Inside The Mouse

With the grand opening of Hong Kong Disneyland, people must want to read up on the subject.  A popular choice is Janet Wasko's Understanding Disney which is available in Chinese as well.  My favorite is Inside The Mouse: Work and Play At Disney World from The Project on Disney (Duke University Press).  Some of the stuff is well known by now.  For example, here is the employee guidelines with respect to the costumes of the Disney characters:

When you put a head on, it's supposed to fit on your shoulders.  That's why there are height requirements for each individual cosutme.  I have found kids that were 5' given costumes that should have been given to somone who was 5'4".  So to hold that costume on, they strap the brace on you to make the shoulders stick out.  This is how they're walking around for anywhere from 25-45 minutes.  I've seen children being hurt by it.  They are tired; they are fatigued; their backs, their necks are hurting.  And if you were to say "I can't wear this costume," then you can be sure you won't be working there for every long.

... It's unclear how many of the Disney characters pass out on a given summer day, though everyone is one that they do.  One man reports that during the summer a goodly part of his job is devoted to driving around retrieving characters where they fall.  One day, he picked up three at one stop -- Donald, Mickey and Goody: "All of them had passed out within five minutes of each other.  They were just lined up on the sidewalk."  If they are on a parade float, they must simply ride it out or wait until they've recovered enough to walk to a tunnel entrance and under their own steam.  This can get a bit dicey.  Passing out is sometimes prefaced by (and probably directly caused by) throwing up inside the head, which cannot be removed until out of public view.

You're never to be seen in a costume without your head, ever.  It was automatic dismissal.  It's frightening because you can die on your own regurgitation when you can't keep out of it.  I'll never forget Dumbo -- it was coming of the mouth during the parade.  You have a little screen over the mouth.  It was horrible.  And I made US$4.55 an hour.

During the parades, I've seen many characters in 90 degree heat vomit in their costumes and faint on the floats and were never taken off the float.  There's so much going on during a parade that people are not going to notice if Dopey is slumping and he is not waving ... I've never them take a character off a float.

In one instance, Chip of Chip n' Dale fame passed out where he stood at the very top of the float, mounted to it by a post that ran up one leg of the costume and into the head.  While this was a precaution to keep him from possibly falling off when the float jerked or hit a bump, the visual effect was crucifixion: Chip help up by a post for public exhibition, head hanging to one side, out cold.

But this book also has a lot to say about subterranean Disney culture, and you have to wonder if this will be imported to Hong Kong:

It is no secret in Orlando and among Disney workers that Walt Disney World is gay-friendly, and decidedly so.  By "Walt Disney World," they do not mean the company or its policies but the people working in the park itself.  Casual estimates made to me of the park's gay and lesbian population ranged from 25 to 75 percent, depending on department.  On what basis people were making these determinations was unclear; certainly every person I spoke with believed that there was a strong queer, particularly gay male, presence.  "You're guilty until proven innocent," laughs one after telling me the same joke that I'd already heard three times that week.  Q: How many Disney straights does it take to screw in a lightbulb on Main Street?  A: Both of them.  "It's very open," says another.

Disney wants to say it's not open, but it's quite open underground.  You have to curtail it.  It's prevalent to us, the people down there, but if anybody sees that, of course, they'll start trouble for you.  That makes headlines and Disney doesn't like headlines.

How well they are curtailing it seems to depend on how well anyone watching knows what to look for.

... Elsewhere one can see a life-sized, costumed Donald Duck whispering seductively, "fag," as he walks by other Disney employees while the latter watch Donald flirt same-sexly with the park's oblivious - or not - male guests.  "If you were watching the characters," says one such employee,

and there was a guy in there, you could see him looking at the men.  Not too much, but you would know.  But if you were in the park, everything would be too tasteful.  Nothing would be done so that anybody could say "Oh my god, there's a queen in this costume."

But apparently there is a queen in the costume, and her performance as well as that of the many other members of Disney's "family" -- recognized far and wide in Orlando as Disney slang for the park's large gay and lesbian contingent -- camps Disney's notions of family values even as it represents them.  They work the park, making the dominant function, as Certeau says, "in another register."