A Mouse Divided: How The Culture Wars Came For Disney Adults

“But somehow despite taking L after L, the fascist b***h has yet to learn…. YOU DO NOT F**K WITH THE MOUSE!” one especially incensed fan posted to Reddit.
Illustration: Jianan Liu/HuffPost; Photo:Getty Images, Alamy

Josie Maida embraces the term Disney Adult. “I’ve had way worse things said about me,” the 28-year-old Orlando-based content creator said. “Life is short, and I’m going to enjoy what I enjoy.”

Maida lives a mile from Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle — not quite close enough to see it from her house but close enough that she gets to visit Disney’s cluster of central Florida theme parks at least once a week. While she’s there, Maida makes food-related content to share with her massive online followings, like an Instagram video from April in which she twirls a pink-and-orange soft-serve cone for the camera before having a bite.

But not everything she posts is this light in nature. “I’m very, very liberal. It’s a known thing. I share decently liberal posts quite a bit on my Instagram story,” she said, adding that she and other creators in her network, for very obvious reasons, tend to dislike Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis. “There have been a lot of cases in the Disney community where people have found out that someone was super Trumpy and have totally put them on blast on Twitter or Instagram.”

Maida is just one of the many people whose relationship to Disney has become more politically tinged since DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidate in competition with former President Donald Trump, made the company his adversary in the conservative culture wars, which have since trickled down into the niche — and once solidly apolitical — fandom of so-called Disney Adults. Almost overnight, Disney went from “intentionally inoffensive” to demonized in right-wing media for allegedly, somehow, being a promoter of “grooming” and pedophilia, and the Disney Adult super fans are left to bear the brunt of the fallout.

“Disney subs are mostly fun and talk about trips and changes and stuff like that. Rarely political but desantis has made it political,” one Redditor who heads to Disney regularly for marathon races told HuffPost via Reddit DM. Like almost everyone contacted for this piece through message boards, they requested that identifying details not be published but claimed to be Republicans who do not like DeSantis.

The overall sentiment is widely shared in the active Disney subreddit community, a politically purple space that has devolved into chaos and lockdowns over polarizing DeSantis posts.

“I’m done with him over this crap,” the same person commented in May on a public post in r/WaltDisneyWorld — “The Most Magical Subreddit on Earth!”

Another Reddit user went off on DeSantis in April for having directed lawmakers to dissolve Disney’s special tax district, a move that DeSantis claimed was meant to level the playing field for rival parks: “But somehow despite taking L after L, the fascist bitch has yet to learn…. YOU DO NOT FUCK WITH THE MOUSE!”

That DeSantis is losing the GOP Disney Adult vote is perhaps to be expected. But the trend also underscores the governor’s overall weakness in the race, as he currently polls about 30 percentage points behind Trump in national averages. The battle against so-called wokeness that was supposed to endear him to the GOP masses may instead be having the opposite effect across swaths of the electorate who find themselves unable to wrap their minds around the governor’s crusade against one of his state’s largest taxpayers.

“Whether you’re a Democrat, independent or one of your Republican chamber of commerce members, it’s something that a lot of people are scratching their heads at, especially since [DeSantis] doesn’t seem to be winning this battle anyway,” Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat who represents Orlando in Congress, told HuffPost of the war on Disney.

“Why should you be thinking that I’m a Republican or a Democrat because of the fact that we like to go to the happiest place on earth with our children?”

- A fan who laments the new politicalization of Disney

The culture wars are especially fraught for the Disney Adults, whose fandom thrives on the notion of escapism and fantasy. This is what the fans call the “Disney bubble,” the idea that reality stops at the park gates ― or by scrolling deep enough into a Reddit thread. And it’s the thing that many fans seem to dislike most about the spat between DeSantis and the corporation they affectionately call “The Mouse.”

The bubble hasn’t burst yet — but for some it’s getting close.

