I’d ask “What were they thinking?”, but I’m pretty sure thinking wasn’t involved in the process. Or, as Mrs. CollateralDamage put it over at her widely read blog BrokeHoedown
I’d ask “What were they thinking?”, but I’m pretty sure thinking wasn’t involved in the process. Or, as Mrs. CollateralDamage put it over at her widely read blog BrokeHoedown
Apparently it was a slow news week on the Disney front because Mrs. CollateralDamage had to resort to interviewing me for her podcast, Those Darn Cats. Mostly I talk about how Disney screwed up the telling of American history in the American Adventure Pavilion at Epcot. Don’t tell anyone but I also say a few nice things about the House of Mouse, too.
Click here to listen or you can find it on iTunes under … wait for it … Those Darn Cats.
TV programs get to do clip shows all the time, so why can’t I? This originally ran in Brandweek on April 16, 2007
DON IMUS and Uncle Ben. Two icons emblematic of a very strange moment in how Americans and the people who market to them think about race. Call it cultural schizophrenia—we denounce racism but still find it commercially appealing.
If you’re one of those radicals that feels a person’s worth is not determined by skin color you’ve got to be happy about the feces storm that hit Don “idiot-headed ho” Imus. Not only was he denounced but he got bit in the wallet, too. While Procter & Gamble and GM dropping his show was more costly, in many ways the worst news for I-man was when Miralus Healthcare, a.k.a. “Head-On,” pulled its ads. Once they left, pretty much the only sponsors remaining were bail-bond shops and “Smiling Bob.” I mean, the only thing worse than that would be getting canned by MSNBC and CBS. Oh, wait a minute.
While the Imus incident may have been nothing more than gross stupidity followed by a media feeding frenzy, there’s a lot bigger proof of change in the land.
Thirty-five years ago, when New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm ran for the presidency, her dual status as a woman and an African American made her into the ultimate political novelty act. Now we have Obama-mania. On the other side of the aisle, more than a few in the GOP still see Colin Powell as the party’s great black hope. Then there’s Massachusetts. The Bay State, which has had so many racial problems that its motto could be “Some of our best friends are black,” has seen fit to elect a governor with more melanin than most of the people who voted for him. All this is reverberating with marketers. Even Disney—ever a following indicator of cultural standards—is releasing a movie starring a black princess.
The past month has also seen the return of Uncle Ben, a brand mascot with deep roots in that time and place when African Americans were not paid for their lifetime of employment. Actually it’s no longer “Uncle” Ben—Masterfoods USA dropped his honorific when it promoted him to CEO of his eponymous rice company. Unfortunately this brand retrofit didn’t give him a last name. Try calling your CEO by his first name. Now try to imagine doing so before you quit your job. While Ben’s promotion is certainly a good thing, it didn’t quite cover up his relationship to another uncle, one named Tom.
Now Disney, ever the lagging barometer of cultural cues, is considering re-releasing the movie, Song of the South.
At a recent shareholders’ meeting Disney chairman Bob Iger said, “The question of Song of the South comes up periodically; in fact it was raised at last year’s annual meeting. And since that time we’ve decided to take a look at it again because we’ve had numerous requests about bringing it out.” In case you’re not up on film history, the 1946 movie tells the story of a young white boy who goes to live on his grandparents’ Georgia plantation and is charmed by the stories of beloved black servant Uncle Remus. It’s never been released on video and hasn’t been shown commercially in the U.S. since 1986.
It’s easy to understand from a fiscal point-of-view why some marketers would want to bring these characters back. Racist or not, they have a strong nostalgic pull. Consumers described Uncle Ben as having “a timeless element to him, we didn’t want to significantly change him,” Vincent Howell, president of the food division at Masterfoods USA and an African American, told The New York Times.
The argument can be made that rebranding Ben or recalling Remus is a way to redeem them, but this is a bit of a stretch. Even our modern, deracinated Aunt Jemima—who’s now portrayed as Betty Crocker meets Oprah—still reeks of “de ol’ folks at home.” There are some roots that no amount of dye can cover up.
If marketers really insist on bringing these images back, they should begin with full disclosure and show where these characters came from, how they were used and why they’re being brought back. Barring that, then Ben, Jemima, Betty, Remus and that nameless guy on the Cream of Wheat box should follow Mr. Imus off the air.
Imane Boudlal has a problem: She is a member of two of the world’s largest religions — Islam and Disney. This became an issue in her life when, several months prior to Ramadan, the Disney World employee asked if she could wear a headscarf in observation of the month-long religious celebration. This was kicked up the chain of command and Disney corporate came back two months later and told her
told she could wear a head scarf, but it had to be designed by Disneyland’s costume department to comply with the Disney look, Qazi said. She was fitted for a Disney-supplied head scarf but was not given a date when the garment would be finished and was told she couldn’t wear her own hijab in the interim.
On Sunday – five days after Ramadan began, Ms. Boudlal showed up to work wearing her own hajib which was notably devoid of anything Mouse-ish. Ms. Boudlal’s job requires her to deal with the public and so her supervisors reportedly gave her the option of removing the hajib, going home or working in a behind the scenes position for the month.
