Earlier this year, CCFC was ejected from its home at the Judge Baker Children’s Center (JBCC.) Judge Baker’s decision to end its affiliation with CCFC came after representatives from the Walt Disney Company contacted the Center following CCFC’s successful campaign to persuade Disney to offer refunds on its Baby Einstein videos. The story touched a nerve with many of our supporters, including Lisa Ray — activist, blogger, mother, and founder of Parents for Ethical Marketing:
What kind of a country do we live in, I thought at the time, where a multi-billion dollar corporation can encroach upon a tiny advocacy organization and the people who work for it? Is the family friendly Disney so ruthless that it must control public criticism? Who else is at risk for speaking out against corporations?
Thinking out loud I said to my family, “I wish we could boycott Disney. But I don’t think we can. They’re too big.”
My 12-year old heard me and suggested we should at least try. Her thought: “A year without Disney.”
A year without Disney? Is it really possible in this day and age, given the ubiquity of Disney’s vast media empire? I asked Lisa more about her family’s decision to forgo the Mouse for a entire year.
Q: I love the fact that the impetus for a Year Without Disney was, in part, your (and your daughter’s) reaction to the story of CCFC’s eviction from Judge Baker Children’s Center. What was it about the Disney/JBCC/CCFC story that upset you so much?
A: I was upset that Disney chose to defend themselves publicly instead of engaging in the conversation. I was upset that Disney chose to offer those refunds but refused to say that that had made a mistake. But I was most upset that they would unleash their corporate lawyers in order to squelch any attempt at criticism. I felt violated, as a CCFC supporter. I mean, who does that? How is that even a good business practice? And it says a lot about the power of corporations in our society today. It scares me.
Q: I know your concerns about Disney began long before the events of last fall. Can you talk about which aspects of Disney’s marketing machine trouble you the most?
A: Several things. I’d say its presence everywhere. You cannot get away from Disney. The way other companies buy into the licensing because they know that Disney characters sell, so when you are buying for kids, there are always items with the latest Disney character slapped on it. As the mother to two girls, it was especially hard to avoid the Disney princesses on everything. My youngest adored them (she did not know who they were so only called them “the three ladies”), but when we started seeing them show up in the grocery store, that’s when we instituted the “no licensed character” rule in our house. Don’t get me started on the roles of girls (helpless) and women (nasty/cruel) in the princess stories. Last, I’d say I don’t like how Disney has co-opted and altered stories. So many families don’t know that many Disney stories are not original and that the true stories have so much more depth and meaning. (Those are some of the things we’re hoping to uncover over the year.)
Q: You’ve said that you didn’t think you could boycott Disney because they were “too big.” And in the course of preparing for YWOD, you’ve discovered they were even bigger – your website includes a pretty impressive list of all the properties that Disney owns. Were you surprised by any of it? What’s going to be the hardest to give up?
I was surprised by the number of online properties they have (NFL.com? Really?). The movies will probably be the hardest, along with Hulu. But I really see it as an opportunity to look deeper for something else to watch.
Q. When CCFC launched a campaign around the Unilever Axe/Dove hypocrisy, many people were surprised to find out that these brands were owned by the same corporation. And some even argued that even if they were they were, Dove and Axe were separate brands that had nothing to do with each other. Why is important to make the connection between a corporations various brands and properties?
Just some random thoughts here. Profits are still made by the parent company, so separate brands have a lot to do with each other, even though they may have different audiences. The bigger issue for me, for Disney at least, is to realize that we won’t get a diversity of options if Disney owns the magazines, the television stations, the radio stations, the websites, the book publishers. And with all that money behind them, smaller companies don’t have a chance to compete in their marketing world. So again, we have to put so much effort into finding anything else.
Q: What do you hope to learn from your Year Without Disney? What do you hope your children gain from the experience?
I don’t really have any expectations for what I hope to learn. I’m trying to remain open. For my girls, they’ve already learned how to find out what company makes a product (since we’ve had to check everything in our house, practically). They learned just how many things one company can own and how that affects the variety of entertainment opportunities they’re offered. I hope they learn that they can survive — and maybe even thrive — by doing without something.
Q. It’s been two weeks without Disney so far. How’s it going? Any surprises? Anyone feel they’ve missed out on anything?
We had been talking about this for a couple months beforehand so some of our boycott started earlier. We had to send back one Netflix movie without watching it. At a family gathering, someone suggested the kids go to a movie and I had to talk quickly to steer away from the Toy Story 3 discussion. Probably the most difficult is the rule that the kids do not need to follow the boycott while at friend’s homes. My 8-year-old ended up watching quite a bit of Hannah Montana at someone else’s house, and when I picked her up she told me she felt guilty (both for violating the screen time rule and for watching Disney). That certainly wasn’t my intent and I felt absolutely awful. So we’ve had more discussions about differences at other people’s homes.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
I hoping that others will join me! At lease to eliminate some Disney in their lives and report back on how it is going.
To follow Lisa’s family’s progress, cheer them on, or let them know how you’ve downsized the mouse from your life, vist http://www.yearwithoutdisney.com/. You can also contact Lisa at lisa(at)parentsforethicalmarketing.org.