The Disney fan community is highly fragmented, with many people fitting into two extreme camps: Pixiedusters and Doom & Gloomers. Pixiedusters are those who seem to love everything Disney is doing simply “because it’s Disney,” and question how anyone could criticize anything Disney has done. Doom & Gloomers seem to dislike anything Disney has done since 1996, contending that the parks are beyond repair, and that everyone that’s done now is somehow wanting. Given that I’ve encountered these two groups of people on a regular basis since joining the Disney fan community, and have only expressed my strong beliefs with regard to both groups in passing through trip reports, I thought it was worth delving into a bit more here.
The Pixiedusters believe, more or less, that everything Disney does is exceptional, and to in any way critique its actions or suggest that you’re displeased with Walt Disney Company decisions is tantamount to “Disney treason.” Doom & Gloomers, by contrast, are fixated on what the parks once were and is quick to criticize anything new on the basis that things aren’t as good as they used to be. Even new things that by most accounts are pretty impressive.
In fairness, these two groups are not the only types of Disney theme park fans. In fact, I think they’re a vocal minority, and most fans are (thankfully) actually somewhere in the middle. As suggested by my “thankfully” parenthetical, I don’t align myself with either group nor am I really a fan of either. With regard to the former group, I think it’s ludicrous to think that a company is infallible, and with regard to the latter group, I think it’s equally ridiculous to live entirely in the past and condemn anything that’s new. I’ve been accused, at various times, of being in both groups, but I would like to think that, like most fans, I fall somewhere in the middle.
Addressing the latter group first, my comment above is not to say I think things are perfect. Moreover, I realize that as fans, we feel an emotional attachment to many attractions for personal reasons and we often pine for nostalgia. However, embracing our nostalgia while understanding the need for progress is not the same as demanding nostalgia for its own sake. Critique of Disney’s decisions should be firmly grounded in logic, and should not be predicated upon our childhood love for the cardboard cut-outs that lined the insides of our favorite dark rides. There is nothing wrong with critique; I have expressed my fair share of displeasure at certain decisions Disney has made, and I certainly will continue to do so in the future.
That said, I think some folks in the fan community take their beliefs entirely too far. I absolutely love reading about the history of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but some who write about extinct attractions and Disney ephemera do so with a thinly veiled disdain for the contemporary parks.
When I read remarks and articles (by those who still visit and claim to like the parks to this day) that Disneyland and Walt Disney World are shadows of their former selves that have been bastardized by corporate synergy and corner-cutting, I can’t help but scratch my head. The common sentiment towards these “fans” is that they simply shouldn’t visit the parks if they are so critical. Normally, my response to this sentiment is that you can be critical of something and yet still be a fan.
Whenever I read this “if you don’t like it, don’t go” sentiment, I am actually reminded of a quote by Thomas Jefferson: “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” I think this quote is apt here as it eloquently expresses the wisdom that unquestioning allegiance to anything, even that which man holds most sacred, is not a pragmatic idea. However, when these “fans” go as far to say that, at present, Disney is doing little if anything correctly or to the standards it once held, I can’t help but wonder why they still describe themselves as fans. Life is too short to be fixated on something that, by and large, you don’t like.
Many of these same fans will also quickly react to Disney’s decisions as if running the Company is akin to a quick game of Rollercoaster Tycoon. This type of “X is bad, Y is good” sentiment also reduces decisions that Disney has made to their simplest terms. By way of example, many in the online community condemned the NextGen project as soon as a couple talking points were released, but years before the bulk of the project would come to fruition. These fans argued that the purported amount to be spent, over a billion dollars, on this project would be better spent on a few attractions. That some fans would rather see money spent on attractions than the NextGen project doesn’t make it fact that one is a better use of money versus the other.
