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Why the far right's anti-LGBTQ attacks on Disney will fail
Fox News, Ron Desantis and the MAGA crusaders will crash and burn in this endeavor
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It’s hard to keep up, but after several weeks in which Disney stayed silent as Florida Republicans passed the horrendous “Don’t say gay” bill, the company’s CEO has reversed course and vowed to fight the bill in courts and push to overturn it. This has in turn incurred the wrath of Governor Ron DeSantis and his MAGA minions.
Now Fox News hosts are slamming the company and engaging in brutal defamation, equating homosexuality with child predation, playing up old, false and outrageous stereotypes but also pushing QAnon conspiracy theories about a vast pedophile ring among liberal elites. And the predicable Christian nationalist groups are calling for boycotts of Disney.
Before moving further, let’s first acknowledge how Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO, has blundered in spectacular fashion, handling all of this in a disastrous way from the beginning — and should be fired. He managed to enrage everyone on all sides of this imbroglio, bringing unwanted condemnations of the company.
Disney has for decades been a gay-friendly company, from the way it treated its employees and spoke out against discrimination, to the portrayals in its films and the visibility it fostered at theme parks, with Gay Days and other events. That posture wasn’t just about doing the right thing: It was a corporate business decision by a massive global company, seeing where the future of the country and the world was going and where the money is. The bottom line is always the most important thing for a company like Disney, which saw that “family-friendly” and “gay-friendly” now co-existed.
When Chapek, who took over in 2020 (and apparently is more personally conservative), decided to take a different course than Disney had in past, and announced Disney was staying on the sidelines with regard to the “Don’t say gay” bill, it unleashed enormous anger among employees, including walk outs, and a torrent of bad publicity for the company. This, as polls showed the vast majority of Americans were opposed to the bill and do believe sexual orientation and gender identity should be discussed in schools.
More importantly, younger adults — who are the most likely to have young children and thus are Disney’s target audience— overwhelmingly support equality.
Chapek did an about face, which didn’t even remotely satisfy LGBTQ advocates, as it was far too late — the bill had been passed, the governor was set to sign it. And he still hasn’t done enough. He could have moved productions, moved offices, canceled future plans and stopped giving money to politicians who support the law.
So, Democrats in Florida still pulled their annual conference from Disney World, and the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ group, turned away a donation from Disney, while the shift led to DeSantis’s condemnation and the Fox News crusade.
So Chapek screwed up royally. All of that said, I believe the far-right attacks and boycotts will go nowhere. Some are saying with Fox News fueling the attacks it could hurt the company, seeing as how Fox News, when it has focused on cultural issues like the 1619 Project, has done enormous damage in affecting public opinion.
But I highly doubt that will happen in this case. And the main reason is that Christian nationalists have dismally failed over and over again in the past at targeting Disney — including with Fox News behind them — and Americans are now even more supportive of LGBTQ people.
As far back as the late 1990s, Christian conservative groups had called for boycotts based on what they perceived as Disney’s support of LGBTQ equality, all of which failed, with the groups calling off the boycotts. This has actually happened every few years, including most recently in 2019, and it has never hurt Disney.
One reason is because Christian nationalists tend to be older adults, and aren’t Disney’s core audience. Another reason is that Disney is just too big and popular even among the people who might want to hurt it. Laura Ingraham can rant and rave and defame LGBTQ people and Disney all she wants — but she’ll probably be at Disney World some time soon with her kids, who are probably watching Disney shows and films as I write this.
Republicans are pushing extreme anti-LGBTQ laws to which most Americans are strongly opposed — and that often includes most people in their own states. They are hellbent on a strategy of playing solely to their increasingly extreme, QAnon-inspired base, and we’ll see if there’s a backlash in general elections that proves that strategy disastrous even as Republicans are disenfranchising Democratic voters.
But while gerrymandering and voter suppression laws may work for the GOP in the political arena, they have no impact when it comes to popular culture. Had CEO Bob Chapek had a clue about this, he could have avoided thrusting himself and the company into a massive mess.
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