“Cut off the Disney Channel. Cancel your park trip or your cruise if one is planned. If you own Disney stock, sell it,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick advised his constituents in April. Though it pained him to let go of his nostalgic affection for the children’s entertainment behemoth, Disney’s efforts to “indoctrinate the children of America with their radical ‘woke’ views” forced his hand.
Patrick wasn’t alone. The Walt Disney Company’s decision to wade into the debate around Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual- and gender-identity issues through third grade, captured the American right’s attention and roused its fury. Disney CEO Bob Chapek confessed at the time that the firm’s employees and shareholders were “upset that we didn’t speak out against the bill.” So they committed to, as he said, “reassessing our approach to advocacy.” Conservative activists objected to the entertainment company’s intervention in a live culture war and set out to impose costs on the firm. “Boycott Disney!” protesters chanted outside the firm’s Burbank, California, headquarters. “Disney is demonic,” their signage read. “Disney, stop sexualizing our kids!” The right’s crusade culminated in victory when Florida’s legislature voted to strip the Walt Disney World Resort of its status as one of the state’s more than 1,800 special districts—effective next year.
Over the spring, the furor felt overwhelming. The “boycott Disney” movement was a potent force online, and the accompanying demonstrations in the streets suggested that a historic cultural moment was upon us. The company alienated the right, so right-leaning politicians exacted a toll from the firm. The “new Republican Party” showed it didn’t just talk a good game, and Disney took it on the chin. At least, it seemed that way at the time. But the company’s quarterly earnings tell another story.
On Wednesday, Disney reported a staggering 72 percent increase in revenue from its parks year over year. Attendance has neared or exceeded pre-pandemic levels despite soaring consumer costs. The company’s on-site hotels and cruises are up, running, and booking reservations. The streaming service Disney+ also outperformed expectations. The service has eclipsed Netflix’s total number of paying subscribers and is still on track to achieve profitability by 2024. Even as the streaming model itself teeters, and investors in that sector demand returns on their investments, Disney’s backers are satisfied with the company’s trajectory. “Revenue rose 26 percent year on year to $21.5 [billion] in the quarter, and net profit rose 53 percent to $1.4 [billion],” the Financial Times reported. “Disney’s earnings per share of $1.09 were ahead of Wall Street estimates of 96 cents.” Bob Chapek’s contract as Disney’s CEO has been renewed.
Florida’s shot across Disney’s bow did seem to shock the company and others like it into veering back into their lane—at least, for now. But the company has every reason to believe it will not lose the benefits it derives from providing municipal services in the 25,000-acre “improvement district” it operates in Orange and Osceola counties.
“The plan for Reedy Creek will be shared in the next few weeks,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, in late April. But by the end of July, no such plan had been released to the public. Some speculated that Tallahassee was unlikely to produce a plan that foisted the tax burden and municipal obligations formerly shouldered by Disney onto local residents, nor would it play a game of chicken with the district’s $1 billion in outstanding municipal bonds. That speculation was well-founded.
Late last month, Florida’s director of the state’s division of bond finance, Ben Watkins, revealed that state lawmakers are likely to establish a slightly more limited version of that special district in the next legislative session. Limited how? “The new district won’t have some of the powers previously granted that were never used,” Bloomberg News reported, “such as operating a nuclear power plant.”
It is safe to assume that the angry Americans on the right who set out on this crusade did not do so with the goal of preventing Walt Disney World Resort from achieving nuclear fission. They wanted to advance their cultural interests and impose pain on their opponents. They wanted Disney’s shareholders to suffer, its leadership discredited, and its products to stop promoting culturally progressive themes. The right’s cultural warriors certainly did advance their cultural objectives. They have not, however, seen their enemies driven before them; and the lamentations of their women are, so far, fairly muted. Disney’s shareholders and leadership have not suffered financial hardships, and the company’s commitment to supporting progressive causes seems as firm as ever.
Is this a loss for the right’s culture warriors? Not if they properly understand their own objectives and the limits of the tools at their disposal. By wielding the mechanisms of the state, DeSantis and Florida’s Republicans have established that there are consequences for firms that sacrifice their core competency to satisfy would-be activists in their ranks. The right demonstrated to actors in the private sector that acting like a left-wing pressure group will ensure that you’re treated like a left-wing pressure group. If, however, the right hoped to “Destroy Disney,” it’s failed miserably. Indeed, such an unrealistic objective was doomed from the outset.