Note: See March 10 update on this post, below.
Only rarely does EPCOT Central comment on non-EPCOT-related Disney news, but in this case, the detour feels warranted.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 10), The Walt Disney Company will hold its annual shareholder's meeting not in Anaheim, not in Orlando, not in New York, but in beautiful, downtown ... Oakland. At least it's not quite as bizarre a location as Philadelphia or Milwaukee, where the company has run to in years past to avoid confrontations with angry stockholders. This year's meeting is in close proximity to Pixar Animation Studios, though given that Disney's market cap has shrunk by more than $30 billion in recent months, it is worth wondering if Disney maybe should have stayed a little farther afield to avoid shareholder ire.
But more to the point, one of the worst kept secrets among Disney enthusiasts is the planned announcement on Tuesday of "D23," a new magazine-slash-fan-club that seeks to engage older, longtime Disney lovers.
So, eight years into the 21st century, Disney has finally acknowledged that we exist. And now the company wants more of our money.
It wasn't all that long ago that Disney operated a free fan club and fan magazine -- The Magic Kingdom Club and its Disney News. There were better, more polished magazines out there, but I can't be alone when I say that I can pull an issue of Disney News from the 1980s off of the shelf and pore through every article once again. (It's also fun to see the old theme-park admission prices.) In the 1990s, Disney dismantled MKC and Disney News, and instead offered a pay-for-play version of the "discount club." But that wasn't good enough, and ultimately that concept was done away with in favor of an "affinity" credit card -- buy enough Disney stuff, and you could get a free Disney theme park ticket ... assuming you were willing to spend the literally tens of thousands of dollars needed for that perk.
Disney also used to operate a modestly scaled collector's event called the Disneyana Convention. Typically held at Walt Disney World, the Disneyana event offered all sorts of great opportunities to meet and interact with Disney actors, writers, directors, voices, animators and other celebrities. The price was steep, but Disneyana was clearly intended for those who were serious about their love of Disney.
But now that's gone, too.
For the most part, Disney has turned its back on serious Disney enthusiasts. Insisting that Disney is a company that makes childrens' dreams come true (just look at the cover of this year's Annual Report), it has become a company for children, not for the child in all of us. One by one, many of the special touches that Disney theme parks offered to more "mature" fans have fallen away -- one need only look at the Golden Horseshoe Review at Disneyland, or the barely operational Carousel of Progress, or Horizons at EPCOT, to name but a few. In their place have cropped up new, "synergistic" opportunities to relentlessly and shamelessly plug new Disney movies and TV shows.
Now comes D23.
Rarely, if ever, has a marketing ploy felt so crass, so manipulative, so aimed directly at the wallet.
For $16, you can buy a glossy magazine that retells stories most Disney fans have heard many times over.
For even more money, you can join a membership club that nets a couple of nifty lapel pins.
And for even more money, that membership will get you a few bucks off of a multi-day Disney convention to be held in Anaheim in September.
No doubt, there will be many fans who won't view this through cynical, wary eyes. But D23 isn't really about honoring Disney fans -- it's about getting more money from cash-strapped fans in the midst of an economic downturn the likes of which haven't been seen since "The Three Little Pigs" first came to theaters.
D23 claims to preserve Walt Disney's legacy while the company continues to trash it.
There are many fans who complain that EPCOT Center failed to honor Walt Disney's greatest dream because it turned the idea of a full-fledged city into a theme park. EPCOT Central would like to suggest this:
The Walt Disney Company fails to honor the man who created it every time it turns its tin ear to the wind, pretends to listen to the voices of its "fans," and then offers another cash-grab marketing ploy in response. (Have you ever been to one of those "collector's" events at the theme parks, the ones that charge big bucks for the, erm, privilege of buying a high-priced item?)
Rather than preserving the Disney Legacy for a few fans wealthy enough to fork over the several hundred bucks it'll cost them for the full "benefits" of D23 membership, why not instead revitalize Disneyland to more closely reflect Walt Disney's ideals? Instead of creating a fan club for "serious" Disney fans, why not study the business philosophies and vision of the man who founded The Walt Disney Company and turn to his extraordinary success for inspiration?
For some reason, The Walt Disney Company is about to put a lot of effort into D23, a program that by its very nature excludes fans who can't afford membership, or those who don't (in these very difficult economic times) have $16 to spend on a magazine. Disney used to be about providing entertainment for everyone -- not slicing it up in ways that excluded others.
For those who regard D23 as a boon, here's hoping it is indeed a success -- and that there are enough passionate fans left, after being ignored for the better part of the past decade, to warrant a three-day Disney convention, one whose sheer size reportedly is intended to rival Comic-Con's. For those of us who aren't gonna be suckered by this shameless attempt to wring more money out of our wallets, after watching The Walt Disney Company neglect Walt's legacy for years, here's a little tune to consider:
I'm no fool,
I'm not gonna join
There has been noticeably little mainstream news coverage of the D23 "announcement," but USA Today's pop-culture blog did pick up on the news ... and not in a way that was laudatory toward Disney. The headline: 'Disney reaches out to the nerds.'
Apparently Disney fans don't even warrant the more affectionate "geeks" anymore. The article also points out that "unfortunately" the membership price is steep. Here's the full article, which is not exactly how you want something like this launched in the media.