Is talking about the Pirates of the Caribbean refurbishment a little dated? Yes. But I wasn’t writing for a blog when the world stopped spinning for Disney fans, so I’m going to talk about it now.
Disneyland is going through massive changes. But isn’t it always? We, as Disney fans, lament these changes as if our overlord Bob Iger is destroying our childhood, but we tend to accept them in the end. After all, no one is bemoaning the loss of Adventure Thru Inner Space, a Haunted Mansion-esque ride where riders ‘shrink’ to a molecular size, for the creation of the wildly popular Star Tours. And more recently, after still untitled “Marvel Land” is erected (for which I would like to request a Shuri meet and greet), I can almost guarantee that attractions like Francis' Ladybug Boogie will quickly fade from your memory.
Top: Me as a child cooling off at a bug’s land, versus Bottom: me as an adult soaking in all the Marvel goodies Disney has to offer.
However, even the smallest of changes can draw out the most extreme emotions. For the most part, small changes and additions bring excitement to Disney fans. When the Jack Sparrow animatronics were added to the Pirates of the Caribbean, park guests were over the moon. I have an extremely clear memory of waiting in a 7+ hour line (or more like my parents waiting in shifts, while taking me and my sister on rides) for the animatronics’ debut. And when the Hatbox Ghost made his debut a few years ago, it was met with widespread acclaim.
When the Disney executives announced that Pirates of the Caribbean would be reinventing the iconic bridal auction scene, anger seemed to be the overwhelming emotion. Or, more accurately, white hot rage.
(And while I’d like to say that I would expect a more mature reaction from adults reacting to a theme park ride, I did openly weep watching the final performance of “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular,” so maybe I can’t comment on that.)
The scene in question featured a line of women who were tied together and auctioned as pirate brides. Disney’s refurbishment plan promised to be something a little less 1960s-sex -slave-y to something a little more 21st-century friendly. Disney was incredibly vague on the ‘why’s’ in this change,
So why has this particular change erupted such negative reactions from fans? When I first heard about the gutting of the auction scene, my initial thought was that families would probably be happy about this change. For the record, I completely support the idea that parents should talk to their kids about uncomfortable issues, rather than censor them. Still, I figured that Karen from Oklahoma would rather focus on what princess to meet than explain to her seven-year-old why the silly pirate ride had sex slavery at its forefront.
A quick social media search quickly proved me wrong. “It’s historical fact!” Twitter cries. “You can’t erase the past because it’s offensive!”
(Note: expecting to get a history lesson from a Disney ride is about as reasonable as expecting to wait less than an hour in a standby line for Splash Mountain in the middle of July.)
These grievances struck me as odd, as no one cared about the historical integrity of Pirates when fictional character Jack Sparrow started popping out of barrels, or when Davy Jones began making mist screen appearances. The ride seemed to have thrown ‘realism’ out the window a while ago. So, that’s not the root issue here.
When Disneyland chooses to revamp to one of its iconic attractions, it’s for one of two reasons: (1) to garner attention where the company feels that it might be lacking, or (2) to attempt to keep up with the times.
When Disney removed the bride auction scene, the company seemed to acknowledge that it’s no longer culturally acceptable to caricature women as auction prizes, even if no one was making a fuss about it at the time. Of course this can’t be confirmed, as Disney gave no real reasons for this change, letting fans’ imaginations run wild, and I believe that this is why people reacted so strongly to this particular change.
It’s always a painful feeling looking back at beloved childhood memories and realizing their problematic nature. It’s been a fairly recent trend in the reexamining of films, pop culture trends, or even national holidays that were overlooked for decades, such as Columbus Day. These discussions are often met with strong opposition, especially by an older audience. Guests who have been visiting and riding the attraction for years, or even decades, were forced to confront the reality that nostalgia can be harmful. This is an incredibly unpleasant thing to swallow for anyone, and anger has been the gut reaction from many people; however, there is a kind of maturity in confronting something from the past and saying, “This was OK at one point in time, but times change.”
I truly believe some of the outcries are from people who are genuinely upset over a beloved childhood ride. But for people who are fired up over the idea that a female character would go from an auction item to a more commanding role, it takes some heavy blinders to not see the sexism in the sentiment.
To criticize the company for making this change is to criticize society for beginning to look down on making light of serious issues that face wome. According to the California Center for Public Policy Studies, it is estimated that 10 million to 30 million people around the world are trafficked worldwide. 75% of all victims are women and girls, and California has the most reported victims of sex trafficking in America.
In hindsight, making a joking portrayal about something that isn’t just ‘historical’ (again, Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones aren’t historical figures), but something that affects millions of women every day is simply distasteful.
Whatever your feelings are on the change (excited, skeptical, angry, or any mix of emotions), I think we can all agree on two things: (1) Disney, for better or worse, is aggressively aligning itself with the political climate, and (2) these changes have shed a light on a more toxic part of the Disney fandom.