The Walt Disney Company Censors Homer Simpson’s Calling Mao “A Little Angel That Killed 50 Million People”

June 3, 2022 was the 33rd anniversary of the massacre of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square by the Chinese Communists.

(p. A4) HONG KONG — An episode of “The Simpsons” that ridicules Chinese government censorship appears to have been censored on Disney’s newly launched streaming service in Hong Kong, adding to fears about the shrinking space for free expression and criticism in this city.

Other episodes of the show are available on Disney+, which made its much-anticipated debut in Hong Kong this month. But in season 16, the archive skips directly from episode 11 to episode 13, omitting episode 12, “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” in which the Simpson family travels to Beijing.

There, they visit the embalmed body of Mao Zedong, whom Homer Simpson calls “a little angel that killed 50 million people.” In another scene, the family passes through Tiananmen Square, where a plaque says “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened” — a jab at the Chinese government’s attempts to suppress public memory of the massacre, in which the army opened fire on students and other pro-democracy protesters.

. . .

. . . Disney pre-emptively censored itself, said Grace Leung, an expert in media regulation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Disney obviously sent out a clear signal to the local audience that it will remove controversial programs in order to please” the Chinese government, Dr. Leung said. “Their credibility will definitely be hurt.”

. . .

In Hong Kong, the “Simpsons” episode is not the only creative work to come under scrutiny for touching on Tiananmen Square.

Ahead of the opening this month of M+, a major new art museum in Hong Kong, lawmakers called for a ban on a photograph by Ai Weiwei, perhaps China’s most famous artist, who is now living in exile. In the photograph, which the museum has since removed from its online archive, Mr. Ai is raising his middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square.

The University of Hong Kong has ordered the removal of “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture commemorating the massacre that has stood on campus for over 20 years.

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “‘Simpsons’ Trip to Beijing Is Missing in Hong Kong.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 29, 2021, and has the title “A ‘Simpsons’ Episode Lampooned Chinese Censorship. In Hong Kong, It Vanished.” Where there is a slight difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

30,000 Tourists Find the Longest Queue at Shanghai Disney Is for Covid-19 Test

(p. A1) More than 30,000 visitors to the Shanghai Disneyland theme park were kept within the park’s gates on Sunday [October 31, 2021] and forced to undergo Covid-19 testing after a customer tested positive for the virus, a move that underscores China’s eradication efforts.

With fireworks exploding above them as they awaited nasal swabs, the Disney visitors became the latest Chinese residents to experience life under a “zero tolerance” policy for the virus enforced by their country’s government. Leaders there have taken stringent measures to contain pockets of the coronavirus in the country, despite criticism from business groups and a close to 80% vaccination rate.

“I never thought that the longest queue in Disneyland would be for a nucleic acid test,” one visitor said on social media.

(p. A6) Disney’s gargantuan mainland park—home to a Tomorrowland, Gardens of Imagination and Mickey Avenue—turned into a giant testing site late into Sunday evening, with guests required to be tested before being allowed to leave. The last visitor walked out at 10:30 p.m., said a Walt Disney Co. spokesman. Disney, which is a minority owner in the resort and has seen a spectrum of responses to Covid-19 at its parks around the world, had to comply with China’s local protocols, said the spokesman.

The shutdown on Sunday illustrates the lack of control Disney and other Western firms have in China, especially as officials work to clamp down Covid-19 outbreaks. The world’s largest entertainment company has yet to see park attendance return to pre-pandemic levels, and Sunday’s shutdown highlights the difficulties of reopening the global tourism economy while the threat of outbreaks still looms.

. . .

The mass testing proved a surreal scene. Videos shared by guests on social media showed swarms of people—many dressed up in Halloween costumes—queuing up for tests before they could leave. One showed the Disney evening fireworks erupting behind workers in hazmat suits conducting tests for park visitors.

For the full story, see:

Natasha Khan and Erich Schwartzel. “China Pens 30,000 Visitors In Park After Covid-19 Case.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, November 2, 2021): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 1, 2021, and has the title “China Locks 30,000 Visitors Inside Shanghai Disneyland After Covid-19 Case.”)

