Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Makes A Disney Culture? Part 2

I apologize for my absence over the past month.   Between finishing my grad school application and the holidays I had to put my little blog on hold.  But I’m back now, and I should be posting more regularly.

Moving on through my fun little analysis of how our Disney community is in fact a culture, let’s take a look at a few of the other characteristics we share.

We absolutely share physical/material traits.  This is seen in our Disney collections, whatever they may be - Pins, movies, clothing, figurines, even Disney antiques or tickets.  Often our Park visits consist of souvenir shopping or even consuming Park-specific food, such as Dole-whips, or Mickey pretzels, furthering our way of physically connecting ourselves to Disney.

Mouse Ears, a classic material shared trait! 

Fitting hand in hand with material practices is behavioral rituals or norms.  Again, visiting the Parks in and of itself is a behavioral trait.  You may have an attraction you always ride first, or a spot you always sit in for a show.  You may split off and meet back at the hub for ice cream.  Or if it involves the films you may watch your favorite Disney movie whenever you are home sick.  Each norm or custom you develop is familiar to the rest of the Disney community because even if we do things differently, we know the magical (excuse the cliché) feeling we get when we fall into that normativity and familiar routine.

The last shared characteristic of the Disney culture is that of symbolism.  In other words, the language we share and the institutions we have formed over certain aspects in Disney culture.  For example, when communicating in social media we often adapt acronyms of abbreviations for things that occur often.  During the New Fantasyland construction and previews the term FLE sufficed as Fantasyland Expansion.  The Parks have become DLR for Disneyland Resort, or DCA for Disney’s California Adventure, and MK, DAK, DHS, WDW, etc.  We do love our acronyms, especially on Twitter where characters are limited.  We also share affinities for certain other symbols, such as the iconic castle image for Walt Disney Pictures before each Disney film, the famous Disneyland Opening Day speech by Walt, or the theme song from any certain fireworks show we have come to know and love. 

You have to love this one.

All of these things work together in the definition of our culture.  If it feels like we are one big family, it’s because we kind of are!  Of course we all see certain things in different lights, as I noted in Part 1, but that’s just another part of belonging to this complex and beautiful culture of Disney.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What Makes a Disney Culture? - Part 1

I’ve been referring to Disney Culture since the beginnings of this little blog, and I’d like to take a little time to explain the ins and outs of Disney Culture.  Commonly identified criteria in the definition of a culture include shared subjective, material, behavioral, and symbolic characteristics.  The Disney community meets these criteria, and this post will focus on the “subjective” characteristic, which includes our beliefs, values, and attitudes.

We, members of the Disney Culture, share the belief that Walter Elias Disney created works that have not, and will not be matched and can’t be surpassed in terms of creativity and forward-thinking.  Between his animation feats and his theme park innovations, his creativity has inspired us all.  We also have emotional attachments to Disney and certain things can inspire that emotion in us.  Because of this we believe anything with his name attached to it, even today, must be of the highest quality and must reflect his ideals.

Now within this group of people who share this belief are undeniably two separate parties.  There are those who believe everything the Walt Disney Company puts out maintains the aforementioned qualities, and these people are generally very optimistic about the directions of the parks, products, and films.   The slang term for these people is “Pixie Dusters,” suggesting they are so absorbed by Disney Magic that they cannot see any faults Disney may actually make.  The other group is extremely particular about the current state of the Walt Disney Company.  Very rarely do they believe anything current measures up to the things Walt himself put into action and are extremely skeptical.  The slang term for this party is “Foamers,” suggesting they are, on the other hand, absorbed in nostalgia and cannot see the good in new ideas because they are not like the “old days.”  

Now just like any community culture, these two parties are the two extremes.  Most people fall somewhere in between, leaning to one side or the other, rather than completely taking on one of these identities.  But inevitably this distinction leads to frequent debates and disagreements in the Disney community.  It's important to also look at what we share with our fellow Disney fans, however, when we come across dissonance in our opinions.  We are all one Culture, differences and all.

"There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware it's a small world after all"

I’m excited to address the other criterion on future blog posts, but the subjective traits of Disney Culture are what I find most interesting and so I shared them first!  Keep an eye out for what brings us together in this community as well as what makes us different in our tastes.  Stay tuned for parts 2-4 and feel free to share some examples of today’s topic in the comments!  With today's grand opening of New Fantasyland and Test Track in WDW I know I've seen plenty :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hipster Mickey is Swaggy

With something as big as Disney culture, those in charge of marketing merchandise must find a way to reach out to everyone.  There isn't just one level of audience Disney caters to.  There are the nostalgics, the vacationers, the movie lovers, the collectors, not to mention the differences in adults, teens, and kids.  When someone buys something from Disney it's not always for the same reason.  What's "cool" to one person may be really tacky for another.  I'd like to present to you a recent trend of apparel that has been circulating through the Disney stores.  They seem to be catering to teens, or those with adolescent tendencies, and are quick to use current popular vernacular or "hipster" style.

