Having recently read an article from the Orlando Sentinel about how Disney making changes to some of their content in their rides while also updating their dress code policy to be more inclusive to people’s lifestyles and personal choices. Some people think that this goes in the face of what Walt Disney stood for and how things cannot change. A lot of people are attributing this to the company wanting to be “woke” and appeal to the left side of the political agenda. But I would argue that these changes are not based on being woke, but instead being socially conscious, improving moral and keeping up with the current standards of other companies.
Let’s start with the obvious reason for the changes, mirroring the changes of our society. In the 65 years since Disneyland first opening, major changes have taken place in our country (desegregation probably being one of those as an example). A lot of these changes that have happened have not really been us adopting new ideas, but more so righting old wrongs and making things that were once deemed outlandish as “why was this ever not a thing.” For example, diversity in the work place, equal pay, better representation in entertainment and decision makers and marriage equality. Disney attractions have also needed to follow suit. While yes, pirates historically did rape women. That doesn’t mean it should be shown that way in a theme park attraction where right next door is a show about singing birds. Pretty sure its okay if they don’t have a true to history pirate ride. This also flows into how Disney changed their onstage look for frontline Cast Members. By expanding what is okay, it can further highlight actual diversity in cast members. Hair styles are less restrictive, it expands piercings to be more inclusive of religious or cultural ones and puts less restrictions on people falling into either a male or female look.
Which those changes do bleed into the idea of improving moral. A small but big change is the tattoo policy. I have stories of cast who have been denied transfers or refused them because the costume did not hide their tattoo and the cover up options can be uncomfortable. Now with them no longer having to hide smaller tattoos really is a major morale booster because they no longer have to worry about cover it up with sleeves that are hot in the summer, make up or bandages. Those are just smaller examples. A nonbinary cast member no longer needs to worry about feeling like they are compromising who they are by having to fit a one or the other look. People can truly look like who they are without fear of getting written up. Higher moral always yields into a better experience for the customer. I have had plenty of great moments of customer service from people who have tattoos or a lot of piercings. It really isn’t an indicator of work ethic, but happier people work harder because they want to be there. We are seeing that right now in the fast food industry with some companies not able to have high moral amongst the employees and the retention rate is abysmal (but more on that later).
But the other big thing to note is that this is not Disney doing this as an isolated incident, but these changes have been slowly rolling out both internally and in other companies. For looks, Disney has been more relaxed lately with their backstage roles, allowing jeans and t-shirts for cast not in Imagineering or DDG (they’ve had that perk for a long time, see Joe Rhode). It’s an industry initiative for looks called “Business Smart” with the idea being that you allow people to dress what they feel comfortable in, but still have some guide lines, it will yield higher productivity and morale. The company I currently work for now has this and I’ve been happy working there every day. I don’t always wear my Bill Murray Space Jam jersey to work, but I know that I can with no one batting an eye. Disney shifting this idea combining with the mindset of inclusion is vital to Disney keeping up with the times, while also not losing people to other jobs that may seem more ideal.
Ultimately, the end goal is to create a better environment for everyone to work. But not only that, it’s to level the playing field. It seems obvious, but people should not be held back from any job because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or anything that isn’t how well do they work and we shouldn’t be promoting sex crimes or racism. A lot of these changes do show that Disney is willing to listen and improve themselves and methods. You may hate that they are taking out Trader Sam from the Jungle Cruise or Splash Mountain, but they represent an outdated way of thinking that was never right in the first place that did come from an inherently racist mindset (whether it was conscious or subconscious). And Disney has been working to be more inclusive for people, so much that they have made Inclusion a key foundation for the company’s mission. But they are taking actions for it too, like reducing restrictions on frontline cast look, modifying rides to remove offensive content and making more movies and television shows that are more diverse and inclusive. Andi Mack was the first kid’s show that I can think of where a main character openly said, “I’m gay.” It’s a big step that needs to happen. It’s not about being “woke,” but acknowledging that we can and should do to be better.
But what does actually cause the ruining of the Disney magic? Well, it’s the over entitled guests who feel they are owed the world because they paid money to be there (because no one else did). If you want magic, follow the park rules and treat the cast with respect. But for a personal story on this and why these rules are so important, I had a guest complain to me about a cast I had who was transgender. The guest refused to call her a woman and referred to her as, “a man in a dress.” Now granted, I politely told them that who they saw was a woman and if she didn’t like it to leave the park. And while cast will look out and stand up for other cast, the mindset of the guest needs to change. When you come to Disney, the only thing your ticket gets you is entry to the park and that’s it. You still have to follow the rules and treat the cast members with courtesy (another Key of the company). I have seen cast quit and lose interest in the job because guest treat them like robots, rather than human beings. So for the writer of the Orlando Sentinel article wondering why the Disney magic is gone, look in the mirror.
So at the end of the day, these changes that Disney are making is not the end of the world. Disney allowed beards for the first time a few years ago, and the sun hasn’t exploded and attendance has only gone up. And while these changes are bigger, Disney really isn’t going to be hurting if people stopped showing up because Dylan has his fingernails painted, Tammy has a tattoo of a small heart on her forearm or they can no longer ride the racist log ride. I haven’t been to Disney since they let me go due to COVID cuts, and they’ve been doing just fine. Trust me, they will live. And so will you.