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Will going ‘woke’ ultimately damage Disney?

disneyland theme park amusement mickey mouse ears

Photo by Joel Sutherland

Reading Time: 3 minutes

To be ‘woke’ is to have the approved left-leaning opinions about race, the ecology and all manner of social justice issues. Since 2018, the maxim “go woke, go broke” has declared that corporations that go out of their way to be ‘progressive’ suffer financially when consumers resist the message.

Examples of the truth of the proverb are many.

Some of these corporate pronouncements are less than sincere – ‘woke-washing’ – but many CEOs are quite genuine in their desire to publicize their companies’ stands on public issues. The Walt Disney Corp.’s stance on Florida’s recent House Bill 1557 is a case in point.

Misleadingly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, 1557 mandates that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through Grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Though falling somewhat short of Hitlerian levels of evil, the legislation was denounced as “hateful and vindictive” and a threat to the life of transsexual students. Actor Ron Perlman called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a “Nazi pig.”

Quick to enter the debate was Disney, one of Florida’s biggest employers. The company announced that Bill 1557 “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

For Disney president Karey Burke, this was not just an act of social justice but a shrewd marketing move. Her son apparently told her that generation Z was “30 to 40 per cent queerer than other generations,” and thus, Disney had better align its products with that demographic niche. Burke also promised that, before too long, at least 50 per cent of Disney’s characters would identify as LGBTQIA or as a racial minority.

The problem for the company that gave us Mickey Mouse is that there will undoubtedly be consumer resistance to its wokeness. A recent survey said only 9.4 per cent of respondents would respond positively to Disney’s initiatives, while 68.2 per cent said they would be less likely to “do business” with it.

For a business that relies on the lure of parent-friendly theme parks and cruise ships, that’s not good news. Even more threatening to Disney is its vulnerability to legislative retribution; it currently enjoys copyright protection that’s soon to expire and property privileges for its Florida parks.

Has Disney caught the wave of the future? Or will going woke harm The Mouse?

Executive boardrooms are watching closely.

Gerry Bowler is a historian and senior fellow of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Gerry is a Troy Media contributor. For interview requests, click here.

The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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Gerry Bowler

Gerry Bowler grew up in Saskatoon and earned his first two academic degrees from the University of Saskatchewan. He received his Ph.D. in History from King’s College, London with a dissertation on Protestant political theory of the Tudor period.

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