The Orlando Sentinel, along with a featured writer of a recent op-ed, got dragged on social media this past weekend. Many have accused the Sentinel of allowing their platform to be used for spreading the antiquated bias expressed by the op-ed’s author in response to new politically correct changes made at Disney’s top attractions.
In the article, Jonathan VanBoskerc, of North Las Vegas, Nevada, tore into Disney’s modern corporate “wokeness” as they’ve begun to remove insensitive content and stereotypical characters from their theme parks.
I don’t know what’s more pathetic— a grown-ass man having a tantrum and threatening to never go to Disney World again, or a grown-ass man who thinks his privileged whiteness supersedes Disney’s intention to incorporate more diversity and inclusion.
One of the main incidents that seem to get under VanBoskerc’s skin was Disney’s decision to remove a controversial character, “Trader Sam,” from their exciting Jungle Cruise ride.
As reported by NPR,
The 10-minute ride described as a “scenic and comedic boat tour of exotic rivers” on Disney’s website takes guests on a winding 10,000-mile cruise across Asia, Africa, and South America. At the very end is one controversial part: an indigenous man named Trader Sam holding up several shrunken heads. Guides quip about how Sam is the “the head salesman” whose “sales have been shrinking lately.”
The depiction of an indigenous character in the ride as a blood-thirsty decapitator is troublesome. But there’s even more wrong with the ride, too. More blatantly, the story narrative of the ride itself. During the ride, a Disney guide invites passengers along on the Jungle Cruise for an adventure in which they experience first-time encounters with Indigenous people. The guide also warns they’re entering the territory of headhunters who may attack and try to kill them.
Without it being spelled out, the setup is that the passengers on the ride are colonizers; the boat even has the Union Jack waving overhead— and the indigenous tribes they encounter in Africa and South America are depicted as head-hunting savages. It’s just not acceptable today in 2021 to have such inappropriate representations.
Well, VanBoskerc, a self-proclaimed Christian, conservative Republican, was having none of Disney’s attempt to dismantle harmful narratives that never should have existed in the first place. In his op-ed, he wrote,
“Disney is in the process of taking the woke scalpel to the Jungle Cruise. Trader Sam is out because he might offend certain people. Every grown-up in the room realizes that Trader Sam is not a representation of reality and is meant as a funny and silly caricature. It is no more based in racism than every Disney caricature of an out-of-touch white American dad,”
There is so much wrong with VanBoskerc’s dismissiveness. It speaks to the significant issues marginalized groups face when asking white people —primarily white American people, to understand the plight of brown citizens. VanBoskerc negatively classifies it as “woke” that Disney is making changes, and he blames it on the pressure from the left. He scoffs, “Trader Sam is out because he might offend certain people.” Callously though, VanBoskerc uses the words “certain people” as if he’s unaware of who exactly might be offended –like some anonymous “woke” mob.
We are not anonymous. Clearly, the offended are those of us who share the heritage of indigenous black and brown people. We do not appreciate our ethnic origins depicted on the Jungle Cruise stereotypically as deadly, cannibalistic, uncivilized head-collectors. Yet, in VanBoskerc’s Mickey Mouse-meltdown, he offers, “Every grown-up in the room realizes that Trader Sam is not a representation of reality and is meant as a funny and silly caricature.”
On the contrary, the grown-ups in the room realize the grave insult of misrepresenting millions upon millions of people across multiple generations as “funny and silly caricatures,” and all for the sake of a theme park ride? None of that is “wokeness.” It’s called when you know better – you do better. It is called corporate responsibility and I commend Disney for it.
I’ve noticed lately that the term “wokeness” gets used by right-winged Christian conservatives when you call them out for their divisive positions on social matters. VanBoskerc is no exception. And he didn’t just stop at the Jungle Cruise ride edits. He further ridiculed Disney for caving to the “Wokeness” culture by allowing its staff to sport their tattoos on the job openly for the first time. It’s an effort to welcome and celebrate their staff’s individuality. VanBoskerc’s complaint is that it ruins the fantasy of Disney to not have its employees homogenized visually into one archetype.
