Orlando Sentinel guest columnist misses Disney’s rape-y, racist imagery

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By
Norine Dworkin

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Founding Editor

Orlando Sentinel guest columnist misses Disney’s rape-y, racist imagery

Courtesy of Change.org

Pirates of the Caribbean's "wench auction" before an update changed the auction's focus from flesh to the town's valuables.

On April 23, Jonathan VanBoskerck, chief deputy district attorney for Clark County, Nev., wrote an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel, complaining that Disney World just isn’t fun anymore, apparently, without the sex-slavery imagery in Pirates of the Caribbean and the racist tropes of the Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain. He’s aggrieved because his “immersive experience” is being “shattered by the real world.” He warned Disney to stop being so “woke” and capitulating to politics so as not to “offend certain people,” or he’d take his family to vacation someplace else.


"Disney World is going to lose us as customers if it continues down this path. I do not want to have Disney World taken away from us because Disney cares more about politics than happy guests,” wrote VanBoskerck, who identified himself as a Christian and a conservative Republican.


“I can take my tourist dollars elsewhere,” he continued. “I would rather keep spending them in Orlando, but people like me feel more and more excluded by Disney’s decisions.”


Wow. Another Republican white guy, whining about feeling “excluded.” Quelle surprise.


This feels like one more salvo in the Right’s ongoing culture war that has lately enveloped Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head. Funny how Republicans claim to be all hands-off about private sector businesses except when they take action that conservative Republicans, as VanBoskerck writes, "don’t see eye to eye” on.

 

But okay, let’s talk about “exclusion” and “happy” Disney guests. VanBoskerck’s point — excluding “people like me” leads to unhappy guests — is ridiculous in its assumption that only white Christian conservatives go to Disney World. In a non-pandemic year, an average of 58 million people visit Disney World, making it the most visited vacation spot in the world, according to the Magic Guides. It’s a pretty safe bet that at least a few people of color and probably even a handful of women have wandered in at some point.


Disney styles itself as the “happiest place on earth.” (Technically that’s the slogan for Disneyland while Disney World claims the “most magical place” mantle. Still, “happiest place” is most closely associated with Disney regardless of theme park.)


Imagine riding Pirates of the Caribbean as a woman, maybe even as a survivor of sexual assault, rape or the attempt, as 1 in 6 American women are, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network). Or maybe, since Disney World is built for kids, as one of the more than 57,000 children who are sexually abused and assaulted each year in the United States, 34 percent of whom are under 12.


How happy would they be, I wonder, if riding Pirates of the Caribbean triggered a panic attack as they relived their own assaults? Removing the sex slave auction in the town square as well as the maiden fleeing the drunken pirate, Disney shows some sensitivity to guests who don’t need reminders that a sexual assault happens every 73 seconds in the U.S. and that young women (16-24) are three to four times more likely than women in general to be assaulted or raped. Talk about shattering the immersive experience.


Which brings me to VanBoskerck’s boohooing about Trader Sam’s removal from the Jungle Cruise, “a funny, silly caricature” that he compared to an “out of touch white American dad.”


VanBoskerck got one thing right: Trader Sam was a caricature, in this case a cannibalistic shrunken-head dealer from South America. And we wonder where people get the idea that indigenous peoples are savages. From images like this it’s not a stretch to the panic whipped up by Fox News about migrant caravans invading the U.S. ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and the Trump Administration rhetoric about criminal immigrants pouring across our Southern border. (Undocumented Immigrants are actually far less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens.) It’s also worth noting that in examining background details on the 377 insurrectionists arrested for their role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, University of Chicago political science researcher Robert Pape found that rioters were likely to come from counties where the white population is declining.


VanBoskerck also gripes about Disney’s planned update of Splash Mountain, which the company will base on The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s only movie featuring a Black princess. He laments that the company will erase the ride’s connection with Song of the South, a movie about the former slave, Uncle Remus, who befriends a white boy on a Georgia plantation after the Civil War. The last time the film was shown in theaters was 1986. I remember seeing the film in the early ‘70s when I was 6 or 7 years old. But since it was never released on VHS or DVD in the U.S., and isn’t on its streaming platform, Disney+, today’s children have no connection to the movie or its characters.


Kids are connected to the princesses though, as any parent who plonks down $199.95 at the Bippity Boppity Boutique for a head-to-toe transformation into the Disney princess of one’s choice can tell you. Of the 12, four are princesses of color; exactly one is Black. Until Tiana came along, I can only imagine how excluded Black girls felt, looking at all of the Disney royalty and not seeing anyone who looked like them.


I doubt Disney will miss the vacation dollars of people like VanBoskerck. They’re surely banking on a far bigger audience of people who despise rape culture and see diversity and inclusion as a good thing.


Meanwhile, there is a theme park where VanBoskerck’s Christian, conservative values won’t be challenged: the Creation Museum. In Petersburg, Kentucky.

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