Ron DeSantis — spurned by their decision to condemn the recent so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill, which bans “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida schools — has picked a fight with the one person you should never pick a fight with, Mickey Mouse.
Everyone knows that there’s two entities you never mess with — the IRS and The Walt Disney Company. Well, everyone except, seemingly, DeSantis and Florida Republicans.
DeSantis today announced that the special tax status the Disney company has enjoyed for many years was being revoked, meaning the Mouse House will soon find itself owing a lot more money to the state of Florida than they’re accustomed to.
DeSantis and Republican members of the Florida State Legislature are also looking into legislation that would revoke Disney’s ability to govern the area within its Disney World property.
This measure, adopted in 1967 at the behest of Walt Disney himself, allowed Disney to basically do whatever they wanted with the land encompassing Disney World.
They don’t have to lobby a city council to get permits for projects they want to do — something Walt Disney experienced in the early days of Disneyland — and they even have the power to build a nuclear power plant to power their theme parks and hotels if they choose.
These special rules for Disney that DeSantis is now repealing were pieces of a symbiotic relationship that Florida had with the state’s largest single-site employer, a symbiotic relationship that seems to be no more.
For years Disney was able to say “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” to Florida leadership — due in part to the fact that they’ve always donated large sums of their Churro and Turkey Leg earnings to Florida politicians of every party — but that friendship has now gone away after one critical statement.
The particularly strange thing about this “beef” is that it’s unclear whether either side is actually entirely behind the stand they’re taking.
With corporate messaging on social issues usually being unabashedly performative — see Pride Flag Oreos or Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial — the intentions behind Disney’s move are murky. Does Bob Chapek really care about whether Florida passes a bill banning teaching material on sexual orientation and gender identity? Or is he more trying to curtail negative reactions from his employee base?
And with the culture war politics equally empty and performative, does DeSantis really care what Disney says about his bill? The reaction shows that their statement and threat to commit resources to repeal the bill angered DeSantis, but what real threat does Disney pose in that effort?
Each side’s crusade against the other seems to have only downsides for them and no real potential upside. For Disney, the likelihood they’ll get DeSantis to back off or repeal the bill is quite low, and for DeSantis, the likelihood he can get Disney to support the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill is equally low.
The more likely outcome is that DeSantis loses some suburban mom voters who love riding Space Mountain, and Disney may lose a pretty sizable chunk of change from losing their protections from Florida.
The Disney/DeSantis battle is shaping up to be another theater in the long-fought and very stupid culture war we’re living through, wherein politicians find it more advantageous to endlessly rant about trivial nonsense than to propose real policy initiatives. We’ve constructed a political system that rewards this kind of behavior from our elected leaders.
From the performative nature of Disney’s statement to DeSantis’ toddler tantrum over the statement, this chapter of the culture war truly carries on the spirit of being “very stupid” because this whole ordeal is very, very stupid.