Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Change Repulsion

Here's a fun thing to do:
  1. Find someone who's a fan of something that's been around for a long time: a superhero or a film franchise or popular theme park.
  2. "Innocently" suggest making a small change to a long-standing element of the thing, something that would make it more appealing to mass audiences.
  3. Sit back and watch the fireworks.
Fans hate it when the corporate overlords of a thing they like change it to better appeal to the average person who is not currently a fan of the thing. For example, Superman fans threw a fit in 2011 when DC rebooted the character in the comics and gave him a new costume without the red trunks. (Which were inspired by old-timey circus strongmen) They changed a lot of other stuff about the character, too, but the absent red trunks were the thing disaffected fans complained most bitterly about.

Right now a very vocal segment of Star Trek fandom is throwing daily Internet tantrums because the new show Star Trek: Discovery, which is supposed to be set 10 years before the adventures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, looks like a show produced in 2017 and not 1967. These people are threatening to throw earth-shattering Internet tantrums and boycott Discovery (a move that could cost CBS tens of dollars) unless it seamlessly integrates itself with a 50-year-old low-budget TV show that had this in it:

On another corner of the Internet, some Disney theme park fans are losing their minds over plans to make changes to another 50-year-old thing, Pirates of the Caribbean (the ride, not the movies). The Disneyland original, as well as the ones patterned after it in Florida and Paris, contains a scene where the pirates, in the midst of sacking a Caribbean village, are auctioning off its women as brides. This has long been considered one of the ride's more memorable scenes, mainly because of the prominently-featured buxom redheaded female Animatronic and the chorus of drunken pirates shouting "We wants the readhead!"

So, what could the Disney Imagineers be replacing this scene with that would cause such an uproar among fans? Maybe a set of Guardians of the Galaxy Animatronics having a dance party to the music of the 1980s? Or perhaps a scene from the Star Wars Holiday Special with Chewbacca's family celebrating Life Day while Bea Arthur serenades them? Let's take a look at the concept art and see what kind of thematically-inappropriate commercialized garbage the evil Disney corporate pencil-pushers are inflicting on their loyal fans:

Yeah. Instead of auctioning off human beings, now the pirates are auctioning off stuff. Heck, they even kept the famous redhead so the fanboys who enjoyed staring at her animatronic bosoms will still be able to do that instead of going out into the real word and learning to develop mature human relationships. The new scene fits in so well with the rest of the ride that the 99.9% of Disney theme park visitors won't even notice that anything's changed. Obviously, this is a completely harmless alteration that removes an icky scene of implied sexual slavery while preserving Pirates of the Caribbean's overall character and feel.

So naturally, an Internet petition against the change has gotten more than 25,000 signatures. Whether these represent 25,000 individual people or much fewer people with a lot of spare time, I don't know.

I've seen lots of arguments on social media for and against this change, but in the end the folks who are against it are pretty much the same as the fundamentalist fans who got angry when Superman stopped wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants. They don't like change. It makes them feel bad when the corporate owners of a thing they love make changes to it to appeal to an audience who's not them. It hurts their feelings because they're forced to confront the unpleasant truth that, however long and deep their love is for an object of their fannish devotion, it really belongs to a huge impersonal corporation and not to them. It can be painful, even make a person feel betrayed.

I'm not unsympathetic. In fact, let me share something: my favorite thing in all of Disney World is the part of the Jungle Cruise when you're inside the abandoned temple. The sounds of the park outside fade away, and you're surrounded by this little pocket of Original Disney World that's remained untouched for over 45 years. In those few moments I can imagine that it's 30-plus years ago, and outside the world I lived in as a kid is still there, and no one I love has died, and all the other mental and emotional wounds big and small that you accumulate over a lifetime haven't happened yet. I haven't been to the Magic Kingdom in years and have no plans to go back, but it's kind of nice to know that little piece of a simpler, happier past is still there. One day, it won't be. Disney will plunk some garish, out-of-place thing in there to promote whatever new thing they want people to buy and I'll have lost a lifeline back to fondly-remembered people and times.

So yeah, I know what it's like when a faceless corporation takes away something that tethers you back to a time you wish you hadn't had to leave. But when that thing is a depiction of human trafficking, of implied sexual slavery, then you've got to let it go. Because the alternative is to defend those things, to say they're not that bad. And is that who you want to be? When you look in the mirror, do you want to see someone who would make excuses for trivializing one of the most horrific things that humans do to one another?

Maybe that's not how you see it. Fine. We'll agree to disagree. But I'm too old to get worked up into a spittle-emitting rage over entertainment anymore. And if we all decided to be that way, social media might be a slightly calmer place.


  1. I just don't get why it's an auction. Are the pirates auctioning stuff to each other? To the villagers they stole it from?
    Why not just imply the pirates (including the buxom redhead) are forcing the townspeople to carry their stuff to the pirates' ships?

  2. Dropping an anvil on someone's head is actually horrific and causes major trauma. The question is, are we in too much of an idiocracy today for people to understand that? Disney was never trying to say that human trafficking is good (or that pillaging is good for that matter), they were just trying to make it entertaining. People going in to these things in the past understood that that these were horrors and this was mocking them with a slant, for entertainment.

    As the public gets dumber and dumber under theocratic republican rule, expect the pillaging and burning scenes to be removed as well, because otherwise people just won't realize that those things are bad.


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