I decided to write this blog post in response to a short exchange on Twitter, because I have a different opinion than many people on Disney as a company, and where they may or may not be heading. It is often thought to be the teetering giant – just slipping over the edge of the beanstalk, ready to fall to the earth.
This may still be the case, but I think Disney operates differently than every other entertainment company on the planet, and they have a different game that they are playing.
First, there is no doubt that Disney is a progressive company. They don’t even work particularly hard to hide it anymore. But the question is are they converged, and are they willing to destroy their own company in order to virtual signal, lose or insult their base to further their leadership’s political opinions, and put forth lesser quality products to push messages?
I think the answer to that, at this moment, is no. Will it change in the future? Possibly, even probably. But my argument is this: Disney is far more likely to alter their coarse before this happens, to self-correct rather than double down, than most converged institutions.
One important caveat to all of this is that Disney is massive, and full of many different branches, so to speak. Some of them are worse than others. The Disney Channel (as opposed to the Disney Parks, Disney Junior, or the animation department) is far more converged than other parts of the company. They’ve been putting out unwatchable dreck for years. Should one particular branch start collapsing or performing too poorly, they are likely to fix it or kill it. But if not, it is one area of the company, not the whole.
Marvel and Tor, for example, are niche compared to Disney’s multiple market, broad appeal and customer base. Comic book movies are mainstream now, but the base for actual comic books is significantly smaller than the audience for a superhero movie. I am always interested in seeing the new Marvel movie, but I never buy comic books. In fact, the only non-graphic novel comic I have read in its entirety is Rising Stars.
Science Fiction and Fantasy books are an even smaller market. Tor and Marvel have peddled away their base and their money, and now they’re fragile. Even when they were more successful, they could not afford to take a hit the way Disney can. They doubled down on their message fiction, insulted their base, and decided that their fantasy of the market was reality, when it was not.
They put all their eggs in the progressive basket, so to speak, and after years of slow decline they don’t have many eggs left. Now their entire approach is based on the idea that SJW virtues are the future, they are the popular attributes, and because they’re right, eventually everyone will see the light. They don’t care if the wrong people don’t buy their stuff. They don’t care that they’re driving away the majority of their base. Both Marvel and Tor are insisting, to various degrees, that the problem is their customers, not their product.
Disney’s company image, their marketing strategy, is entirely different. They are not pandering to a small, vocal part of the community. They are pandering to everyone.
They are walking the tightrope to be the inclusive entertainment provider to milk every last cent they possibly can out of every group of people possible. And they are good at it. Their strategy is that they want everyone’s money, so they will walk the tightrope to convince everyone that they’re looking out for them. So far they manage it pretty well. They’ll make mistakes, and probably some huge ones. But they don’t go into it blind, insisting that their base prefers different things than it actually does.
They’re king of getting money out of people. They want outliers (progs, gay families, etc) willing to buy their stuff as well as your standard American family, and to have them feel like they should support the company because it supports them.
Disney has been fielding criticisms from both sides of the aisle for years. For simultaneously going too far and not far enough. But somehow they never seem to go far enough in either direction to force people to actually start boycotting them or refusing to buy their products. Have they lost some customers? Sure. But their solid support from all but the fringes of both sides of the spectrum keeps them safe.
One of the best examples of this is the Gay Days at their parks. By refusing to acknowledge them (thus not having to disavow their gay customers or their conservative ones), they’ve managed to get people to pay them money to virtue signal, while not losing the business from their base.
And unlike somewhere like Tor, they know what their paying customers will stand for. No doubt they’re pushing the boundaries, but if they start losing huge amounts of money, they will backtrack or stop. Their idol is the almighty dollar, not the pillars of progessivism. Notice that most of the SJW characters and story lines from Marvel Comics have been absent from their Marvel Universe Movies.
Also unlike the other companies, Disney has a place in American childhood and family life that they are loathe to forfeit. They will continue to toe the line to keep their hold on this.
Now, this is an argument that makes them significantly more insidious and more of a threat than Tor and Marvel, but that isn’t the point of this post.
Beauty and the Beast is a little bit of a departure from this tactic, though less of one than it seems on its face. I was actually shocked when the articles came out, because Disney normally does not so publicly push pet political points.
However, the “gay moment” was nothing more than a publicity grab on their part. What happened with it? Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was talking about the movie days before release. They even managed to get the religious types to freak out over it – claiming that LeFou ballroom dances with Gaston (he does not), LeFou and Gaston share a gay kiss (they do not), etc. So when the movie itself came out, what was it? Literally ten seconds of Lefou ending up dancing with another man seemingly by accident. They reap the benefits of the publicity, of the prog/gay community coming out in scores to “support” it, and then middle America sees it anyway with their families once it comes out how minuscule this scene actually is. And the religious folks look like overreacting nuts that aren’t even right about what happens in the movie. If anyone should be offended by LeFou and his “exclusively gay” moment it should honestly be the LGBT community, because they are being used for it.
And as for Malaysia banning it and Disney refusing to edit the movie? The top earning movie in Malaysia ever (The Fast and the Furious 7, if it matters) earned roughly 13 million USD. That’s pocket change to the Disney Corporation.
They probably decided that the publicity cost of editing it was not worth the money they would earn in Malaysia, in addition to whatever values they hold. Their brand of being inclusive and accepting is worth more to them than the money from Malaysia. They have carefully worked years to craft it.
Now, if China had decided that the scene needed to go? I bet they would have quietly made the changes.
Disney wants to manipulate everyone and get in their pocketbooks.
I’m not even arguing that they won’t eventually fail, or go too far, or that they are anything other than a progressive company. Their collapse (if it happens) may be quick. But they’ve also recorrected and saved themselves from ruin more than once, though for different reasons than convergence.
It’s also likely that this is the beginning of more incidents like the one surrounding Beauty and the Beast. The movie has made almost a billion dollars worldwide already, and it’s not even been out a month. The stunt didn’t tank the movie. They’re going to see what they can get away with in the open, which is a departure from their past behavior, and it may put them over the edge. Or maybe the average American family becomes desensitized to the entire thing, and continues to pay to see their work as long as the offense isn’t to egregious.
They aren’t putting out terrible products. Beauty and the Beast was a good movie. The majority of what they put out is at least an enjoyable watch. Disney Junior programming is leagues better than any of the other stuff put out by Nick Jr. or PBS, for example. I can watch their releases without feeling like someone is smashing me in the face with a brick made out of progressive politics and message fiction. And I maintain that Disney World is still one of the easiest and best places to vacation as a family with young children (though it takes a chunk from your pocketbook to do it). For now the gravy train continues, as long as they ride the line carefully.
Only time will tell how it all ends. But their strategy is to make themselves as appealing to everyone as possible, and currently, they mostly succeed at this. And I think they are more likely to change their course in response to lost revenue than anyone else as progressive as they are.