I have been intending to examine the Disney empire’s misbegotten entry into the battle over Florida’s recently passed “Parental Rights in Education” law for weeks, but postponed the project because it is too complicated to do correctly without involving other complex issues that are closely related to it. Unfortunately, these issues have proliferated during the delay.
For example, Florida is threatening to remove Disney’s special status that allowed it to operate Disney World as an autonomous municipal government because of the company’s political action. Is that kind of punishment for a political opposition ethical? Should Disney have such special status, regardless of why it is being threatened with its removal? If the special status should be removed anyway, does it matter if it is done in response to political speech?
Here’s another: Republicans in Congress are threatening to end Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse, also in response to its LBGTQ activism. But that copyright should have ended decades ago, and its artificial endurance has stifled creative works blocked by thousands of other drawn-out copyrights that aren’t Disney. Now I am dealing with copyright law policy, the importance of Disney to the culture, and what, if anything, the government should do to–what? Reward it? Strengthen it? Direct it? Control it?
The Disney LGTBQ advocacy issue also involves, as virtually every issue does now, media ethics, as almost all outlets other than Fox have a clear pro-LGTBQ bias. The New York Times reporter assigned to covering Disney and the Florida law controversy is Brooks Barnes, and he can’t be trusted. In an earlier story last month, the reporter wrote,
Earlier in the week, Mr. Chapek, the company’s chief executive, botched an internal email to Disney employees. He was seeking to explain Disney’s public silence on anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation in Florida that activists have labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
That’s misinformation and incompetent reporting. The law is not objectively LGBTQ legislation; nothing in it is derogatory or discriminatory in any way. Calling it that is the reporter advancing an activist position and a deceptive partisan talking point. Nor is it relevant to repeat the false “Don’t Say Gay” label before explaining what the law really says. What activists have strategically labeled the bill should not take precedence over what the text of it says.
Barnes’ Times front page story today, however, lays out Disney’s dilemma fairly, and the background that makes the issue both ethically interesting and important.
Since its founding in 1923, Disney has stood alone in Hollywood in one fundamental way: Its family-friendly movies, television shows and theme park rides, at least in theory, have always been aimed at everybody, with potential political and cultural pitfalls zealously avoided.
The Disney brand is about wishing on stars and finding true love and living happily ever after. In case the fairy tale castles are too subtle, Disney theme parks outright promise an escape from reality with welcome signs that read, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”
Lately, however, real world ugliness has been creeping into the Magic Kingdom. In this hyperpartisan moment, both sides of the political divide have been pounding on Disney, endangering one of the world’s best-known brands — one that, for many, symbolizes America itself — as it tries to navigate a rapidly changing entertainment industry.
Here are just some of the issues that will have to be addressed in the course of examining Disney’s clash with multiple controversies with important societal implications:
- Is it ethical for corporations to publicly take positions on matters that do not involve their business interests? Disney was first attacked in California and by its own employees for not getting involved on the side of LGBTQ activists regarding the Florida law, then slammed by Republicans and conservatives when it publicly opposed the bill. This is a larger issue that includes all the corporate BLM virtue-signaling after the George Floyd Freakout as well as various corporate boycotts in Georgia over a misrepresented voting reform law, including Major League Baseball craven removal of the All-Star Game from Atlanta.
- Why does anyone think the public schools have duty, justification, or any business whatsoever teaching about sex, and especially alternative varieties of sexual orientation and sex practices, to third graders or younger? Why is that a partisan issue, rather than a common sense issue?
- Is it responsible for the unique transgender rights issues to be involved in these matters at all?
- How does society simultaneously respect and and avoid discriminating against gays, lesbians and bisexuals without adopting the position that their orientations and sexual practices should be regarded as normal and equally endorsed by society? I think this is a very tough issue. Heterosexual relations have to be treated as the desirable norm, because, applying Kant’s Universality Principle, if everyone were gay, the human race wouldn’t survive. However, labeling any practice or human condition as not “normal” or “abnormal” is necessarily pejorative. It is a linguistic problem as well as an ethical one, and when it comes to teaching children, words are especially important.
I’ve been searching for an analogy. I have a long and varied set of experiences with every letter in LGBTQ. My many friends, associates and family members who fall into those categories are no different in any respect from the heterosexuals in my life, except for their sexual imperatives. I think of it a bit like having friends and relatives who are compelled from an early age to crawl on their hands and feet rather than walk upright. They do just fine, and otherwise are productive, happy and law abiding. They might even agree with me that there are definite drawbacks, socially and practically, to moving arund this way, but that’s the way they are. Fine: I don’t care. I’ll accommodate them. I’d hire the Crawlers, if their method of locomotion doesn’t interfere with their ability to do their job. I won’t think less of them.
However, should schools teach that crawling is normal, or encourage children to consider whether that is something they want to do? Not only isn’t it normal, it has safety implications. What if a popular student in the class is a Crawler? Should crawling students be required to use only their feet in school, and not to promote crawling?
By all means, a qualified Crawler teacher shouldn’t be penalized or discriminated against, but would it be fair, wise, and prudent to require her or him to walk “normally,” by society’s standards, while teaching? What should a teacher answer if a student says, “My mother says you’re a Crawler. What’s that like?”
Now, carrying that thought experiment over to Disney, how should an important cultural force treat the crawling minority in its parks and entertainment? It is a group that doesn’t want to be marginalized. How does Disney include them without being accused of promoting crawling?
I’ll be dealing with these and other related issues in subsequent posts. Ongoing input from you will be much appreciated.