More importantly, this sentiment ignores other variables, such as the continued operational costs and maintenance of one versus the other, the resulting staffing efficiencies in one versus the other, and the return on investment, among other things, of one versus the other. For instance, what if the NextGen project costs $1.5 billion and has a yearly maintenance and operational cost of $10,000,000, but reduces yearly staffing costs by $50,000,000, and generates $60,000,000? And what if the few attractions that would require a similar $1.5 billion capital expenditure have a yearly maintenance and operational cost of $15,000,000, require spending another $5,000,000 on staffing, and generate $10,000,000 in additional annual revenue? With this additional information, it’s now clear that the “alternative” doesn’t have the same cost or return as what Disney chose.
All of these numbers are necessarily hypothetical, which is the case because in a complex business organization, decisions involve a myriad of factors, most of which are beyond the grasp or knowledge of most individuals outside of the business making the decisions. That’s sort of the point I’m making here. In fact, the hypothetical variables I’ve presented here probably overlook a large number of variables beyond my grasp.
It’s easy to criticize something on its most basic terms, but those in decision-making positions can’t reduce things to their most basic terms. Since fans aren’t privy to all of the variables that come into play when these decisions are made, it’s incredibly difficult to (accurately) say that the money would have been better spent in a different manner.
This example also illustrates another problem with the “criticize first, contemplate later” mentality: it’s too quick to condemn a project before it has come to fruition. Such has been the case with NextGen, as it draws the ire and scorn of many in the online community, despite the bulk of its details being unknown by the public beyond a couple statements involving planning attraction visits from home by Tom Staggs and the few interactive queues that have already been constructed. Some critics wisely crouch their objections behind conditional statements that “if” the project involves certain things, they will be disappointed. Others blindly criticize that spontaneity in vacations will be “ruined” as soon as XPass and other components are rolled out. At this preliminary stage, it’s simply too early to speak in such absolutes. Given that FASTPASS hasn’t ruined spontaneity, I’m inclined to err on the side of thinking that nothing will be ruined by XPass, but like I wrote above, I don’t know one way or the other.
Unfortunately, speaking in absolutes and hyperbole seems to be en vogue in fan communities where rationality, logical reasoning, and deliberation are weak currencies. Another illustrative example of this is the Magic, Memories, and You! show that debuted in 2011. Prior to its debut, it was widely criticized. Now, most people are either silent on it or express how much they enjoy it. Very few still publicly criticize it, and it wouldn’t be surprising if many of these folks do it merely for the sake of consistency. By and large, the show has been a resounding success, and is beautifully done. Heck, the new Christmas version even has a nod to the Castle Cake for us fans of that!
Further, I think a lot of the changes that have occurred in the Disney theme parks have been occasioned by changes in society. If you don’t like the new script for Spaceship Earth, don’t think the Phoenicians, thank the countless guests who were likely bored by the previous experience. While it’s dangerous and disappointing when companies cater to the lowest common denominator, companies do have to consider their customer demographics. Many contemporary Disney guests simply don’t appreciate or grasp the “edutaintional” components that made so many fans fall in love with EPCOT Center. Many aspects of this edutaintional EPCOT Center still remain at Epcot, but in an era when reality TV, crude cash-in movie sequels, and celebrity gossip are overwhelmingly popular and literature, independent film-making, and witty television have trouble finding audiences, it should come as no surprise that Disney aims for many of its attractions to appeal to broader audiences.
As I said above, though, all of this does not mean that Disney is infallible and should never be questioned. Even the premise of the paragraph directly above is worth questioning. As has been the case with many Pixar films, can’t the Disney theme parks hit that broad audience while also creating something that can be enjoyed by a more discerning audience?
The fact that many business decisions made by Disney are outside the frame of knowledge held by most fans does not mean that decisions made by Disney are above criticism. While it’s difficult to criticize the business component of the decision, it is not so difficult to criticize the artistic aspect of moves. Many individuals won’t criticize anything Disney does because they feel that makes them less of a fan, or because they “trust in Disney.” If someone thinks that you’re less of a fan because you think critically about something, you shouldn’t care about their opinion. Trusting in Disney isn’t such a bad idea prior to personally experiencing a finished product, but taking that a step further and not criticizing something that seems amiss to you just because the company that created it “must” know what it’s doing given its track record is ridiculous. In diverse companies such as Disney, mistakes are made, and the wrong people often have too much input thanks to the bureaucratic process.