But more pressing for VanBoskerc was the news that Disney was planning to reimagine their famous Splash Mountain ride as something a lot less, um, racist.
You see, Splash Mountain is associated with Disney’s 1946 “Song of the South, a film that misguidedly told the tale of aging slave Uncle Remus, who stays on the plantation after the Civil war, along with scores of happy, cotton-picking negro slaves waking each morning with a song in their hearts ready to pick more cotton. I loved Song of the South as a kid but as an adult I understand how terribly unacceptable it is to romanticize the institution of slavery in any fashion.
The new Splash Mountain will showcase a more modern animated hit film, “The Princess and the Frog” — a new classic set in the Bayou of New Orleans featuring “Tiana,” Disney’s first African American princess.
Next up was VanBoskerc’s response to Disney altering its juggernaut money-making ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride. On this, he really seemed to blow a gasket and made the ultimate threat of boycotting the park altogether.
It seems VanBoskerc’s good ‘Republican Christian values allow him to find no fault with the Pirate ride’s ‘Wench wedding’ scenes, that depict pirates kidnapping, binding, auctioning off and marrying captive women against their will. Disney has decided to scrap it from the ride altogether, along with a highlighted moment of the attraction where an auctioneer makes lewd comments about a woman’s weight as he auctions off the more attractive ‘wenches’ to pirates.
Overall, in consideration of America’s current reckoning with systemic racism, the George Floyd riots, the Derek Chauven conviction, and the “Me Too” movement, it seems pretty obvious to Disney that glorifying female trafficking, forced marriages, fat female jokes, and a revisionist history of slavery — are not good looks.
However, VanBoskerc’s willfully ignorant response to it all shows what is most important as far as he’s concerned —his family’s vacation. That’s all he’s focused on and he’s excoriating the brand for ruining his family’s blissfully white Disney memories. But, hey, what’s a little misogyny, slave nostalgia, and violence against women when you want to take the family on a fun vacay, right?
This grievance with Disney for not keeping things just the way they were in the ‘good ol’ days’ is unsettling as VanBoskerc longs for a time when society was forced to accept all the racially hideous stereotypes perpetuated by the white male patriarchy of America. Sorry, that time is passed, and we’re done with that now.
Nonetheless, VanBoskerc’s laments,
Pirates used to be one of my favorite attractions. My family would always ride it first on our first day at the Magic Kingdom. Now, we do not even ride it every trip. When my family rides Pirates now, each of the changed scenes takes us out of the illusion because they remind us of reality and the politics that forced the changes. Disney World is going to lose us as customers if it continues down this path,” he said.
In a rallying cry to the people of Orlando, VanBoskerc warns, “If Disney drives away customers like me, Orlando loses money. I can take my tourist dollars elsewhere. I would rather keep spending them in Orlando, but people like me feel more and more excluded by Disney’s decisions.”
People like him? Yes, we all know people like him. They are the ones who likely would have lobbied to keep Rosa Parks in the back of the bus as opposed to having their morning commute inconvenienced by her historic civil-rights uprising against Jim Crow.
Considerable pushback against VanBoskerc’s op-ed was swift, with the likes of Patricia Arquette, James Gunn, and Patton Oswalt coming to Disney’s defense.
Arquette’s clap-back is my favorite as it’s most simplistic in its irony and truth:
This guy is taking the Christ right out of Christian. If he doesn’t understand why racist imagery is not acceptable.
— Patricia Arquette (@PattyArquette) April 23, 2021
All I can say about VanBoskerc’s unwillingness to move progressively forward with Disney is that I hope he will eventually understand, but I won’t hold my breath. I mean, like the song says, It’s a small mind, after all. It’s a small, small mind. (Ok, I might have changed that lyric a little).
Read more at Deadline
This post is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.