The star of Disney’s new “Cheaper by the Dozen” movie recently said that outcry over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation shows that corporations should take a bigger stand on social issues.
“If you’re going to take a stand and be all about diversity and inclusion — and it’s not just about black boxes after George Floyd died — you need to actually put your money where your mouth is,” actress Gabrielle Union said.
Disney, now under fire from all sides, would be justified in saying it’s actually done plenty. In fact, most of the criticism of Disney in the past two years has been from conservatives upset with the company’s “wokeness,” as displayed in its anti-racist training, gender-inclusive policies and changes to rides at its theme parks.
But suddenly, it’s progressives who are angry.
Writing for Vox, Alex Abad-Santos said that Disney has repeatedly “betrayed” its LGBTQ fans and said that actions like selling rainbow-colored merchandise and creating LGBTQ characters are “surface gestures.” Disney workers in California and Florida plan walkouts next week to protest what they considered to be the company’s slow response to the Parental Rights in Education Act, which has passed the Florida Senate and House and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The outcry continued even after CEO Bob Chapek posted an apology for not doing more and promised to combat similar legislation in other states and pause all political donations in Florida. He told shareholders at a March 9 meeting that Disney had always opposed the bill, but “chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
Disney now finds itself unable to make anyone happy — not religious conservatives who are deeply uncomfortable with a beloved brand taking stands, and not young progressives who demand that the company “be overtly gay.” And instead of spending his days thinking about how to make “the happiest place on Earth” even happier, Chapek is playing a game of politics, one that is likely futile. (DeSantis has indicated he will sign the bill, although the timing remains uncertain.)
It should be a cautionary tale for all of corporate America: Stick to making chicken, or pillows, or movies about singing lions and feisty princesses, and let everyone else get their hands dirty on the most challenging social and political issues.
Unfortunately, most big companies like Disney are all in on developing and flexing their political muscle to advance the prevailing social agenda and improve their ESG ratings. And some polling has shown that Americans want this — at least right up to the point where a company’s political position differs from theirs.
Then consumers are thrust into socially conscious angst over things such as what fast food to have on a road trip. As a mother in an LGBTQ-friendly family recently told me, “We had to decide whether to eat the homophobic chicken or not.” They ate the chicken, though not without some faint moral injury.
As consumers, shouldn’t we be angry that every restaurant, every TV show, every kindergarten classroom has been dragged into politics? Is it too much to ask for a neutral space, a no-fly zone, over some aspects of our everyday life?
In 1940, Winston Churchill delivered his stirring wartime speech, vowing that “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.”
The fervor and scope was appropriate, given the enemy that Churchill and the allies faced.
On America’s ever widening political battlefield, however, we have taken that strategy to comical proportions: We shall fight in the fast-food restaurants, we shall fight in the kindergarten classrooms, we shall fight at the library children’s story hours.
It seems to have become a bit much. In involving our children, the culture-war battlefield has gotten too big.
Which is why DeSantis and many other Florida conservatives are determined to enact the Parental Rights in Education bill, despite widespread opposition from some corporations, from Hollywood and even the White House.
As many people have pointed out, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill doesn’t use the word gay. Nor is it a sweeping effort to prevent discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools — just in public schools in kindergarten through third grade, the time when kids are reading books like “The Adventures of Captain Underpants” and “Who Would Win? Tyrannosaurus Rex versus Velociraptor.”
As far as the gender identity wars go, the ask seems a relatively small thing. And yet the outcry makes it seem as if DeSantis is demanding that teachers read J.K. Rowling tweets in the classroom every day.
Chapek has promised to reevaluate Disney’s official policy on political donations, which the company has said is necessary because “many national and local policy decisions affect our businesses.”
It’s probably too much to hope that Disney could lead American businesses in a nationwide retreat from weighing in on anything that smacks of politics, which is a pity, because Mike Lindell tells me his pillows are really great.