is, but most of these are ridiculous!

  • Oh my gosh, yes, Stitch’s Great Escape offends all of my senses. I cannot believe that thing is still around. I agree with your thoughts here and would probably take it further. It reminds me of a comedian who said “why are are we so worried about offending people? I mean nothing happens when you get offended. It’s not like you are offended and then you wake up and have cancer.” People need to learn to just chill out, especially at the happiest place on earth.

  • I love this post. I’m from Tennessee, and CBJ is one of my favorite Disney attractions. It may be too witty and self-aware for a lot of people…their loss. Also, the caption under your Splash photo is priceless!

    • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if people don’t like the Country Bear Jamboree, chances are that they simply don’t get it.

      • by Andrew Drummond on August 24, 2012, at 1:46 pm EDT

        Don’t know if it is just me, but I have only visited CBJ once and the sound system was so bad (2006?) that I couldn’t understand it.

        Maybe after the refurb it will be easier to understand?

  • by Marc Schwartz on August 24, 2012, at 12:39 pm EDT

    Good points Tom. As I was reading, I was expecting Song of the South to be raised and was surprised that you did not, since it is typically the quintessential example raised by folks regarding this topic. Would still like to see that movie released, perhaps with Leonard Maltin providing an appropriate introduction and perspective on the movie’s content.

    Thanks.

    • by Marc Schwartz on August 24, 2012, at 12:46 pm EDT

      Actually, as I now pay attention, you did infer Song of the South, with the picture and caption from Splash Mountain. My oversight…

      • Song of the South has been discussed to death, and I don’t think there’s anything I could add to that conversation, so I took a different direction. I at least wanted to address that I wasn’t addressing it (so people didn’t think I overlooked it), hence the photo and caption.

  • I understood that the wench chasing conversion to be an adjutment to allow pirates to follow a sub theme of the seven deadly sins that was written into the show. The food chase was supposed to be gluttony but was discarded because someone thought that chasing wenches was funnier with the homely wench chasing the pirate in the end. I agree, it was funnier and the subtlely of the seven deadly sins is lost anyway so there was no good reason to change the scene.
    Remember the guns in Fort Wilderness? They died of political correctness as did the quick-draw cowboy game in the Critter Country arcade yet the shooting gallery survives.

  • What a thoughtful and non-hysterical article. Very well done, Mr Bricker!

    I do think we need to worry less about the forthright, daft stereotypes of the older attractions, and more about the quieter, more insidious messages. I swear that Belle is to blame for the generation of “I’m so totally unique and much, much better than everyone around me” teens that came out of the 90s ;)

  • Reading this was like a breath of fresh air! It’s about time we stop whitewashing history, and instead take ownership of it and use it to teach our children about the past — the good, the bad, and even the ugly. In the meantime, it’s okay to appreciate, love and laugh at clever rabbits, singing bears, and mischievous pirates. At Disney World, we have the luxury of seeing them with the innocent eyes of a child, and enjoying them for what they are (fanciful and funny story characters) instead of what grown-up cynicism might make of them.

  • by Jennifer Murphy on August 24, 2012, at 2:34 pm EDT

    Great article. I think that most of the PC problem stems from parents who take offense to everything on behalf of their children. Here is the simple truth…..if you don’t want your child to see, hear, or experience something then don’t let them!

    Our society is so uptight! Everything that has been removed or changed at Disney was all based upon some fact. Just because we don’t like a past injustice does not mean that we ignore it. Use it as a lesson to teach the kids!!!

  • I personally like the Pirates change. I find it a humorous example of what men think they are going to get when they bid for a bride, followed by what they actually get! For CBJ, depending on my mood, sometimes I find it funny and sometimes tasteless. I do think it is long overdue for a story update. Something to turned the expected into the unexpected. As for Stitch – blegh! Nothing can save that piece of alien crap.

  • I completely agree with this posting. It bothers me when I enjoyed something as a kid and now as an adult I’m made to feel guilty for an innocent childhood pleasure. I loved Pirates of the Caribbean, and when visiting Disneyworld for the first time at age 7 I loved the pirates chasing the women… mostly because to me, it was the setup for the woman chasing the pirate (and brandishing a broom) at the end of the scene! I was too young to understand what the ‘chasing’ implied, other than perhaps a kiss.

    One thing that also bothers ime is the way they have sanitized the scene on the Jungle Cruise with the zebra and the lions. It’s a small thing, but I so clearly remember watching the lionesses play/fight over a chunk of Zebra skin. It was one of my favorite scenes… and now it’s gone. At least the operators on the Jungle Cruise always make a ‘nudge, nudge/wink, wink’ joke about it when we go by, but if anything, it only serves to remind me of what’s missing.

