“To infinity and beyond!” In November of 1995, the first of four blockbuster animated films in the Toy Story franchise was released by Walt Disney Pictures to both audience and critical acclaim. With Toy Story, astute businesspeople at the Walt Disney Company created a cash-cow franchise capable of producing revenue for years to come by creating and delivering a product that appealed to their target audience of parents and children. Unfortunately, the Walt Disney Company’s leap from a business focused on producing broadly appealing content to a business exemplifying the latest version of woke corporate activism, redefining the nature and use of a company’s products, has taken the company to the height of stupidity and beyond.
Disney is a long-time part of the landscape, literally and figuratively, in the state of Florida. The company’s 2020 annual report indicates that of Disney’s 203,000 global employees, nearly 40% are in the state of Florida; and a small but vocal minority of those Florida cast-members are not happy.
On March 28, 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill (HB) 1557, Parental Rights in Education. According to the governor’s website, the bill, “reenforces parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children.” The bill also, “prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade and prohibits instruction that is not age appropriate for students.” The Walt Disney Company disagrees.
Let that sink in.
Disney, a company whose legacy was built on producing entertainment for parents and their children, disagrees. After a small group of employees threw a tantrum normally akin to an exhausted six-year-old waiting in line for a turn to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek surrendered. The company issued a statement on Twitter stating, “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”
While the drift of companies towards activism in social causes is not new, Disney’s stated goal for this piece of legislation not only runs counter to what should be the goal of any publicly traded business—i.e., to create value for its shareholders—but crosses a line into territory that runs counter to rational business thought.
Organizations like Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Meta, and Major League Baseball have all taken public stances on social issues. These stances have alienated wide segments of their customers based solely on differences in political viewpoint. Through it all, the products or services of these companies remained neutral. The ingredients of Coca-Cola were not altered in an effort to promote the company’s social agenda. In Disney’s case, however, its stance on the Florida bill has the potential to alienate many of the organization’s core customers (parents) precisely because the product will no longer be neutral. Vocal Disney employees indicated in leaked internal meeting videos that the portrayal of Disney characters in television and film will be a vehicle for the promotion of LGBTQ+ lifestyles and identities. In other words, Disney’s products will no longer be neutral but will be directed to serve a social agenda.
Disney’s activism is a bridge too far even in the current day of woke corporations. Making donations to activist groups or voicing support for social justice or climate change is one thing, but using platforms designed to provide entertainment for children—children—to promote alternative lifestyles is a new layer of the woke stratosphere.
What are the potential consequences? Maybe nothing. But maybe a substantial number of parents will see Disney’s actions for what they are, an attempt to supplant parental control over what values are taught to their children and by whom. Maybe the forces of the free market will spring into action and new entertainment options will emerge to fill the market void left by Disney. And maybe, like Buzz Lightyear who mistakenly believed his wings would carry him to infinity and beyond, Disney will realize that forcing extremist values and ideals upon its customers simply will not fly.