Ron DeSantis F-cked With the Wrong Fandom
Earlier this week, on the Disney forum DISBoards.com, a user named KYMickey posted a meme of a demonic-looking white man with a passing resemblance to Gov. Ron DeSantis dressed in a Prince Charming costume, in front of Cinderella’s castle. “DeSantis World,” the caption reads, referring to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. “Disney’s dumbest villain yet.”
“Good luck, governerd,” one reply reads. “Nobody outlawyers the Mouse.”
The meme is a reference to the ongoing feud between DeSantis and the Walt Disney Company, which culminated on Wednesday with a lawsuit filed on the company’s behalf. The corporation is suing the DeSantis Administration, alleging that the governor and his cronies waged a “campaign of government retaliation” against Disney after its leadership spoke out against DeSantis’s so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, which was intended to restrict discussions of gender and sexuality in school classrooms. (DeSantis responded to the suit by saying on Thursday it has “no merit” and was motivated by “political” concerns.)
In response to a memo sent by then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek decrying the bill, DeSantis has waged an all-out war against the Disney corporation, which is by far one of the biggest tourism drivers in the state thanks to its Orlando park, Walt Disney World. He has, among other things, revoked Disney’s control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the area surrounding Walt Disney World that afforded the company special tax status, installing his own cronies to control the regulatory board of the district.
But by trying to wage war against Disney, DeSantis has found that he may face a foe arguably more formidable than the company’s famously aggressive lawyers: Adult Disney fans, who have taken to online forums en masse to protest the governor.
“I would say it has politicized Disney fans,” says Victoria, a Disney content creator who goes by @pineappleprincess340 on TikTok. At first, the ongoing fracas over Disney and the Don’t Say Gay bill largely ignited the passions of liberal-leaning Disney fans, who spoke out in favor of inclusion. But as the situation got “out of hand with DeSantis,” Victoria says, “people decided they’d be more political and speak out.”
The Disney fandom famously strives to be apolitical, with forum moderators and fan sites traditionally adopting strict rules to prevent people from posting inflammatory content, as Kat Tenbarge reported for NBC News. “On either side, we don’t like to see politics come to the parks,” says Nathan Hartman, a professor of film studies at Salisbury University who studies Disney and theme parks. “It’s hallowed ground. It should be a neutral area. If we don’t talk about it at Thanksgiving, we don’t talk about it at Disney.”
Much like the cloud of red smoke that envelops Agrabah when Jafar takes over in Aladdin, however, the noxious political climate has slowly been infiltrating the Magic Kingdom. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, much debate raged among Disney fans over park mask and vaccine mandates, and the Disney attraction the Hall of Presidents, featuring animatronic versions of past POTUSes, has been host to a number of protests due to its inclusion of former president Donald Trump. And though Disney has long been the target of criticism from conservatives for various reasons, such backlash has ramped up over the past year due to the corporation’s opposition to Don’t Say Gay, with conservative pundits like Candace Owens urging followers to boycott the company.
This hyper-charged political climate, combined with DeSantis’s aggressive attacks on the company, appear to have had something of a radicalizing effect on some members of the fandom. Though subreddits like r/waltdisneyworld have tried to curb the tone of political discussions — “As always with the posts around RCID/ Drama please refrain from personal attacks and keep it magical,” one post from a mod reads — the battle between DeSantis and Disney appears to have hit too close to home.
One meme posted on Reddit features the puffy-looking Florida governor in a fleece vest, depicted among a pantheon of classic Disney bad guys like Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Jafar from Aladdin. Another, showing Mickey superimposed next to DeSantis, is more explicit: “Suck my mouse dick you fascist fuck,” the caption reads.
Not every Disney fan has turned against DeSantis. “Once the smoke clears and everyone knows the facts DeSantis’s standing will remain unchanged,” Disney historian and longtime fan Joshua L. Harris says, adding that the fandom leans much more conservative than many would expect. “Few people seem to remember this ‘fight’ started early last year (during the campaign and before the election) and Ron won with the largest margin in Florida history. Believe it or not, it is entirely possible to be ‘for’ both DeSantis (which is really the State/ Citizens) and be for Disney!”
But Hartman suspects DeSantis’s war against Disney has gone so far that it may even impact DeSantis’s future political chances, as he is widely projected to be a prospective Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election. Many conservative Disney fans have come out against DeSantis, claiming his attacks against the company violate the First Amendment. “DeSantis has repeatedly said that taking over Disney’s special district is the will of the people.’ When was this issue put forth to the voters? It hasn’t,” one theme park aficionado tweeted. “@GovRonDeSantis has lost my vote.”
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“I’ve seen diehard Republicans come out and say ‘Nah, DeSantis went too far,'” Hartman says. “This is one of those issues that I think crosses the spectrum….they know who will be here [in Florida] when the smoke clears, and it’s not gonna be Ron DeSantis.”