    And in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, look here…

    http://jimhillmedia.com/editor_in_chief1/b/jim_hill/archive/2006/09/22/5882.aspx#.UDfmJWie59k

    We could add in the part about how the boat operators can no longer shoot at hippos… Sigh…

  • Thank you for a thoughtful commentary on an overarching issue regarding the parks in general. I enjoyed your tone and structure and your willingness to debate and discuss cultural issues in a vacation resort where people from all around the world visit and are made to feel as guests.

    • by Laura Matelski on September 2, 2012, at 3:56 pm EDT

      JoeSchmoe50, this is thriversurvior from the psu site. Was looking for you and can only find you here.

      • Hi, Laura! I hope all is well. It’s me from that site. I don’t often check back for comments; I’m just finding this.
        I hope all is well!

        • by Laura Matelski on October 13, 2012, at 11:00 am EDT

          Never was able to ascertain how you were so suddenly escorted from that site. Is there a way to reach you?
          Yes, all is well, and I hope the same is true for you. Certainly have missed your witty remarks. “They” never have gotten it, and never will.

    • by Laura Matelski on October 13, 2012, at 10:35 am EDT

      JoeSchmoe,I’d wondered where you were hiding but knew you were there somewhere. Missed your posts. Thanks for sending.

  • Well said Tom. Well written and great points. Another example that bothers me (and that I’ve complained to Disney about)… In the last few years Disney has become scared of using the word “Christmas.” MVMCP is the last remnant of the word; everywhere else the generic non-offensive “holiday” is used instead. Only 85% of Americans celebrate Christmas, so we don’t want to worry about offending 15%!

    Similarly, everyone should watch the Disneyland opening ceremony on YouTube. Walt insisted on an invocation… How the times have changed.

    • The funny thing is that I don’t know a single atheist, Muslim, Jew or Hindu who is remotely offended by Christmas or any of its traditions. Most other religions believe that Christ’s birth is a special occasion, worthy of celebration. Even those who do not follow Christ love the message of peace, giving and family that is celebrated throughout the holiday.

      It makes me question who is actually claiming to be offended – do these people exist, or are they dreamed up by bureaucrats?

    • Are you familiar with the logical fallacy of a straw man argument?
      I ask because you offer no evidence to support your claim that the Disney Company is “scared of using the word ‘Christmas.’” I see the Candlelight Processional is still going strong (and has been expanded at Disneyland). The Osborne Lights still pays homage to ‘peace on earth, goodwill toward men.’ I’ve heard many Cast Members wish me a Merry Christmas over the years, without being prompted. (We often go the week between Christmas and New Year’s.) Do you have any actual evidence the Disney Company is somehow engaged in a campaign to eradicate ‘Christmas’? Incidentally, considering WDW draws Guests from around the world and–last I checked–our own country is still a pluralistic society where freedom of and from religion are part of our Constitution–I find the words ‘holiday’ and ‘holiday season’ do, in fact, appropriately sum up the confluence of holy days and holidays that weave a rich tapestry of human celebration and reverence. People who claim an 85/15 majority hardly have reason to feel persecuted, in my humble opinion.

      • If you’re correct, then Disney currently acknowledges and celebrates Christmas the same way today they did in 1971.

        Anyone reading this believe that? Anyone think Santa said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in 1971?

        If you and I both write complaint letters to TWDC stating our positions, who do you think corporate brass will pay more attention to?

        • I don’t follow your logic, Zach. I’ve been as recently as last Christmas. I wasn’t asking what people think, I was asking for facts, not ideology.
          I might add, that when I go in search of spirituality, communion with a supreme being, or even seek validation of my personal relationship with a higher power…the last place on my list is an amusement park. But as amusement parks go, I’ve found WDW to be an excellent place to be over Christmas, and I have never once felt disrespected.

          • I won’t go as far as to say Christmas is celebrated the same way as it is in 1971, but I think the complaints I often hear about Christmas being watered down at Walt Disney World are way off-base.

            The celebration of the many holidays that occur in the months of December and January has publicly made a substantial shift from being a celebration of “Christmas” since 1971 to one of “holidays.” This is widespread and undeniable. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Even if the 85/15% split is accurate (I have no clue whether it is), I find it troubling whenever a people wants to ostracize or disregard a minority (of any sort). To me, that’s not at all a compelling argument for any action, and if it were used in the public sphere, a lot of past “wrongs” we’ve sought to redress would have gone uncorrected. I do think that America has gone a bit far with some attempts to eliminate “Christmas” from the public vocabulary, but my beliefs are neither here nor there on this discussion about Disney…

            As for Disney, I think a great deal is still done to celebrate Christmas, specifically. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised by it. You have the Candlelight Processional, which tells the Christmas Story from an unabashedly Christian perspective. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has Christmas right in the name. So of the major aspects of Christmas celebrated in the parks, that leaves the Osborne Lights and Holidays Around the World at Epcot. I think it’s fairly obvious why Epcot’s ‘celebration’ refers to holidays rather than Christmas (they’re not all holidays), and as for Osborne Lights, it also still refers to Christmas.

