If you’ve listened to our show for a long time, you’ll notice that one of the recurring themes that occurs within our discussion is over the phrase “Walt would not have wanted XYZ”. Recently, it’s been discussed in the context of the introduction of fine wine and beer into the Magic Kingdom. At that time, I expressed my frustration with people who opposed the measure by suggesting that Walt would not have wanted this to happen. Through the years of reading forums and blogs and absorbing other media like podcasts, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this tired old phrase.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve considered Walt Disney’s intent many times within the context of what Imagineering is doing today. For instance, I recently looked at the rise of the 1 day ticket price from 2002-2012. In 2002, the 1 day ticket price was $48. Today it is $89. This amounts to an average annual nominal increase of 6.36% or a single 10 year increase of 85.42%. Note, average American incomes haven’t even kept close to par with that increase. I was under the impression that Walt wanted his parks to be accessable to all families. I understand that Disney needs to increase earnings to meet the demands of its investors, but it becomes disheartening to hear most of the people I talk to tell me that, although they love going, they can no longer vacation at WDW due to the unbearable cost.
What I mean when I talk about my weariness of hearing the “Walt wouldn’t want it” line of reasoning is that it’s almost anachronistic every time I hear it. For instance, in context of alcohol in the Magic Kingdom, I argue that Walt Disney was a product of prohibitionist America. While some of these attitudes still remain in our cultural psyche, it’s not even remotely comparable to the 50s, 60s and 70s. I don’t recall ever seeing Ward Cleaver drinking an alcoholic beverage on screen. Yet, today it’s so common place within television programming, no one thinks twice about it. As you may know, I recently went on a Disney Cruise. There are more bars and carts that serve alcohol on that ship than you would see in EPCOT or DHS any day. During my entire time on the cruise, I saw one drunk person on the adults only beach on Castaway Cay. One. Alcohol was available in the family pool area aboard the ship, but I did not encounter a single othee person that had too much. Any argument that suggests that drunks will be falling all over themselves after having a Chimay or a glass of wine either has not had Chimay or wine or is deluding themselves on the basis of a principal (Walt woudln’t have wanted it) that they cannot really provide proof of one way or the other.
Finally, not everything that Walt did was sacrosanct. Walt realized this and made changes to things he did all of the time. Yes, he was Walt Disney and had a mind that none of us could hope to inherit. No one will ever be Walt again. What he left behind was a legacy and a framework for thinking about entertainment, education and personal values. The Disney company should attempt in everything they do to uphold these values, and I think they do this respectably in most cases. Yet, the Disney company is not Walt. They need to make decisions that benefit a company that has grown enormously since Walt’s passing. I think in the end, Walt would have wanted what was best for his company and for all of us. I don’t know that most of the contestations in which the primary argument is “Walt wouldn’t have wanted it” really hold up. Walt’s not alive anymore, but his vision is, and I honestly believe that the Disney company is trying to operate a multi-conglomerate corporation in the 21st century without compromising any of his principals.
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