As much as it pains me to do this, I have to side with Disney on this one. They are nothing if not consistent when it comes to employees wearing symbols of competing religions. My resident expert, Mrs. CollateralDamage, confirms that Mousers can’t wear crosses, yarmulkes, saffron robes, or pins saying “Scientology? YES!” on the job (or at least when their job involves working with the public). Above right: Disney’s standard way of depicting Arabic women.
Say it with me folks: “Thou shalt have no Mouse before me for I am a jealous Mouse.”
Still, I love the idea of Disney-designed religious clothing.
That said, allow me to make a few other points about Islamic issues in the news lately.
Wow. I defended Disney and slammed France in the same post. Clearly I am getting the flu that Mrs. CD & CDjr. already have.
That is not a slight on one of my all time favorite bands* but the title of their latest release. On it they cover Roger Miller’s masterful “Not In Nottingham” (from Robin Hood), Randy Newman’s “I Will Go Sailing No More” (from Toy Story) as well as other great music from The House of Mouse. (And to think I scooped Mrs. CollateralDamage – who writes the Disney focused blog Broke Hoedown – on this. WOOT!)
This is not the first time that “Just Another Band from East LA” has done the Mouse. On the great compilation Stay Awake they performed “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book, which was recorded for the movie by the great Louis Prima (and is included on LLGD). I bought Stay Awake on vinyl back in the day (1988) and highly recommend getting the CD. It also has Sun Ra (!!!) doing “Pink Elephants On Parade” and Tom Waits’ version of “Heigh Ho (Dwarf’s Marching Song).”
Stay Awake was one of several odd and wonderful compilations that came out around then. The other one I have is “Lost In The Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill” (1985). While it does have Sting doing “Mack The Knife” this is more than balanced out by the other tracks including Lou Reed’s “September Song,” Stan Ridgeway (of Wall of Voodoo) does a sublime and terrifying version of “Canon Song,” Marianne Faithfull’s exquisitely ragged “Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife,” Todd Rundgren doing “Call From The Grave,” and many other great ones. It’s out of print, which is a shame, and used copies are selling for $23 and up. C’mon over to my house and I’ll play it for you for free.
*In the ‘80s when people would refer to U2 as The Greatest Band In The World all I could ever think (and sometimes said) was “Did Los Lobos breakup?”
Geoff Carter is an excellent and smart writer who, among other things, produces the Disney-centered blog YourSouvenirGuide (but don’t hold that against him). In the post Ten things Disney could have done to geek up without buying Marvel he explains both why Disney buying Spidey was a bad idea and how they could have leveraged the properties they already own.
To my mind, the purchase of Marvel is one of the few missteps the Mouse has made under Bob Iger’s reign. Disney isn’t getting a hell of a lot for its money. The theme park rights to the characters will continue to be held by Universal. And the movie properties .. will remain the properties of Sony, Fox and Paramount for the forseeable future. …. Four billion dollars spent to wait out contracts and to see if Avi Arad and Jerry Bruckeheimer will duke it out in Thunderdome.
My favorite suggestion:
9. The Disney Princesses: Teach them kung-fu and arm them with wrist-holstered blades and pistols.
Works for me.
Maybe it’s because I live in Boston where we set pretty good standard for obnoxious but after my third trip to France I have yet to encounter this mythical creature. Lest you think this is because I can pass for a native the entirety of my French consists of, “Pardonez moi, je ne parlez pas Francais.”
I love France and the French. Yeah they’ve got an attitude problem – but I don’t think Americans get to cast that particular stone. Because of the current political debate I was keenly aware that pretty much every non-tourist I saw had full health coverage. No one worrying about what happens if you lose your job or have a “pre-existing condition.”
I’m waiting for some company to rule that being born is a pre-existing condition. I really have never understood this insurance exception as anything other than a way for the companies to make even more money. I have flat feet and so am not covered for a podiatrist (well, in the past anyway). But the insurance still has to cover it when my knees get messed up because of my feet. Feh.
Mrs. CollateralDamage assures me there are obnoxious French people. She says they were all at Paris Disney, either employed as staff or paying to go there as guests. My anti-Disney parks stand pays off yet again!
Went to Chartres. Sat in the cathedral for like three hours. It isn’t for God, it is God. My mother tells me I followed in family footsteps by doing this. Her father, architect Barry Byrne, went to Europe once to meet with Gropius and the Bauhaus gang. He stopped at Chartes and spent two weeks there.
No picture does it justice. Just go.
Pay attention True Believers – it’s clobberin’ time.
For years the criticism, such as it was, of Disney’s marketing was that it missed boys. It is a fair criticism, though this doesn’t seem to have hurt the bottom line all that much. Disney knows how to connect with girls and women just fine. They are tuned into the tiaras, fairies and flowers like nobody knows. It explains why all their later (non-Pixar) animation was in fact formulaic: Bad boy, princess with true heart, add schmaltz and (after Aladdin) really schmaltzy uninteresting romantic soundtracks. Even Lion King – ostensibly a story about men and boys – was about the boy having an emotional experience that could only be of interest to girls.
