Angry, Entitled Disney Adults Are the Heart and Soul of the GOP

·9 min read
Photo Illustration by Kristen Hazzard/The Daily Beast/Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by Kristen Hazzard/The Daily Beast/Photos Getty

An immutable fact of childhood is that if kids love something enough, adults will eventually ruin it. My generation would know; we witnessed Cabbage Patch Kids mania, Tickle Me Elmo frenzy, Beanie Baby mayhem, and parents getting into actual fistfights over PlayStations. Saturday morning Pop Tarts commercials stacked between 22-minute advertisements for dolls and action figures masquerading as TV shows were correct: adults are the enemy of fun.

I’ve always read toy trends that turn into national embarrassments as generously as I could. In many cases it seemed like parents simply wanted what was best for their kids, and then got a little carried away, and then got a lot carried away. But a new generation of adults who are a little too invested in cultural products for children seems unconcerned with children’s enjoyment entirely, and seems to think that things made for America’s children—from Disney World to Dr. Seuss—should actually be tailored to the tastes of middle-aged white people.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with adults who haven’t lost touch with their inner child, adults without kids who do things like vacation at Disneyland or collect illustrated children’s books. There’s everything wrong with expecting children’s media and spaces to cater to the tastes of adults, just as it’s inappropriate for parents to expect adult-focused media and spaces to cater primarily to children. It’s as stupid for parents to get angry at the content of an R-rated film as it is for adults to get angry that Pepe Le Pew won’t be appearing alongside Bugs Bunny in the newest animated Warner Brothers film. An adult throwing a tantrum about Walt Disney World is as obnoxious as a toddler throwing a tantrum in a bar.

But adult tantrum-throwing has become the norm on the American right. It’s impossible to venture into conservative Twitter, Fox News prime time, Greg Gutfeld’s sad epilogue to Fox Prime Time, or the weird world of Republican press releases without coming across weird stories wherein adults are getting very worked up about a cartoon or a theme park. Unsatisfied with railing against policies that promote social equality, conservative adults have moved on to railing against mere depictions of equality in children’s media. It’s not only obnoxious; quite frankly, it’s fucking weird.

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The justification for this from America’s Newsroom would likely be that the problem isn’t children’s media changing, it’s the culture forcing the children’s media to change. It’s certainly not that adults are treating Disney World, Dr. Seuss, and Looney Tunes like they’re supposed to perpetually cater to the tastes of Trump voters who left their own childhoods behind several decades prior. In the world of Fox News, children’s media adapting to modern cultural sensitivity is part of a creeping “woke” culture that threatens to change everything beloved about American life. Sure, cartoons are being updated now, but what next? Is the woke mob going to force Leroy Jethrow Gibbs from NCIS to come out as trans?

Of course it’s all bullshit. The behemoths that own the rights to the IP that entitled Disney Adults view as sacred parts of their childhood aren’t making the decisions to update their offerings because they’re afraid of a “woke mob.” Disney, Warner Brothers, and the trust that controls the rights to Dr. Seuss’ publishing legacy are making changes because it makes financial sense for them. And these are private companies that, for better or worse, have a right to conduct business in the way they see fit. This generation of American children is more diverse than any previous generation, and creators of children’s media would very much like for these children to have a lifelong brand loyalty to them. One way to foster that is to not create or distribute content that could be directly offensive to their heritage, and potentially drive them to spend their money elsewhere. Capitalism, baby.

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I know that it’s a faux pas to question the intelligence of the Trump-voting, spite-beef-eating, lead-pipe-enthusiast, blue-lives-matter—except not all the blue lives, as we saw on Jan. 6—idiots. How fucking stupid are the people who think Disney is making multimillion dollar changes to its theme parks because Disney is afraid of people who get mad at them online?

The definition of “woke” that relates it to social consciousness wasn’t added to the Oxford English Dictionary until 2017, but, since then, it’s gotten about as much use on Fox News as Tucker Carlson’s neck bronzer. Like a lot of buzzwords the MAGA set colonizes, their use of the phrase is unconstrained by the inconvenience of a consistent definition; it can mean whatever the speaker needs it to mean at that moment, and a different thing the next day. Like “feminist” or “tyranny.” Or, more recently, “triggered.”