Exhibit A:
 Mickey is described on the site as "Geek-cool." Where I come from, that's an oxymoron but okay.
Exhibit B:

Because if you are a classic icon but wear glasses, you are a NERD.  

Exhibit C:

I have no words.

I would love to know the statistics on the ages of those purchasing this new line of clothing.  I have heard of others being sold in the parks, things along the lines of "Don't make me unfriend you," or "Relationship status: Single" (Gaston) which of course refers to social network popular vocabulary.  This is a great example of how this can be really appealing to someone who is a fan of this style, or in a certain age range,  or can be really kind of weird to someone who doesn't know what "swaggy" means.  But I'd venture to guess this audience also views the throwback Walt Disney World logos also resurfacing on apparel as old or stuffy in their eyes.  It's a great way of looking at the multi-faceted Disney fan culture and how Disney markets tries it's best to market to everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"I Am a Princess" Success

I saw this video as a commercial on the Disney channel the other night.  It made my night.  Thank you Disney for feeding girls words of optimistic reality instead of fluffy gendered BS for once.  Royalty, beauty, and demureness should not be what defines a Disney princess.

Please watch, and share with your girls if you have them.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sgt. Calhoun Gets A Makeover

Here's a short little post to hold you over until a bigger Disney merchandise post I'm working on. 

Found this doll of Sgt. Calhoun, the badass "Hero's Duty" Hero from Wreck-It-Ralph, over at the Disney Store Website. Yay! An action figure doll both girls and boys can play with! Right? ... Oh... maybe not.

I'm not an expert on doll hair but I know Ken dolls who had hair more like Sgt. Calhoun than this chick. Let's just hyper-feminize the heck out of one of the least feminine characters in the Disney world. If she were in her wedding outfit I could understand, but this does not look like the lady who called her fellow fighters a bunch of "pussywillows"

Look at those come-hither eyes. Can you picture Jane Lynch voicing this doll? Not me. Come on Disney, not every female character needs to look like a princess, or at least the way you make princesses look.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Week on The Disney Magic: Part 2 - What Disney Gets Right

Now that I’ve got the nitpicking out of the way, I’d like to take the time to discuss some practices that really emit the Disney culture that captures us as an audience and earns our love.

Great Imagineering:
From Disney-famous forced perspective as soon as you enter the ship, to subtle but thought-out theming on each deck, you can tell a lot of research and hard work was put into each cruise ship.  Standing at the bottom floor of the foyer looking up, the ceiling seems to stretch up forever with a colorful (plastic) glass-blown sculpture at the top.  When you reach the 5th deck and look down on the foyer, however, you notice it was an illusion and if you happen to look above you the ceiling is actually quite low.  This is all part of the forced perspective effect, and it serves double to give a psychological illusion to the children as well.  The 5th deck is where all the youth activities take place, so placing the ceiling lower makes them feel larger, and therefore more “grown up” and important.  And we all know this is something kids love to feel, especially on a Disney cruise!

The view from Deck 5 of the foyer

Another fun fact we picked up from our wonderful Art of the Theme Show Ship Tour was the fact that each DCL ship is gendered.  The Magic is decidedly masculine, as it adapted an art deco design feel, which was carried throughout the entire ship.  The other ships are either likewise, or feminine with art nouveau style.  It’s incredible the attention to detail from signage and typography to the gender of character statue that stands in the foyer to greet guests.  And I’m a sucker for well-done extensive theming so I was in heaven!  However, I'm also a social-minded person, and thus wondered why such care was taken to give different ships different genders in the first place.  And why must the "male" and "female" ships be stereotypically themed to their binary?  Theming-wise it was intriguing and beautiful but otherwise the concept sparked many different questions and emotions.

Cultural Diversity: 
Over 60 countries were represented by the cast (or crew) members on our cruise.  And they weren’t just in passive roles, but front and center and extremely interactive with guests.  We made a few friends with CMs from Peru, Serbia, Indonesia, the UK, and India.  The great thing is Disney does a great job of active diversity, and you can’t help but want to get to know more about them and where they come from, how much alike you are, or how they got the job as a DCL CM.  Your nightly dinner servers rotate with you around to all the restaurants so by the end of the cruise you know lots about each other.  They are very engaging and have extremely interesting stories. I saw children hugging their servers goodbye after “It’s a Small World” was played along with a parade of country flags the last night, and it’s things like this that make me believe in Disney. 

It's important to note, however, that even with so many great people around it can be tempting to subconsciously place them in a different category than yourself.  Sociologists refer to this as "othering," and people are known for mistaking this separation for cultural appreciation or diversity.  It's especially tricky when the people from different countries are the ones serving your dinner or turning down your bed for the night.  It's possible to get the idea that they are still beneath you while you relish being around so many who come from a different place of origin.  It can easily become a tourist point rather than a learning opportunity to meet a fellow human being.  Many guests are very respectful and treat the CMs with kindness, but it is an important thing to mention and keep in mind.

