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

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Apparently, PC doesn’t stand for Pirates of the Caribbean.

Though Disneyland’s mechanical pirates have reigned for 30 years as the featured attractions of one of the theme park’s most popular rides, they have become cannon fodder recently for critics who consider their pursuit of young maidens unseemly.

So Disneyland is giving the pirates the hook, at least temporarily, for a two-month overhaul of the ride during which design changes also will be made. When they reappear in March, the mechanical swashbucklers will still pillage and guzzle rum to their hearts’ content. But they will no longer chase skirts--exactly.

Instead, park officials announced Friday, the pirates will run after women who carry trays of food. On society’s scale of offensive vices, Disneyland apparently has decided that gluttony ranks well below lust.

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“We listen to our guests, and our guests have raised some concerns about that scene,” Disneyland spokesman Tom Brocato said. “We take our guests’ concerns, complaints and compliments very seriously.”

Change is no small matter at Disneyland, Brocato conceded, and the Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the park’s most revered rides, as well as one of the last to be closely supervised by Walt Disney himself.

But many customers presumably preferred treachery to lechery.

(No such controversy exists at Walt Disney World in Florida, where Pirates of the Caribbean have always chased the food, not the females.)

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Unaware of all this pirate-related tumult, park-goers lined up Friday for their last glimpse of the unrehabilitated buccaneers, who will be shut off from public view as of Monday.

“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.”

“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 at the pirates’ libidos. “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, agreed.

“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 altered.

Lest anyone think the pirates are the only ones who will be made to chase after food, the behavior of at least one mechanical female character is being similarly altered. In the past, the ride featured a heavyset woman, wielding a rolling pin and chasing a man. In March, the same woman will appear, without kitchen utensils, and the object of her desire will be carrying a ham.

Bad decision, said Cynthia Graff, president of the Costa Mesa-based Lindora Medical Clinic, a weightcontrol clinic, who questioned the wisdom of spoofing overeaters.

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“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.”

Given the Walt Disney Co.'s sensitivity to market trends, some social observers saw Friday’s announcement as clear evidence that women are gaining economic clout.

“It speaks to the power of women as consumers,” said Gordon Clanton, a sociologist at San Diego State University. “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.”

Judy B. Rosener, a professor in the graduate school of management at UC Irvine, hailed Disneyland’s 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?”

“In other words,” Clanton said, “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.”

But not everyone was ready to say, “Yo ho ho.”

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Critic John Simon, who has written extensively about the dangers of political correctness, ridiculed Disneyland.

“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.”

Come March, when the ride reopens, Disneyland still may not be rid of its pirate problem. One part of the ride depicts a skirt-hiking, red-haired woman being auctioned off, while pirates bid for her services.

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


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