“That’s the whole reason you go to Disney, is to escape that kind of stuff. That was one of the nice things: You could just go there and enjoy the fantasy,” said one fan, who had just gotten back from an eight-day Disney cruise. Like a true elite-status Disney Adult, this person — who did not share his name for fear of getting in trouble at work and because people can sometimes look at you differently when they learn you own a $30,000 Disney timeshare — said he’s been to Disney parks more than 100 times. But the feud and the ensuing politicization has dusted a little bit of the magic off of the Disney experience.

Now people aren’t just looking at him sideways “for drinking the [Disney] Kool-Aid.” They’re wondering what his fandom says about his politics — and that’s even worse. “Why should you be thinking that I’m a Republican or a Democrat because of the fact that we like to go to the happiest place on earth with our children?” said the fan, who happens to be a political independent. “That’s what this created, and that should have never been allowed to happen.”

There are different ideas in the fan community about who deserves the blame for the rift, which began in 2022 with backlash to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law restricting discussion of gender and sexuality in classrooms. The law was widely seen as part of the broader GOP culture war attacks on LGBTQ+ identity, racial equity and gender-affirming care for trans people — all issues that data suggests deeply divide most Americans, making them anything but an electoral slam dunk.

Some say ex-CEO Bob Chapek caved to the intense calls from his employees to speak out against “Don’t Say Gay” last year, putting the company in opposition to Republican leaders.

But many in Disney’s corner place the blame squarely on DeSantis, who they say was acting out of spite ― not to level the playing field for other Florida businesses ― when he began turning the screws on Disney and making the company fodder for GOP influencers.

“There has been a significant shift among your most active Republicans, the hyperbole they use — pedophiles, groomers — that they assign to Disney as the corporate entity,” said David Jolly, a former Republican and ex-congressman from Florida who’s not especially into the parks, for no reason other than they’re not really his thing. “Now, I don’t know how many of them still take their kids there or how much of this is just Twitter fire and anger. The shift among many Republicans in how they see Disney, not from a brand perspective but a cultural perspective — that shift is real.”

Whether it’s having a material effect on Disney is hard to discern. The company, like rival theme parks, is enduring a summer slump, which it attributes to the heat and ticket prices. Some analysts also point to Florida’s political landscape as a factor in keeping guests away. The company did not respond to a request for comment about how politics is affecting its bottom line.

“It’s not something that I want to be exposed to, personally. Not when I’m spending thousands of dollars to have a nice family experience.”

- Brittany Jean, the leader of a GOP club in Tampa, on why she won't go to Disney

But there are people out there like Brittany Jean, a 28-year-old who said she will never return to Disney World. Jean, the leader of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, said her frustration began with Disney’s COVID mask mandates. Republicans across the state widely panned such public health measures. Now her deeper values no longer align with Disney’s.

“Disney is pushing a woke agenda on children,” Jean said, citing a video that went viral among right-wingers last month for showing a gender non-conforming cast member greeting children at the park’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. “That would be difficult to explain to a child when they’re just trying to enjoy themselves and have fun. It’s not something that I want to be exposed to, personally. Not when I’m spending thousands of dollars to have a nice family experience.”

Maida, for her part, still sees plenty of people she identifies as Republicans in the parks. “It’s funny because you hear these people who love DeSantis who say they’re not coming to the parks anymore and that they hate Disney. But then there are all these people with ridiculous Republican shirts,” she said. They’ll often come with apparel showing off support for Trump or DeSantis. And they’ll cheer for Trump in the Hall of Presidents, the deeply unsettling animatronic display of every U.S. president.

Democrats like Carlye Morgan are the counteracting force to the Republicans who’ve sworn off Disney. Morgan, a 44-year-old who works in government relations, said that as a Florida native, she’s always been a fan of Disney. And while not a full-fledged Disney Adult, she stepped up her support this year by purchasing a season pass for her family.

“Now I feel compelled to be public about that in a way I maybe wasn’t before,” she said. “They reflect how I want my son to think about the world.”

Maida agrees with this sentiment, which she said guides her as a Disney Adult.

“Everybody has seen something that they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s cringey.’ But that’s any fandom,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person that’s going to make fun of somebody for what they like as long as they’re not hurting somebody else.”

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