Disney built its modern-day entertainment juggernaut on a few core concepts. Many of these principles lend themselves to what we commonly call “Disney magic.” According to Disney Careers, their company values are “optimism,” “innovation,” “decency,” “quality,” “community,” and “storytelling.” These values are at the core of what makes Disney attractive to Guests and fans of their films and shows. They keep us returning to their Theme Parks, and what influences the nostalgia many of us chase after our entire lives.
These values have been part of Disney culture since its humble beginnings as a small animation studio in the 1920s. Without concepts such as innovation, decency, quality, and community, Disney would not have become the recognizable brand that we know today. Because of these strong focal points, Disney is one of the world’s most influential and recognizable companies in the world. Their stories resonate with different cultures, languages, religions, races, and lifestyles because, universally, we all want the world to be a better place, right?
Disney’s Original Non-Toxic Culture
Walt Disney himself called the manifestation of his company’s ideology “The Happiest Place on Earth” when Disneyland opened its doors in 1955. A similar nod to these core values influenced the construction and design of Walt Disney World when it opened as “The Most Magical Place on Earth” in 1971. Both Parks boast die-hard fanbases from different walks of life. These fans not only love Disney, the company and its Theme Parks are part of who they are. They identify with Disney on a very intimate level, and they are some of the most passionate in the world.
However, there is a dark side to Disney fans. As they hold Disney preciously to their chest, hoping to safeguard it from the rest of the world, Disney fans frequently go overboard when maintaining and promoting anything that may question Disney’s performance or social standing. Disney fans don’t do well with unpopular opinions regarding Disney Parks, films, or other entertainment. They will hold their ground when contested about the quality of anything Disney offers and defend it fiercely. Often this leads to nasty interactions with other fans and Guests.
Toxic Disney Fans Swarm to Online Communities
In a world where everyone has a voice through social media which validates their thoughts and opinions, the Disney community has had no issue holding back when discussing their love for the company. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are full of small cohorts of Disney fans who belong to groups or private communities online, and although they are advertised as happy places, toxic on behavior is at the forfront of the interactions you’ll find. The initial idea for these groups on Facebook was to build one of on one of Disney’s core values, community. However, these groups can become more of a dumpster fire than a happy place when members disagree. In a world full of differing opinion and beliefs, these groups quickly get out of hand and turn ugly.
Foul language, demeaning comments, stalking profiles, and more have become common in online Disney communities. The displeasure and intolerance to differing ideas and opinions quickly become wildfire as Disney continues to involve itself in popular social issues of heated debate. This has forced a clear division between the Disney faithful. This division further leads to interactions completely unbecoming of Disney’s original vision for his Parks. What’s worse is that these attitudes and foul behaviors have left the semi-safe confines of social media and spilled over into Disney Parks. Mortifying behaviors and speech have infiltrated Walt’s happy places and are an aspect of visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World that now must be considered when planning a vacation.
Researchers Find Toxic Disney Fans Fascinating
The issue of cruel interactions among toxic Disney fans online is so prevalent that scholars from reputable universities have begun to study the behaviors. As Disney’s brand embodies positive ideals and values like happiness and joy, researchers have found that volatile social media groups who associate themselves with Disney are of interest. Their findings and opinions lend themselves to further models of sociology and psychology that explain some of the negativity associated with social media groups. In short, Disney fans are some of the worst when considering their proclivity to harass and demean others, specifically online.
“These kinds of conflicts usually end up turning on ideas about who are the real fans and what does real fandom look like or mean. That discoverability of online fan activity means that you’re kind of confronted by different conceptions of what it means to be a Disney fan or a Marvel fan or a gamer or whatever in a way that you might not have been if your fandom was limited by your own immediately available peers in your school or your city. ” says associate professor of communication and media study at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, Ben Woo.
In our experiences with Disney films, characters, and Parks, we develop our own concepts of what being a fan means. Anything outside of that belief becomes offensive and demands defense. Often, this defense is carried out in a verbally violent and abusive way by Disney fans online. Combined with the fact that Disney is an expert at creating personal experiences that we feel are unique only to us, it is easy for knowledgable Disney fans to lash out at others for simply asking questions. The subconscious feeling that Disney belongs to you, was made for you, gives the false attitude that it must be protected by you.
“It’s incredibly difficult to foster a community of Disney fans when everyone is focused on self-promotion or arguing about who knows more or whose way is right. It usually just devolves quickly into a showcase of the worst of humanity. Disney fans are a prideful group which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but when everyone is focused on the self rather than the community, it tends to become a narcissistic playground.”
“I think the pandemic has made people generally more angry about the little things,” Williams said. “I think people on social media started to become more divided anyway, and some of that spilled over; they’d never really been that vocal about their politics before [the 2016 election] on the Disney sites or on Twitter accounts.” says Rebecca Williams, senior lecturer in communication, culture, and media studies at the University of South Wales in the United Kingdom.
It does feel and look as if the division and frustration of Disney fans on social media has seen an uptick since the world closed its doors due to COVID-19. Although I’m personally not willing to blame poor behavior and lack of basic sympathy on a pandemic, I can understand how, in an increasingly frustrating life, COVID-19 does play a role in abusive attacks by irritable Disney fans. However, I don’t think it is fair to place the place blame solely on the pandemic as it deters personal responsibility for how we treat others online. We can research and try to understand all we want. Still, there is no excuse for the flat-out mean and deplorable behavior of many who could choose to simply not comment or try to be helpful instead of unnecessarily rude.
Experiencing Toxic Disney Fans Firsthand
Before writing for Disney Dining, I ran a smaller Disney Facebook group for two years. First-hand experience quickly taught me that I had bit off more than I could chew, as some members simply could not help but type away with a nasty retort to harmless posts. Of course, we would try our best to manage these individuals, but it quickly became a full-time job, and I had to walk away. The stress of attempting to bring a magical community to people was too much, and since then, the group has faded away. Considering that the basis of the Facebook group was to provide vicarious experience to those who couldn’t be at Walt Disney World or couldn’t afford it, I was frequently disgusted with the actions of people who were cruel simply for the sake of making others unhappy. To be honest, it turned me away from Disney for a while. To be even more transparent, many readers choose this approach when reacting and commenting on articles.
Sitting down and speaking to the admin of a popular Disney online community on Facebook yeilded similar thoughts and incidents. She echoed the difficulty in managing a group of toxic Disney fans who simply want to argue and prove that they know more than the next guy. Although it’s easily apparent in any Disney online group, it was surprising as her group is one of the more tame that I am a member of.
To research this article, I decided to join a few Disney groups on Facebook. Although I’m not an active member, I immediately noticed sarcastic or catty responses to simple questions. If someone asks about ticket prices, instead of offering a helpful answer, many Guests spend time responding with “Google exists; you should use it.” I can’t wrap my brain around the blatant decision to be mean instead of helpful. What’s worse is that instead of just scrolling, people, assumably miserable, took time out of their day to leave unhelpful, condescending responses.
Even more interesting, I found several Facebook groups, which will remain unnamed, organized to screenshot posts they deem stupid and worthy of mocking from other Disney communities. We’ve all seen ridiculous questions online, but to go out of your way to save someone’s post and share it in a Disney group dedicated to making fun of others is disguting behavior. It’s a solid benchmark of the disconnect we have as people. Empathy and sympathy for others are virtues of the past. At what point did we become so cruel? As Disney fans, shouldn’t we represent the values of the company that we love? Shouldn’t we try to be decent human beings?
Some of this ridicule comes from insecurity created by the judgment of other adults of the Disney community. Media, talk shows, podcasts, and so on have all created this idea that Disney Adults are irresponsible, obsessed, weirdos. There’s a clear attack against those who choose to enjoy Disney Parks, but why would anyone want to go on the offense about something we love? Better yet, why are people’s devotion to Disney in question? In a 2022 article, NPR equated Disney adults’ affection for Walt Disney World and Disneyland to religion. The connection is obviously made with negative connotations as the article was published at a time when debate raged online over the acceptance of so-called “Disney adults” and “Childless Millienails.” Although fandom can be excessive, would we refer to any other awkward religious choice with such condemnation?
I feel strongly that the negative outside perception of Disney fans has bled over into the fandom itself. Disney fans are no longer satisfied with defending their fandom to those outside of their community; they need to validate that they are bigger fans than others who share similar feelings. This could be due to the insecurity influenced by negative media coverage of Disney fans. When terminology like “epidemic of Disney adults, ” rule the headlines, or calling Disney Adults the “most terrifying people on the planet” for pageviews becomes the norm, it’s understandable that Disney fans would become defensive as the terminology is clearly based in negative connotation.
The idea that negative stigma and media opinion has strongly influenced the toxic culture found in online Disney groups is a popular explanation. However, it still doesn’t explain turning on fellow Disney fans or those with less knowledge. Rather, it doesn’t justify the behavior. Although some people are just cruel, it’s challenging to realize the entitlement some Disney group members feel and display is simply who they are. You can attribute the behavior to the environment or learned experience; it really doesn’t matter; some people are just nasty.
Typically, we refer to these individuals as trolls, but the difference is that within these toxic Disney groups, these people hide behind nothing but a phone or computer screen. In reality, what’s happening is that there is such a heavy passion or worship for Disney that those who spend their time on Disney social media platforms allow their pride to dictate their interactions. When someone challenges their views, things blow up. They can’t fathom the thought of someone not agreeing with their blind loyalty to the company. This is when the name-calling begins. If verbally assaulting you from behind the safety of a keyboard isn’t enough to deter you, it isn’t uncommon for some to go as far as researching your online profiles and calling supervisors. There have even been incidents of Disney fans private messaging loved ones of those they’d had an altercation with online.
When we define ourselves by something, we often hold ourselves as more valuable in the eyes of that product. This is true for all Disney online users but can be especially true for particular nasty Annual Passholder groups. Because we eat, breathe, and sleep everything, Disney, our opinion carries more weight in our minds and should be the end-all to any topic of discussion because we know more. These online braggarts need constant affirmation that they are better than those planning their first Disney trips because they go every weekend. I’ve dealt with egregious attitudes from toxic Disney group members who assumed I hadn’t seen certain attractions because I couldn’t remember their names. Crazy, right?
One of our writers explored the issue of toxic Disney fans two years ago, but it seems that things have become exacerbated since then. As the world turns and remains a divided mess, I don’t expect my words in this article to convict any enough to change their approach to online communities. I suspect these toxic Disney groups of Disney Adults will only continue to get worse at the expense of the mental health of their group members. As more and more groups pop up dedicated to the idea of making fun of people who love Splash Mountain and advocate for the ride’s legacy, that target obvious Guests with disabilities for open mockery or bully unsuspecting newbies who are simply trying to learn and plan their first trip, toxic Disney groups on Facebook and other social media sites will become nuclear hotspots for hatred and ridicule. It’s a definitive way to keep the negative headlines populating in search results.