Could Amateur Investors Return the Walt Disney Company to the Principles of Walt Disney?

I wonder what amateur investors could do if they had more serious motives than hatred of elite short-sellers? What if they had the motive, for example, of returning the Walt Disney Company to the principles of Walt Disney? I do not endorse the ambiguity (how much fictional and how much nonfictional) of the book reviewed below. But the GameStop and AMC episodes are intriguing proofs-of-concept.

(p. A15) Until late last year, GameStop was a typical and not very successful corporation. The company sold videogames through a chain of retail outlets and lost money on every sale. But its stock caught the interest of small investors who traded on Robinhood, a mobile trading app, and the stock began to levitate.

From single digits in October 2020 the stock price doubled to 20 late last year. Then, over a few manic days in January, it vaulted “like a lid flying off a pot,” as Ben Mezrich puts it in “The Antisocial Network.” It went up to 77, then 148, then 348 and then an intraday high of 483—at which point GameStop was worth more than $30 billion. Briefly, it was the most heavily traded issue on the stock market.

The source of the mayhem was, to borrow from the book’s subtitle, “a ragtag group of amateur traders.” Few of the devotees who flocked to GameStop thought of themselves as even armchair security analysts. They were infected by crowd psychology and, in some cases, driven by the hope that the high price would punish well-to-do short sellers.

. . .

Even when the price hit the stratosphere, retail buyers professed not to be worried. They would “never” sell; they weren’t concerned with the possibility of losing money. “Oh im [sic] fully aware that I may end up a bagholder,” went one post. “But it’s worth being a bagholder to stick it to those Wall Street f—s who’ve gamed the system for so long at our expense.”

To Mr. Mezrich, such fulminations suggest that a revolution is a-coming. His thesis is vented in excited metaphors. The “pillars” of Wall Street are shaking; Melvin Capital faces an “existential moment” (which, actually, it survived); angry traders constitute a “millennial version of the French Revolution.”

A little of this gas comes from investors; most of it is supplied by Mr. Mezrich. “The Antisocial Network” is built on scenes that the author has re-created; quotation marks, in the main, are conveniently absent. He writes of one novice but gung-ho investor, who worked in a hair salon: “She believed something deeper was happening.” Did she say that? Is it a paraphrase? Is it what Mr. Mezrich thinks she believed?

For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. “BOOKSHELF; Let Them Eat Shorts.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 07, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 6, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Antisocial Network’ Review: Let Them Eat Shorts.”)

The book under review is:

Mezrich, Ben. The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2021.

Disney’s “Goo Goo Gai Pan” Simpsons Episode is Censored or Self-Censored in Hong Kong

(p. B4) HONG KONG—The absence of an episode of “The Simpsons” from Walt Disney Co. ’s streaming service in Hong Kong is raising concerns about rising censorship in the Chinese territory.

Disney launched its streaming service, Disney+, earlier in November in Hong Kong featuring an array of programming owned by the entertainment giant, including 32 seasons of the animated comedy series.

Yet one episode is missing from “The Simpsons” lineup: Titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” the episode from season 16 centers on a trip to China by the show’s namesake family. Along the way they encounter a plaque at Tiananmen Square in Beijing that reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

The episode also features a reference to the iconic “Tank Man” photo, in which a man stands in front of a column of tanks after the military moved in to crush student-led protests on June 4, 1989.

It isn’t known if Disney removed the episode under pressure, or whether it decided itself to leave the episode out of its lineup when it launched the Disney+ service in Hong Kong earlier in November. Representatives for Disney didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Office of the Communications Authority, which oversees broadcasters in the city, declined to comment.

The episode’s absence fuels concerns about rising censorship in Hong Kong, and the extent to which Western companies are under pressure to assist in the effort or to self-censor following the imposition of a sweeping national security law by Beijing last year that has stamped out dissent across the city.

For the full story, see:

Dan Strumpf. “Missing ‘Simpsons’ Episode in Hong Kong Fuels Censorship Fears.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 29, 2021, and has the title “Disney’s Missing ‘Simpsons’ Episode in Hong Kong Raises Censorship Fears.”)