“Woke” is now a word that means anything that expresses more cultural sensitivity than a red state Facebook dad whose grown children won’t talk to him anymore due to his aggressive political obnoxiousness. It’s used as a shorthand for the cultural left Going Too Far. It’s a klaxon for other conservatives who blindly want things to stay the way they used to be, when it appears that things may change. Fox News alert: Lesson Learned From Past, more on this outrage after these ten ads for all-beef colostomy bags.

Declaring everything that makes conservatives uncomfortable “woke” is tedious when it applies to things like updating workplace dress codes to stop classifying hairstyles like afros and box braids as “unprofessional.” But the conservative apoplexy over “wokeness” isn’t primarily focused on the conduct of American adults; it’s much creepier than that. The anti-“woke” movement is disproportionately focused on cartoons, theme parks, picture books, movies that feature talking snowmen and magic mirrors—things that are for a demographic that cannot legally drive or sign legal documents. Modern conservatism is an entire identity built around grown adults not being able to mind their own business.

What is behind this? What was broken in the brain of the Las Vegas attorney and deranged Disney Adult who wrote an op-ed about how Disney World removing a sex slave auction from its Pirates of the Caribbean ride was “a mood killer”? What failed in the emotional development of a QAnon aunt who purchases all the copies they can of Dr. Seuss books that will soon be ceasing publication? Why is Jesse Watters mad about Space Jam? Why does Piers Morgan have his extra large Donald Duck diapers in a twist over people not enjoying the climactic moment in Disney’s animated classic Snow White? How does Fox News translate a single paragraph from an op-ed in a San Francisco paper into a massive woke conspiracy? More importantly, why do so many adults care so much? Why are journalists on the most-watched TV news channel in the U.S. talking about this one paragraph in this one newspaper more than a dozen times in one day? Why is a news channel asking a U.S. senator about a cartoon from 1938? Does Fox News assume its audience has solved literally every other problem in their lives? But the steal hasn’t even been stopped!

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Is it that entitled Disney Adults were raised by parents that coddled them to believe that they were the center of the universe and would remain that way for the duration of their natural lives? Do they not believe that privilege extends to generations that come after them, or does their worldview hold that they are the most special generation to ever exist? Do they believe that they are the primary audience for everything, and that “this is not for me enough” is valid cultural criticism, even when it comes to things that are obviously for people who haven’t lost their baby teeth? Are they attempting to exactly recreate their childhoods for future generations of American children? Do they believe that America’s future depends on subjecting every subsequent group of new humans to the same injustices and inconveniences that they encountered growing up, “and they turned out just fine”? Are these the people who advocate in favor of spanking? Is this the same muscle that flexes when a homeowner in their sixties who paid off $14,000 in student loans on a union salary gets upset about a program that would forgive $50,000 in loans held by a 28-year-old freelancer?

Of course, this isn’t entirely new. Nothing is. The entitled conservative Disney Adult phenomenon seems like the natural outgrowth of the decades-long conservative fixation on the behavior of college students and the sexual proclivities of teenagers. If fiftysomething adults are the designated arbiters of what’s appropriate reading material for present-day liberal arts curricula, if evangelical empty nesters are whipping themselves into a froth over middle schoolers being taught that the clitoris exists (“I never knew about the clitoris and I turned out just fine!”), then why wouldn’t they also be well within their rights to complain that Mr. Potato Head toys aren’t gendered enough? While it may be more familiar to see somebody Sen. Tom Cotton’s age furious about the behavior of 18 to 22-year-olds at a university he did not attend, it’s not that much less creepy than it is when he weighs in on how Disney+ should not be putting disclaimers about changing social norms before episodes of The Muppets.

Senator, just to follow up: Who fucking cares?

Or maybe Fox News knows its audience needs at least 2000 rage calories per day to stay engaged in the nonsense cycle on which their profit model relies. Maybe “the kids are to ride on a different ride than the ride I remember” is enough to feed the gaping maw of the hungry persecution complex at the core of the Trump-era conservative. Not seeing oneself as a victim? That’s a mood killer.

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