For me, a prime example of the importance of speaking up in a rational and well-thought manner is Journey into Imagination. From an artistic perspective, I have very few positive things to say about the present incarnation of the attraction as compared to the first incarnation of the attraction. However, as compared to the middle incarnation, I think the third version is an improvement. It seems that the third incarnation was occasioned by fan and guest feedback, and their disappointment that Figment was removed from the attraction. While I’m not exactly a fan of Figment’s personality in the present attraction, it’s at least better than nothing. To me, this demonstrates the importance of the fan community and guest feedback, and demonstrates just how well-thought feedback can impact Disney’s decisions.
In other instances, Disney has let maintenance slide, presumably, because most guests won’t notice. In yet other cases, Disney has cut corners, offering less and charging more because there is sufficient guest demand to justify the move. These moves do skew more towards the above-category of business decisions, but in this case, I don’t think these decisions are above criticism, as it seems fairly clear that these decisions have been made for the sole reason of increasing short term profits and not thanks to a number of complex variables of which most fans aren’t privy. In circumstances such as these, guests and fans play a great role in keeping Disney accountable by pointing out to others that these cuts have occurred or pointing out to Disney that the cuts have been noticed and will impact the spending habits of those guests. Much like in the branches of government, fan and guest feedback provides a “check” on Disney’s business decisions.
Other things that Disney has done, such as changing the TTA narration, have irritated me individually, but I realize in the grand scheme of things, are relatively insignificant to most guests. For me, it’s a case of picking battles that logically make the most sense, and complaining about the narration of an attraction just isn’t a wise battle to pick. While I may have personally loved that narration, others might have felt it overstayed its welcome, and was due to be changed. One person’s beloved nostalgia that should never be changed might be another person’s dated junk that is 10 years overdue to be replaced. This is why I believe it’s important to attempt to look at decisions Disney makes as objectively as possible. Obviously there’s an inherent subjectivity to this, but my point is that when taking to the internet and spewing venom or praise over the latest Disney announcement, perhaps fans would be well-advised to consider the decision beyond the end of their own nose.
to this end, Disney is in a difficult position as it tries to navigate the diametrically-opposed waters of nostalgia and progress. As it navigates these waters, it finds a divided fan community that, on one side, loves all things once they’re gone, and on the other side, praises everything new. I believe both groups are rendering their voices meaningless to some extent, and it’s difficult for Disney to find the meaningful and constructive feedback in the sea of irrational noise. The “past-loving” group is doing so because nothing Disney can do will please it. Disney could change bathroom tiles, and someone in the former group will complain about it because they loved the old tiles. Conversely, Disney could engage in a plan to systematically kill all baby walruses, and some in the “Disney is infallible” group would claim the walruses had it coming.
I think all Disney fans would be well advised to give a little more thought to the Company that they both purport to like, and offer feedback on that more thoughtful basis. Giving something new the benefit of the doubt, contemplating how it will affect most guests, or considering the potential rationale behind it of which the public may be unaware, doesn’t make one less of a fan of the history of the parks. Likewise, expressing well-reasoned and thoughtful criticism of something new doesn’t make one less of a fan towards the contemporary offerings or Disney in general. It’s highly unlikely that the fan community will ever have a cohesive voice thanks to our diverse opinions and preferences, but having a consistently rational voice seems as if it would be highly beneficial.
So, when answering the question of “which parks will you celebrate?” the answer should not be “the past,” or “the present.” Great things happened in the past, and great things are happening in the present. It thus seems plainly clear that the answer should be “both.” Keep that in mind when reacting to Disney online.