Xi’s Micromanaging “Zero Covid” Policy Hurting Chinese Economic Growth

(p. A1) Earlier this year, Xi Jinping issued brief instructions to education officials in Beijing. China’s leader wanted to reform the country’s $100 billion private tutoring industry, which the state worried was helping well-to-do families gain advantages for their offspring and creating anxiety among families that couldn’t afford the help.

Education officials drafted a plan that included new limits on tutoring for children up to the equivalent of ninth grade, said people familiar with the effort.

The plan was too soft, Mr. Xi said, in a one-sentence note to the education ministry, according to the people.

Scrambling to please him, the ministry expanded the limits to include students up to the equivalent of 12th grade. In addition, it required all private education companies to re-register as nonprofits.

The more extreme rules, issued in July [2021], triggered panic selling that erased tens of billions of dollars from the value of education com-(p. A14)panies listed on U.S. and Hong Kong stock exchanges. Officials from the China Securities Regulatory Commission hastily scheduled meetings with foreign investors to calm them down, according to people familiar with the conversations, and promised that Beijing would consider market impact before introducing future policies.

The episode is just one example of Mr. Xi’s evolving management style as the Chinese president consolidates control of the world’s second-largest economy. He is widely considered the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation. He is also a micromanager who intervenes often, unpredictably and sometimes vaguely in policy matters big and small.

. . .

Behind the scenes, many officials question some of Mr. Xi’s decisions.

In late July [2021], a Covid-19 outbreak caused more than 1,200 infections after months of nearly zero reported cases. Some central government officials, eyeing other countries, suggested it might be time for China to stop its strategy of pursuing “zero Covid” and learn to live with the virus, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Xi was furious, said people familiar with the issue. In a note to underlings, he asked if officials were becoming “lax and numbed” in fighting the virus, according to these people and to state media reports. “Zero Covid” would remain the policy.

Local officials intensified their efforts. In late October [2021], they locked more than 30,000 visitors into Shanghai Disneyland and forced them to undergo Covid-19 tests after one customer tested positive. Authorities temporarily shut one of China’s biggest container ports after a single case, hurting global supply chains.

China’s economic growth slowed to 4.9% in the third quarter from the previous quarter’s 7.9% rate. Economists have said China’s zero-tolerance pandemic measures, including lockdowns of residential compounds and cancellations of public events, are likely to have a significant impact on China’s growth if they don’t succeed in snuffing out the virus soon.

Some local government officials have warned against “excessive pandemic prevention” measures, according to speeches quoted on websites. Yet officials keep pressing, fearful they might be punished if a Covid-19 case emerged in their area.

. . .

Mr. Xi later “personally planned, personally proposed, personally deployed and promoted” the development of Xiongan, a new “eco-city,” out of farmland about 60 miles from Beijing, according to state media, and urged state firms to move there. Despite billions of dollars of investment, it hasn’t matched the quick success of Deng-era special economic zones such as Shenzhen.

To comply with the new regulatory regime for after-school tutoring this year, education companies have laid off tens of thousands of employees, including teachers. Given the impact on the industry, officials have been enforcing the rules on tutoring for children only up to the equivalent of ninth grade—as originally proposed.

. . .

“Some only act when the party’s central leadership has instructed them to do so,” Mr. Xi said in a speech to the party’s top disciplinary officials last January, made public only recently. He complained that many officials aren’t competent to deal with complicated issues, and that if he didn’t issue so many instructions, little would get done.

“I issue instructions as a last line of defense,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Josh Chin. “Xi Jinping’s Style: Micromanagement.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the December 15, 2021, and has the title “Xi Jinping’s Leadership Style: Micromanagement That Leaves Underlings Scrambling.”)

Musk Wants to Use His Billions “to Get Humanity to Mars”

(p. B1) In the negotiations over President Biden’s infrastructure bill, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the Finance Committee, proposed the idea of a tax on billionaires specifically. Thursday morning, Mr. Biden announced his framework for paying for the bill, which promised additional taxes on the income of “the wealthiest 0.02 percent of Americans.”

Mr. Wyden’s proposed tax will likely never make it into law.

. . .

(p. B5) Elon Musk, in a tweet, seemed to come out against the proposal. “Eventually, they run out of other people’s money and then they come for you,” he wrote. It is fairly safe to say that Mr. Musk will never run out of money. A back-of-the-envelope calculation from Forbes’s real-time net worth tracker suggests that he could spend $1 million a year for 100,000 years and still have more money than Bill Gates, with an estimated $136.2 billion.

. . .

Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney and a longtime critic of income inequality, said in an interview that she believes the immense displays of wealth by the country’s richest during the pandemic — particularly the ostentatiousness of last summer’s space race — helped foster a serious discussion about the tax burdens on billionaires.

. . .

In comments denouncing the proposed billionaire tax, Mr. Manchin described the ultrawealthy as people who “create a lot of jobs and invest a lot of money and give a lot to philanthropic pursuits.”

That was an implicit endorsement of the idea, often repeated in discussions around high-net worth giving, that regular people pay taxes while rich people pursue philanthropy, giving not to the Treasury but to their preferred causes. “My plan is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness,” Mr. Musk said in a subsequent tweet in response to the tax proposal.

“That idea that ‘it’s my money and I should decide what to do with it’ is very dominant, and it goes along with the culture of individualism that allows people to feel that they’ve done this on their own and haven’t benefited from social goods like roads and education and laws,” Professor Sherman said.

Ms. Disney, who is an active member of the Patriotic Millionaires, said she sees that thinking as a primary obstacle to raising taxes on the richest Americans. “Billionaires may be brilliant — and I don’t doubt Elon Musk’s I.Q. — but they don’t do anything on their own,” she said. She also questioned the prevailing wisdom among the country’s wealthiest that they know best and the government shouldn’t be trusted with their money.

“The last time I was in the Bay Area, I went walking in the marina and saw seven consecutive boats named after characters from Ayn Rand,” Ms. Disney said. “They need to come to their senses.”

For the full story, see:

Nicholas Kulish, Ephrat Livni and Emma Goldberg. “Billionaires Of America Are Thriving.” The New York Times (Friday, October 29, 2021): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 2, 2021, and has the title “Who Are America’s Billionaires, Anyway?”)

Disney’s Imagineers “Brain Trust” Leaving California for Florida’s “Business Friendly Climate”

(p. B3) Disney executives told roughly 2,000 workers in Southern California—including many members of its famed Imagineers force—that their jobs would be moving to a new campus in Orlando.

. . .

Though Disney’s narrative on Wall Street has lately focused on its streaming efforts, any change to the parks that are beloved by consumers and protected by employees carries symbolic resonance.

That is especially true for the Imagineers, which have become one of Disney’s most revered and mysterious workforces. Since their founding in the mid-20th century, the Imagineers have been credited by fans and Walt Disney himself with innovating some of the signature touches found in Disney theme parks, including beyond traditional entertainment.

. . .

The costly nature of Disney’s new office points to the sophistication of the tech operations moving there. The Imagineers in particular have come to be known as a Disney brain trust, with new employees joining from Google Inc. or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

As the scope of Disney’s parks division has grown, smaller groups of Imagineers have been based in Florida, Shanghai and other parts of the world. With this most recent announcement, the largest concentration of Imagineers will no longer be based in Southern California for the first time since their founding.

Imagineer projects have included the Haunted Mansion and Soarin’ Around the World as well as newer additions such as the Avengers Campus and a “Zootopia”-themed land. Employees are immersed in the Imagineer way: to constantly “plus” their work—that is, make every detail a bit better—and think of each project in a “blue sky” way with no limitations.

Josh D’Amaro, the Disney executive overseeing the relocation, recently ended a parks presentation with a clip of Imagineers watching a walking robotic “Groot” from the film “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And then he wielded a “Star Wars” lightsaber.

“It’s real,” he added, two words that sent online fandoms into frantic speculation over what the Imagineers were cooking up. Patent applications routinely stream out of the division, many dissected by parks disciples for clues about what changes might be afoot.

In announcing the change, Mr. D’Amaro, head of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division since May 2020, said the decision didn’t come lightly since he had moved his own family across the country while climbing Disney’s ranks. He cited Florida’s business-friendly climate in announcing the move and pointed out to employees that the state offered a lower cost of living with no state income tax.

