(p. 10) On Nov. 20, ,I was relieved to hear the news that Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, had been fired and replaced with the former chief executive Robert Iger. The news was also met with near-unanimous celebration among my community of super fans.
While his ouster shocked investors and Hollywood, many in our community had been actively campaigning for Mr. Chapek’s firing for the past two years. A Change.org petition to fire Mr. Chapek that started in 2020 garnered over 117,000 signatures. (It now reads “Victory.”) Online forums teemed with complaints about Mr. Chapek’s management style and strategy.
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We also pushed to have Mr. Chapek fired because he didn’t believe in Disney magic. Disney is so much more than just another big business. Understanding that is crucial to its success.
When Walt Disney opened Disneyland, he referred to his theme park customers as “guests,” an understanding that is explicitly reinforced in Disney employee training to this day, and by which Disney’s theme park community refers to itself.
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What Mr. Chapek doesn’t understand is the role we fans play in creating the Disney magic. It is our Instagram accounts, our blogs and our websites that those out-of-towners refer to in order to prepare for that revenue-generating Disneyland trip. I get paid to do it, but many others do this work just because they love it. Mr. Chapek disregarded us.
Worse was the way Mr. Chapek treated “cast members,” as Disney’s park employees are known. The people who greet you at the park entrance, serve you food and get you safely on and off the rides have an enormous influence on the quality of your visit. I’ve talked to many cast members, from young people to older adults, about why they’re willing to wear polyester costumes in Florida’s summer heat for relatively low wages. To a person, they say something like, “I want to make people happy, and Disney is the best place to do that.”
So it was disheartening when, in September 2020, Mr. Chapek announced that the company was laying off 28,000 workers, most of them cast members. While many other businesses were laying off workers during that time, Mr. Chapek was also committing Disney to spending billions to ramp up content production for its Disney+ streaming service. As we saw it, Mr. Chapek viewed the incomes and health care of thousands of people — the people who make the magic — as less important than another season of “The Mandalorian.” Many cast members decided not to return to Disney’s parks when they reopened.
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(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 29, 2022, and has the same title as the print version. Where there is a slight difference in wording between versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)