Disneyland in the ‘90s: A PC Life for Me


When they reappear in March after a two-month “rehabilitation,” the Pirates of the Caribbean will continue to drink, pillage, shoot off guns and look menacing--but, Disneyland officials said Friday, no longer will they chase terrified village maidens merely for the sheer, sexist joy of it.

Instead, the pirates that have constituted one of the most popular attractions at the park for three decades will chase women who are carrying trays of food, to make it appear as though gluttony and not wanton lust is their motivation.

The point is to make the ride more politically correct, Disneyland spokesman Tom Brocato said Friday. “We listen to our guests, and our guests have raised some concerns about that scene,” he said. “We take our guests’ concerns, complaints and compliments very seriously.”


And the reconfigured ride will be gender-fair to both sexes. The cool, cave-like ride now features a heavyset woman wielding a rolling pin and chasing a man. On March 7, the woman will still chase the man but without her rolling pin, and the man--who is now merely being chased for his body--will carry a ham.

“It’s becoming less of a scene of lust than one of gluttony,” Brocato said.

So what comes next? Conflict resolution classes for the pirates that blast cannons at each other across the water? Twelve-step programs for the buccaneers swilling straight from the bottle?


Change is a serious matter at Disneyland, Brocato said, where Pirates of the Caribbean is known as one of the park’s longest rides, one of its most adored, one of the oldest and one of the last closely supervised by the late founder of the park, Walt Disney himself.

Park-goers lined up Friday for one of the last days of the old, lecherous pirates, which will be shut from public view Monday for a two-month mechanical overhaul, during which the design changes also will be made.

“I think it’s rather ridiculous,” said Virginia Holtz, 71, of Villa Park. “This is supposed to depict pirates the way they were and what they did. They’re pirates. They chase women.”

No such changes are necessary at Walt Disney World in Florida, whose Pirates of the Caribbean opened with the pirates chasing the food, not the women.


Given Disney’s conservatism and the major corporation status of the enterprise that bears his name, one commentator perceived Friday’s news as growing evidence not only of changing times but also of the power of women as consumers.

Gordon Clanton, a sociologist at San Diego State, speculated that economics was far more the underlying cause for the change than any sense of sensitivity on Disney’s part.

“It speaks to the power of women as consumers,” Clanton said. “One can imagine women who would be offended by the old depiction, just as blacks are offended by Amos and Andy and Stepin Fetchit. The irony is, Disneyland is hardly on the cutting edge of political correctness, so it shows that we’re arriving at a kind of consensus in society.

“In other words, this isn’t coming from radical, lesbian feminists. This is coming from Disneyland. It shows--progressively so, I think--that the tendency to rid ourselves of demeaning images and bad role models is becoming far more mainstream than maybe any of us realized.”

Judy B. Rosener, a professor in the graduate school of management at nearby UC Irvine, hailed the decision, calling it a concession to civility and good taste.

“I think it’s great,” Rosener said. “It’s Disney taking a nice little step in the direction of a more civil society. It’s Disney saying they can entertain you but it doesn’t have to be in a stereotypical way.

“And I say phooey on these people who believe it somehow compromises an accurate depiction of pirates. Actually, pirates raped women. Are we supposed to show that?”

But not everyone regarded the decision as progressive.

Critic John Simon, who has openly deplored cross-cultural casting in the theater and who has written extensively about what he calls the dangers of political correctness, saw the move as ridiculous.

“It’s worse than silly, it’s imbecility,” Simon said from his home in New York. “I must say, I’m surprised by it, though. I thought pirates had become so respectable that I would think you’d now have the women running toward them with plates of food.”

Park visitor Eric Nelson, 32, of Laguna Beach said that the obese woman chasing the man seemed to qualify, in his words, as gender equity, and that thus, no change was warranted.

“I don’t think it really portrays anything bad,” said Chris Watkins, 28, of Salt Lake City.

Roslyn Fraser, 42, a visitor from Sydney, Australia, confessed to lifting an eyebrow while watching the libidinous pirates chasing the helpless lasses.

“As I was going through, I saw the humor in it, but I remember thinking that it’s not politically correct anymore,” she said.

Ross Fraser, 46, her husband, saluted the changes as a good idea.

“The image that it evokes in my mind is that of rape and pillage,” he said. “So I think it’s probably a better deal” that the scene will be modified, albeit subtly.

The question in some observers’ minds was whether Disneyland might not be entering a PC minefield, trading in one offense for another.

Cynthia Graff, president of the Costa Mesa-based Lindora Medical Clinic, a weight-control operation, said Friday that she was concerned the park was trading one bad stereotype for another.

“If it were a skinny woman chasing after the man holding food, I could understand that she may have hunger,” Graff said. “But with an overly plump woman, then, it’s the old stereotype of the obese woman out of control. If what Disney is trying to do is bring sensitivity to gender issues, well, substituting food as the solution to the problem may present another problem.”

And in the view of some critics, the proposed changes only seemed to pose the question of why chasing women was forbidden, but selling them was OK. One part of Pirates of the Caribbean features a skirt-hiking, red-haired woman being auctioned off, as the lustful pirates bid for her services.

Asked about that scene, Brocato simply sighed and said, “Uh, no. . . . It appears as though that will stay. There are no current plans to change that.”