            Given the actions of just about every other company, etc., in attempting to celebrate the Christmas/Holiday season in more broad terms, I have a hard time criticizing Disney here. It seems like they’re going the other direction, and I don’t think many could fault them for focusing less on Christmas, specifically, especially given that their demographic is becoming more and more diverse.

  • Thank you for thinking it. Thank you for writing it. Thank you for letting me thank you and allowing me to tell you how 100% correct you are.

  • I’ve heard that they are going to removed “Big Al” from CBJ. I know it’s only a rumor, but that would be a terrible loss to the show. Kids find him funny. They don’t relate him to drinking or anything else. I also miss the “old” P of the C. Come on, it’s only humor.

  • Am I the only person who loved Stitch’s Great Escape? I was laughing my butt off the whole time. Admittedly, I was laughing at the absurdity of it, but hey, I consider that to be extremely entertaining.

    And don’t be dissin’ my Figment. I luv Figment! I bought two stuffed characters on my first trip to WDW — a Stitch, and a Figment. :-)

    Prior to my trip, I had read that CBJ was having sound problems, so I skipped it. Hopefully, it is getting a technical upgrade, and they are not overly-sanitizing it. They have to keep things interesting for adults! If I want to sit through mind-numbing children’s entertainment, I’ll go see Barney. One thing Disney has always excelled at is including jokes and references for grown-ups. It is a great conversation starter when my niece asks why I am laughing at some 70′s or 80′s reference.

    • Did you ever see the original Journey into Imagination? (If so, do you remember it?) Typically only people who have only seen the current version say what you’re saying about Figment.

  • I’ve felt this way about society in general, constantly changing things to keep the small handful of people happy. (Remember parents not wanting the pledge of allegiance said in schools because you say god?) It’s ridiculous! It’s always about the people who are offended by something minute and stupid, well maybe I’m offended because everything has to be changed or lost to please that small group! POTC is an awesome ride that engrosses you in the world of pirates, if you don’t like it then don’t go on!

  • For all the times we’ve been to WDW we hadn’t seen Country Bear Jamboree until this year. Definitely some of the songs and jokes (should) go right over the kids heads, but the biggest problem is that half of it is unintelligible due to poor sound. It’s fun but to us (as Canadians) a very “Southern” type of humour that is very dated but probably very popular when Hee-Haw was on. My husband loved it. I wanted cushier seats.

    • Depending upon where you go in the South, you’ll discover that the basis for a lot of that humor isn’t dated at all.

      As for the audio, when did you visit (2012)? The audio system was upgraded in late 2010, and sounds a lot better than it used to sound, I think. It could still stand improvement, but it’s better overall.

  • It is my understanding that the PC change in Pirates was due to complaints about the heavy set gal chasing a man while the thin gals were pursued. It was taken as a jab to overweight people.

    • Overweight people (especially in scooters) seem to be a bigger presence in the parks. Gotta keep the customers satisfied!!

  • Just a reminder: while all points of view are welcome here, all comments need to remain civil. I welcome any well-reasoned or thoughtful comments, especially those with which I disagree, but comments that are nothing more than thinly veiled cheap-shots at particular groups or people will not be tolerated.

  • Not into PC. However, I will say that I think the Pirates ride lacks what make the movies good. Adventure and humor. The ride is silly and not very kid appropriate (although detailed and interesting if you want to look past everything it portrays). Adults can more easily separate entertainment from sad realities. My 8 yr old daughter squirmed and said, “That was stupid.” Basically pirates steal, buy women, get drunk and set the town on fire. Young kids may not fully “get it” but mine didn’t see anything worthwhile.

  • I don’t have too much time for PC, however keeping things current isn’t always a bad thing. Maybe it’s only the hard core disney park goers that get cross with these changes, the typical family that save for a holiday of a life time wouldn’t know the difference.
    I have been 10 times in a 21 year span, as a 17 year old with my parents and now as a parent with my children – I’m not sure which camp I fall into – every trip for me is speical and not spoiled by changes. Perhaps innocently I like to think the best of Disney, and want to believe these changes are for the good.

  • Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the web the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks