DeSantis’s Attack on Disney Shows Desperation of Right-Wing Culture Warriors

Even as the far right has consolidated its power, rallying sizable numbers to attack fundamental civil and human rights, it’s nevertheless noticeable how, in mainstream popular culture, certain norms of representation have shifted dramatically over the last four decades. It’s striking that when scanning the commercials on an average TV network in 2022, no matter what is being sold — cars, jeans, breakfast cereals, vacations, those ready-made dinner boxes, booze, pet food — the actors in the ads of late are often people of color, and sometimes include queer couples. It isn’t every ad, but it’s a hell of a lot of themIt speaks to larger cultural shifts.

American culture has not reached a righteous plateau just because mixed-race and LGBTQ families and couples are prominently represented in TV ads. George Floyd, Breonna and all other people of color who were killed by the police are still dead. Large swathes of the population are still deeply ingrained in racism, sexism and homophobia. They are as American as apple pie or the Ford Motor Company. A multiracial family that sells Cheerios has barely made a dentIn the underlying systemic crises.

Right-wing culture warriors will be disappointed that some capitalist companies have to make a big deal about being multiracial or LGBTQ-inclusive. These companies are not boldly pursuing a just, progressive future with such endeavors. They are. Chase the moneyThey likely spent over a billion dollars on panel tests and experts to find out if they make more from running with these images than they lose. It is clear that the U.S. has made it easy and profitable to use BIPOC and/or LGBTQ actors for these ads.

There’s nothing heroic about it. Advertisers follow the same morally depressing formula car companies use when deciding whether to issue a recall. Are lawsuits for crashes caused by the defective part more expensive than the recall? If the recall is more expensive, they don’t do it, because they actually save money getting sued. This kind of thinking is how the word “business” became a slur in the mouths of millions: First, it’s all about the money. After that, it’s all about the money. The money is what matters in the end.

This cynical view can be comforting to right-wing culture warriors. They correctly see that trends are fixed in cement if they are left unchecked for too long. Their long-smoldering racist nightmare of being “replaced” crashes headlong into their deep-seated confirmation bias every time one of these ads appears on their screen.

These people have attacked large multinational corporations that have dared to suggest that Black lives matter (generally to make a buck).

I’m so old, I remember when conservatives were the defenders of big business. Now? These corporations also have to pass a right-bent purity exam, or the dogs will start barking in their yard.

Florida is a place where nothing is strange. Chris Walker TruthoutThe ground on which the latest clash of cultures erupted in March was explained:

The Parental Rights in Education bill, which LGBTQ activists and allies have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed in the Florida Senate by a vote of 22 to 17. Two Republican senators voted against the legislation, joining all Democratic lawmakers.

If the bill is passed, it will ban discussions on LGBTQ topics in primary schools and set strict limits on what can or cannot be discussed in high school. It would also allow parents to sue school districts if information about their children is withheld, or if instruction on LGBTQ topics is not “age-appropriate.”

After much hemming, hawing, the Disney Corporation voted against the bill when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into legislation, promising among other things to stop making donations to Republicans who support the bill. Florida’s congressional Republicans rose in high dudgeon, flashed a whole new bill meant to punish Disney through the legislative process, and slapped it on Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk for final signature. Among other things, the anti-Disney bill ends that corporation’s decades-old virtual autonomy in Florida, and puts local residents on the hook for billions in taxes that would otherwise have been covered by the company.

The culture warriors aren’t letting their guard down either. The most bizarre and dangerous line of anti-Disney rhetoric casts the company as a giant corporate pedophile ring seeking to “groom” children for their inevitable sexual exploitation. It’s no coincidence that this rhetoric matches that of QAnon, a conspiracy group that accuses pedophiles both of running Hollywood and the Democratic Party. This is not a bug; it’s a feature — the platform the GOP intends to run on in 2022.

There are many complications that can arise from this bizarre squabble. DeSantis? violated Disney’s First Amendment rights with this punitive attack? Is a First Amendment defense sufficient to support the legal fiction of corporate entity? Will the courts uphold the legislation? The Florida GOP and DeSantis passed this bill in the grandstands knowing that it would not be challenged in court. This saved DeSantis the trouble of explaining why he just imposed more than a billion dollars in taxes on two of his counties. Is there any concern about imposing vicious attacks on a giant institution that is loved by millions and has its own megaphone, which is approximately the same size as Jupiter?

Even more concerning, is this the new normal for GOP? “Other members of that New Right movement recently told me they envision a ramped-up use of the state to impose a post-liberal moral order, justified by hyperbolic visions of the supposedly hegemonic power of the left over our institutions,” writes Greg Sargent for The Washington Post. “Meanwhile, GOP elected officials seem to be moving this way. Congressional Republicans have vowed retaliation against companies for opposing Georgia’s voter suppression bill and for cooperating with the congressional investigation into Trump’s coup attempt. And DeSantis is a front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.”

There is also the possibility of blowback against DeSantis or his crew. There’s a South Park episodeDeSantis should have viewed the episode before he signed the anti-Disney bill on Saturday afternoon. In the episode, beloved cartoon character Mickey Mouse is revealed as a ruthless and violent tyrant who beats the boy-band Jonas Brothers bloody for refusing to wear “purity rings” onstage. When his will is eventually thwarted, Mickey shrinks to the size and flight of a blimp. He then rains fire and destruction upon those who flee for their lives below.

I was curious if DeSantis would meet the Mickey Mouse version that ran over the Jonas Brothers after he signed the bill. South Park Disney Corporation is no small wheel in Florida, the largest single-place employer in the U.S. at 80,000 workers, and the crown jewel of Florida’s vital multi-billion-dollar tourist industry. Companies like that don’t need to leave the building to destroy a governor who gets out of line, much less transform into a Cthulhu-like engine of destruction. It usually takes just a few phone calls to accomplish the task.

The right wing, however, is its own institution in this country. And as the last several years have told us, ruthless and violent tyrants aren’t always thwarted in the end.