This girls only approach was so entrenched that a few years ago the head of their consumer products division explained their all-girl approach told me in an interview that no one had success connecting with older boys.
Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. Disney today said it is buying Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. (And to think I remember when comics cost a quarter.) A note to The Mouse: more blood, less music. Also, no more Hulk movies. Hmmm, will this be enough to get me to go to another Disney park? Probably not.
I hope Stan Lee got a big cut of this.
Heaven and Mrs. CollateralDamage know I do not like a lot of Disney stuff – early movies, Pixar and their overall marketing expertise are pretty much the entire list. This display of posters past and present for their "Star Wars Weekends” probably falls into the last category. Even I who avoid The Mouse like it was carrying Aporkalypse Fever was thoroughly bemused by these. (BTW, Mrs. CD and CD Jr. had a total blast at this last year.)
Yeah, there’s a lot more than 10 here. What can I say? It was a very good year for very bad things.
Special Jury Awards
Co-Branding That Shouldn’t Have Been
The Alpha & Omega of Over-reaching
The Penguins Of Irony “Oh NO You Din’t” Awards
Previous years’ lists
It’s not easy being Capt. Jack, reports BrokeHoedown:
Disneyland management has fired the four actors who played pirate Jack Sparrow because officials were worried about young female park-goers flashing the swashbuckling actors late at night, according to one former cast member.
Brandon Pinto???? And I thought my name sounded fake.
Guess Billy Joel was right:
For all of you wondering what I actually sound like (admittedly a number that’s probably in the low single digits) check out this week’s episode of the podcast Those Darn Cats. I bloviate about the propaganda cartoons put out by Disney during World War II — a subject I actually know something about. TDC is co-produced by Mrs. CollateralDamage (aka BrokeHoedown) and her adorable BFF Lisa. Thanks to Mrs. CD for making me sound so smart! BTW, if you want a funny and hip take on all things Disney this is the podcast for you! Damn they’re so cheerful over there it’s contagious!
While Mrs. Collateral Damage, who has all the details on the story, doubtless agrees with the learned cleric, I do believe it is an issue on which reasonable people may disagree. And still remain married.
Best quote from the story:
Sheikh Mohamed al-Munajid, a cleric who often appears on Saudi television and who is also a former Saudi diplomat in the United States, said last week that mice were “agents of Satan” and should be killed. “Sharia (Islamic law) calls for the extermination of all mice. That includes the rodents as well as ‘the famous cartoon mouse’,” he said. He blamed Mickey Mouse for causing people to become soft on mice.
You can’t get more mainstream than this.
The nation’s largest greeting card company is rolling out same-sex wedding cards — featuring two tuxedos, overlapping hearts or intertwined flowers, with best wishes inside. “Two hearts. One promise,” one says. … The , a trade group, says it does not track how many companies provide same-sex cards but believes the number is expanding. “The fact that you have someone like Hallmark going into that niche shows it’s growing and signals a trend,” said Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman for the association.
Have to say since gay marriage became legal here in the Bay State the biggest difference I’ve noticed is … um … yeah … let me see … nope. Can’t think of one. I look forward to the American Family Association boycott of Hallmark. (My bad — it’s Concerned Women for America calling for the boycott.)
BTW, over on her blog Mrs. CollateralDamage has a most excellent post on First Same-Sex Civil Marriage at Disneyland. The couple is lovely and the fact that they got married at Disneyland puts the lie to the fact that only heteros are tacky. (Truth is I had to put in a snarky (and false) comment so I wouldn’t mention the fact that I got all choked up looking at the wedding pictures. I gotta protect my image. Don’t tell anyone I told you, OK?)
C’mon now what marketer can look at a couple that is so happy and not think, “Damn, there’s money to made here!”
(BTW, this is the headline of the day: Gay misery continues with baton drop. Is that really all it takes to make the LGBT community miserable?)
McDonald’s response should be clear and unequivocal: “Everyone’s welcome to eat our food-like products but we want everyone to understand this: WE DON’T DO BRUNCH.”
On one hand, McDonald’s foray into corporate support of the Lesbian, Gay, Homosexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community is getting rave reviews from the folks at The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). The McDonald’s Corporation paid $20,000 to become a member of NGLCC and have a seat on the board of directors. Richard Ellis, McDonald’s USA vice president of communications was “thrilled” to join the chamber and stated that he “shares the NGLCC’s passion” for business growth and development in the LGBT community.
On the other hand, this foray has sparked the ire of groups such as the American Family Association (AFA) who is currently calling for a boycott of McDonald’s – until they remain neutral in the culture war. Another company, the Timothy Plan Family of mutual funds handles McDonald’s pro-homosexual activism in a uniquely different fashion. This fund family refuses to invest in McDonald’s because of the fact that they are promoting, what the fund calls, Non-Traditional Married Lifestyles.
I have no doubt this will be every bit as successful as the AFA boycott of Disney. During said boycott I believe (and I’m totally making this number up) Disney tripled in value.