For the full story, see:

Erich Schwartzel “Disney Magic Makers to Relocate.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 24, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 23, 2021, and has the title “Disney Looks to Relocate Its Theme-Park Magic Makers to Florida.” Where there is a slight difference in wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)

The Walt Disney Company Cheats Scarlett Johansson

Walt Disney is one of my heroes. The current Walt Disney Company is not.

(p. B1) The fight between actress Scarlett Johansson and Walt Disney Co. over her contract for the movie “Black Widow” has a new participant: the powerful Creative Artists Agency, which represents Ms. Johansson and many of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

On Thursday, Ms. Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney alleging her contract was breached when the company decided to put “Black Widow” on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time it was released in movie theaters.

. . .

“They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global Covid pandemic,” CAA Co-Chairman Bryan Lourd said in a statement.

Mr. Lourd blasted Disney for releasing details of Ms. Johansson’s salary and for attempting to tie (p. B2) her lawsuit to the pandemic. Disney “included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of,” he added.

Mr. Lourd said Disney’s response to Ms. Johansson is an attack on her character that is “beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades.”

. . .

“They have very deliberately moved the revenue stream and profits to the Disney+ side of the company, leaving artistic and financial partners out of their new equation. That’s it, pure and simple,” Mr. Lourd said.

For the full story, see:

Joe Flint. “Johansson’s Agent Rips Disney Over Film Flap.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 31, 2021): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2021, and has the title “Scarlett Johansson’s Agent Rips Disney Over ‘Black Widow’ Dispute.”)

Video of Diamond Q&A on Innovation Unbound Posted to YouTube

On 3/17/21 Derek Yonai posted my 3/16/21 live Q&A session related to my “Innovation Unbound” lecture that was recorded on 3/1/21 and posted on 3/9/21. Some of my lecture and some of my answers in the Q&A, were related to my book:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Disney Cancels Canaro for Daring to Defend Free Speech

(p. B2) Lucasfilm said it is no longer working with Gina Carano after the actress’s social-media posts angered fans.

Ms. Carano played the character Cara Dune on “The Mandalorian,” a television series inspired by the Star Wars franchise that is available to stream on Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ service. Lucasfilm is a unit of Disney.

“Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future,” a spokeswoman for the studio said. “Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

On Tuesday [Feb. 9, 2021], Ms. Carano shared an Instagram story, or a post that disappears, that read in part: “most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views,” according to a report in Variety on Wednesday [Feb. 10, 2021].

For the full story, see:

Micah Maidenberg. “‘Mandalorian’ Drops Actress Over Her Posts.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb 12, 2021): B2.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 11, 2021, and has the title “‘The Mandalorian’ Drops Actress Gina Carano Over Social-Media Posts.”)

Early Animation “Followed Only One Rule”: “Anything Goes”

(p. C5) The story of Disney Studios is a central strand in Mitenbuler’s narrative; Disney became the formidable force that the other animation studios would look toward, compete with and rail against. Max Fleischer, whose studio was responsible for the likes of Popeye and Betty Boop, groused that Disney’s “Snow White,” released in 1937, was “too arty.”  . . .  The wife of one of the Fleischer brothers, though, said they had better watch out: “Disney is doing art, and you guys are still slapping characters on the butt with sticks!”

But what if those slapped butts were part of what had made animation so revolutionary in the first place? Mitenbuler suggests as much, beginning “Wild Minds” with the early days of animation, in the first decades of the 20th century, when the technology of moving pictures was still in its infancy. Like the movie business in general, the field of animation contained few barriers to entry, and a number of Jewish immigrants shut out from other careers found they could make a decent living working for a studio or opening up their own. Even Disney, who grew up in the Midwest, was an outsider without any connections.

The work created in those early decades was often gleefully contemptuous of anything that aspired to good taste. Until the movie studios started self-censoring in the early ’30s, in a bid to avoid government regulation, animators typically followed only one rule to the letter: Anything goes.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Ehh, What’s Animation, Doc?” The New York Times (Thursday, December 17, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 16, 2020, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: ‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye and the First Golden Age of Animation.”)

The book under review is:

Mitenbuler, Reid. Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.