There is much more I could cover in a DCL review but I tried to stick to the psychological and sociological aspects.  I was excited to view this experience in a cultural light so I could share it with the Disney community, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Week on the Disney Magic: Part 1 – Privilege Status

Last week my husband and I honeymooned on the Disney Magic, the first Disney Cruise Line ship, and took a 7-night trip around the Western Caribbean.  This was our first cruise, so I have nothing to base the Disney Cruise Line on or compare it to, but I’m excited to present my psychosocial analysis of our trip.  Please note these are my own social observations and I do not expect everyone to agree with my commentary on the subjects.  There are many elements that I could dissect and explore but the first I will direct your attention to is the evidence of privilege status on a Disney Cruise ship. 

We as humans experience privilege, or lack thereof, all the time in our everyday life.  When someone is wearing a clothing brand we could only dream of affording or we notice someone else wearing the same few outfits over and over we understand where they fall in the rank of privilege.  We all have experienced both sides and when we are on the lower side of it, to be honest we know it doesn’t feel great.

The beginnings of Disney vacations, those that have roots in the first “theme park,” Disneyland, have an equalizing theme.  Walt wanted to create a park where adults could have as much fun as the kids, to make an even playing field, if you will, that made the same experiences available to everyone.  But even then, privilege existed in the different quantities of attraction tickets one could purchase, or souvenirs one could buy.  The more tickets you could afford, the more rides and attractions you would see.  However, unless you asked around or looked through shopping bags, it was not as apparent who was privileged and who was less so.  There were not specific souvenirs that proclaimed how many times you had visited the Park or how many tickets you had purchased.  There weren’t “members” of any special clubs or groups that differentiated them from other Disney vacationers.  There was still a general feeling of equality.

These days there’s a little thing called the DVC, or Disney Vacation Club, which is an elite group of people who earn “vacation points” based on a purchased real estate interest at a DVC resort.  These points earn you other Disney vacations and benefits such as savings and discounts on merchandise, dining, etc.  In addition is the Castaway Club, which means you have sailed with DCL before.  Depending on how many cruises you have taken with Disney in the past you can be a silver or gold member.  But if someone is a member of the DVC or Castaway Club, boy do you know it.  My observation was about half those sailing with us sported hats, lanyards, and shirts proclaiming their member status at one point or another.  The cabin doors of those in these clubs were constantly decorated or somehow acknowledging that family and their children for their membership. 

I understand that it is a club, and not everyone can be in every club.  But I do wonder the psychological effect these special treatments have on little ones who have no understanding of why their neighbor’s cabin door has tons of awesome stickers on it or a letter addressed to them and theirs doesn’t, or why their friend they play with in the kid-specific zone has a shiny gold member lanyard but they don’t.  I know it’s not scarring but can be confusing to a child.

And it’s not only about clubs.  You purchase your cruise and the activities you do while on land separately.  So one can’t help but overhear families raving about their snorkeling, dolphin swimming, and submarine riding-filled days.  I am happy for those lucky children, but also feel for that child asking her mom why they didn’t get to swim with dolphins like her new friend did.  I even overheard families discussing last year’s cruise, and what they plan to do on next year’s cruise, which kind of brings one back down to earth from the magic when someone has scrimped and saved for this once in a lifetime opportunity to give their family.

A (blurry) pic of the pins we received from our wine tasting, in case we wanted to let everyone know we tasted wine.

I don’t mean to condemn those in the DVC or Castaway Club, or who are able to treat themselves to multiple Disney vacations.  There is nothing wrong with giving your family a fantastic vacation life if you are able.  There is nothing wrong with including your children in your membership.  I am merely remarking on the obviousness these practices have on a cruise, where you are in close proximity with the same people for an extended amount of time.  It starts to become noticeable who has and who has not and may be on the only cruise their family will ever be able to afford.  I try to see this phenomenon through the psychological minds and eyes of children, and know if I have experienced it as an adult then I can speculate that their honest little minds will wonder too.

“The wonderful thing about Disney Vacation Club is knowing there's always another vacation in the near future.” – Member quote taken from the DVC site

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Villains Merch Follow-Up

Not long after my last post, in which I commented on the terrible re-imaging of Disney Villains, I came across these designs on the Disney Parks Blog released by Noah, an artist who has done quite a few designs for Disney recently.  

It’s more villain merch, but I must say these are better done, in that they at least capture the personality and uniqueness behind the characters.  They also look absolutely terrifying, which is what they inherently are to begin with, as opposed to the passively-posed starved diva designs I presented last week.  

The only thing I can comment on here is I’d like to see less gendering of the products.  Noah even talks in the article about separating the male and female characters respectively to “guys” and “ladies.”  As I said last week, my favorite villain is Scar but here only female villains are on the female clothing and vice versa.  I could of course buy the male version but it would be nice to have a choice in the matter.  At least the skateboard decks depict both sexes!

But aside from this critique, kudos to Noah for his ability to take artistic liberties while still holding true to what makes these characters fun to love and hate in the first place.