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Disney: Still Clueless

On June 18, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced its national boycott against the Walt Disney Co. Soon the SBC was joined by a number of other organizations representing millions more families thoroughly disgusted by Disney's continuing assault on traditional values. As we approach the three-month mark, it's still difficult to gauge the boycott's effectiveness, but one thing's sure: Disney continues to be clueless about why the boycott began, why it's still going on, and why it's growing.

It certainly grew on August 27 when Dr. James Dobson announced that his organization, Focus on the Family, would join the SBC, the Catholic League, Concerned Women for America (CWA), the American Family Association (AFA), and several smaller groups. The SBC claims 16 million members; Focus on the Family four million; the Catholic League, the AFA, and CWA several hundred thousand each. Add those numbers up and you've got an awful lot of parents whose entertainment dollars have bought a lot of Disney products for their children.

Asked to measure their effectiveness to date, some boycotters are minimizing the bottom-line aspect. The SBC's Richard Land says, "God never commanded us to be successful. He commanded us to be faithful." Dobson asserts that "we won't bankrupt Disney, and we may not even damage them financially." Don Wildmon's AFA, in the September issue of its monthly magazine, describes the Goliath it's taking on: "Disney and its subsidiaries employ more than 90,000 people. Disney had revenues of $21 billion last year - and earned a hefty $1.2 billion profit in fiscal 1996."

Like a medieval siege, a boycott can realize immediate success if the target is particularly vulnerable, or take many months, even years, if aimed at a giant the size of Disney. And yet already the signs are ominous for the Mickey Mouse empire. This summer's animated cartoon movie, "Hercules," was a surprising box office disappointment. The ABC television network is in a similar slump; its all-out promotion for what it calls its "Family Tuesday" program lineup is evidence of an attempt to recapture a lost audience.

According to Land, the SBC's mail is running 20-to-1 in favor of the boycott; he adds that half of that support comes from non-Baptists. But perhaps the most salient number comes from a USA Weekend poll which found that virtually half the country (49.5 percent) supports this boycott. So much for the "radical right" or "fringe" labels attached to the boycott by Disney and its supporters in the media.

Responding to the decision by Focus on the Family to join the boycott, Disney's Tom Deegan declared that "in an atmosphere of free expression, we will always try to promote moral ideologies."

Granted, Deegan is a paid mouthpiece, but even by flack standards his remarks are absurd. What does Disney consider moral? Movies like "The Prophecy" which bash Christians in general, and "Priest" which bash Catholics in particular? TV's "Ellen," which promotes the homosexual lifestyle, and the new "Nothing Sacred" (more Catholic-bashing)? Gay Days at Disney World? The Satanic heavy-metal act Danzig and "The Great Milenko," an obscene, violent album by the rap group Insane Clown Posse, which Disney released but pulled from stores in the wake of the Southern Baptists' boycott? ("Milenko" has just been reissued on Island Records, which is not part of Disney.)

It makes you wonder what we'd be in for were Disney to announce it was going to promote immoral ideologies.

More honest than Deegan was another Disney spokesman, Ken Green. The Washington Post's Marc Fisher wrote that when Green was asked to comment on his company's influence on culture, [he] said, 'I'm not prepared to discuss mores." Asked to find someone at Disney who would talk about culture and morality, Green called back to say, "We're not going to go into that." There you have '90s Disney: politically correct relativism concealed by a Mickey mask. As another sign of the times, Fisher presents a well-researched report only to tarnish it with this bizarre analysis: "In a sense, Disney and religion are now competitors. Both sell a vision of reality. Both traffic in nostalgia."

A Disney executive has said his company thinks of the boycott as analogous to "a gnat on an elephant." But remember this: gnats are persistent, and if you've ever been plagued by a cloud of them, you know you'll do almost anything to make them leave you alone. If the boycott reaches gnat-cloud proportions - which it probably will given the tenacity of the boycott's leaders - Michael Eisner, et al, will want to shoo it away, and fast. The good news is that Disney can do so simply by returning to the family-friendly product that won it a special place in American cultural history.

The bad news, if we are to believe Disney's statements, is that they still have no idea how noxious, and obnoxious, they've become.