Pandemic park-visits and the rise of the alt-right: Disney in the throes of COVID

Elizabeth Meade describes the flood of people visiting Disneyland during the pandemic an their links to Alt-right groups.

Elizabeth Meade
1st March 2021
During the pandemic, we have become accustomed to staying home. On the rare occasions we go out--for groceries or small get-togethers--it's become typical to keep a safe distance from others, wear masks and sanitize hands regularly. It's not an ideal climate for a theme park visit, even if the theme park in question is, in fact, the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth. Yet, hundreds of fans continue to flock to Orlando's Walt Disney World and the company's other properties.

The dangers of visiting such a park in a pandemic are quite clear to most. Between dining in restaurants, sitting on rides, shopping and other activities that require touching things that hundreds of other visitors have touched, there are plenty of opportunities for disease transmission, not to mention such a venue forces patrons to be in close confines with others. What's more, Disney World caters to families, and everyone knows that children are rightfully not the most hygiene-conscious since they are still at the age when it is important to explore the world with their hands. Hence, a pandemic Disney trip is at worst an opportunity to contract or spread COVID-19, and at best a severely limited experience that doesn't allow families to enjoy the best of what the parks have to offer.

Countless articles have sprung up recommending how best to experience Disney during the pandemic, while others have regretted the experience, mocked fans for putting themselves and others in danger and mocked the parks for reopening in such a dangerous time. Additionally, Disney and its fans have come under additional scrutiny for racism in both past and recent films, especially as the company itself recently acknowledged this in a number of ways. Unfortunately, Disney's willingness to abandon safety measures and promote racism for profit has led to a certain subset of the fanbase not only defending these actions, but making Disney a symbol of US right-wing ideologies.

From the stubborn defense of Disney's older racist films, to the creation of desgns such as "Blue Lives Mickey" that juxtapose Disney images with right-wing pro-police symbols, to Disney's actual security team using this iconography, there is a clear link between the US right and Disney fandom. Many commentators have acknowledged that this connection seems natural, given that Disney's brand capitalizes on a nostalgic, romanticized view of a bygone USA that makes conservatives comfortable--despite recent improvements, its films and parks continue to lack diversity and fail to engage meaningfully with issues of social injustice, falling back on stories that feature capitalistic individualism and a simplified view of good and evil. When one considers that conservatives' belief in individual freedom's importance over collective safety leads to their refusal to wear masks due to personal discomfort, the whole thing starts to make sense.

Although Disney parks' popularity is unlikely to wane and it is difficult to convince people to challenge their own political views that frame risky behaviour as acceptable, one can hope that in the near future more fans will decide to forgo their park trips for the sake of public safety, if only due to the limitations the pandemic puts on enjoyment of the parks.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
(she/her) 4th year Chem student. Former Head of Current Affairs and Former Science Sub-Editor. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking. Wrote the first article for Puzzles. Probably the first Courier writer to have work featured in one of Justin Whang's videos.

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