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The Walt Disney Company got started in 1923 in the back of a Los Angeles realty office after brothers Walt and Roy Disney created a collection of live-action and animated films called the Alice Comedies. Mickey Mouse debuted five years later, followed by Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck, and in 1937, the company produced its first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney ventured into television in 1950, and into theme parks five years later with the opening of Disneyland.
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Walt and Roy Disney died in 1966 and 1971, respectively, but the company continued to expand into wider markets, both by producing more teen- and adult-oriented content, and by acquiring such enterprises as a major league baseball team, a line of cruise ships, and other established media organizations.
Today Disney is a multinational conglomerate comprising four main industry segments: film studios, TV networks, theme parks, and consumer products. The common thread running through them all are the Disney-branded products designed to generate spin-off revenue worldwide. The strategy has been lucrative: revenues for fiscal year 2015 were a record $52.5 billion.
Reason for Surveillance:
Who doesn't have a favorite Disney film, or fond memories centered on a Disney story or character? Yet, despite the many ways in which the early Disney company created endearing, wholesome stories, parents would do well to be more discerning with regard to modern Disney fare. Who or what is setting the agenda for a given Disney product line? What priorities drive corporate decision-making? And where, in the list of priorities, does the well-being of families and children fall?
To be clear, there's nothing inherently wrong about a business operating to generate profit. Disney serves its stakeholders well in that regard. But since the deaths of the Disney brothers, family-friendliness and, more important, guarding the innocence of childhood are two priorities that seem to have fallen off the list. For example, some films for young audiences feature sultry seductress "heroines," such as Jessica Rabbit (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) and Princess Jasmine (Aladdin), and "heroes" that aren't much better, such as Aladdin, a liar, thief, and imposter.
More widely, the company supports agendas that are decidedly family-unfriendly, such as Gay Days at Disney, an annual event since 1991 that has even drawn criticism from a gay activist for its "vile spectacle of self-indulgence and indecency." "[T]here are some things kids don't need to see," wrote Peter Werner, "and trust me, two queens frenching outside -Cinderella castle is really high on that list."
Most Egregious Betrayal:
Indeed it is. But Disney is complicit in exposing kids to something even higher on that list. In 1999, Donna Rice Hughes, a longtime advocate of internet safety for children, notified Disney that many of its characters—Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, and more—were being reproduced on internet porn sites. Surely Disney, with its massive resources, would intervene to dissociate its iconic characters from porn on grounds of copyright infringement. But no. Fifteen years later, despite multiple requests, Disney continues to look the other way.
This is disturbing in itself, but consumers should also know that Disney has exerted its legal power against VidAngel, a small, faith-based service that enables users to filter out objectionable content from movies and TV shows. Disney is the lead plaintiff in a suit filed last year. The charge? Copyright infringement.
Meanwhile, the Disney porn shows continue unchallenged. By what criteria were these decisions made? That's the question parents and consumers should be asking the Disney company. Post-haste. •
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