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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Florida Short Reviews, Part Three

Carl Hiaassen Team Rodent: How Disney Devours The World

Carl Hiaassen doesn't like Disney. At all. Not even the tiniest bit. A native Floridian with roots stretching back several generations, Hiaassen sees the Walt Disney Corporation's Disney World theme park and resort as one of the absolute centers of the 'development'/despoilation of Florida. So, he wrote this short, 100-page polemic against the company. An old-fashioned impassioned rant, this is a real shock to the system for those of us who were raised with Disney's products as part of our childhood cultural ecosystem.

"It's not surprising that one company was able to change the face of Forty-Second Street, when that same company changed the face of an entire state, Florida, where I live...The worst damage isn't from the Walt Disney World resort itself (which is undeniably clean, well operated, and relatively safe) or even from the tourists (although an annual stampede of forty million Griswolds cannot help but cut an untidy swath). The absolute worst thing did was to change how people in Florida thought about money; nobody had ever dreamed there could be so much...Merely by showing up, Disney had dignified blind greed in a state pioneered by undignified greedheads." (p.5)

In the course of this rant, Hiassen's writing is as entertaining as you'd expect. The man couldn't write a dull sentence if he tried. His background as a muck-raking investigative journalist in South Florida (a virtual paradise for those seeking corporate and political sleaze) serves him well here. Did you know that Florida legislators bequeathed unto Disney a de facto autonomous state after Disney had anonymously bought up 24,000 acres of rural land in central Florida? The Reedy Creek Improvement District, a municipality that 'officially' has nothing to do with Disney (although the two are one and the same), runs its own utilities, administers its own planning and zoning, has its own building code, inspectors, security force and fire department and could, if it wanted to, build its own international airport and nuclear power plant. He also uncovers instances of choice sleaze that Disney, fanatically obsessed with privacy as it is, attempted to cover up, including the tale of the young costume assistant who would secretly videotape the changing rooms for the Cinderella's Castle dancers while bashing one out.

"One phone call to the local sheriff's office could have ended the peep show, but Disney security officers chose to conduct their own surveillance, which went on for three months. According to court records, the company deliberately didn't inform the women at the castle about the investigation, and in fact permitted the secret taping to continue...Disney acknowledged it didn't tell the performers they were being spied on, buy the company said it acted properly. Moreover, the company preposterously claimed the dancers had no cause to sue, because they had "a diminished expectation of privacy in their particular job requirements and...therefore knowingly assumed the risk of the matters alleged."" (p. 31)

Other topics discussed (well, savaged is probably a better term) include Disney's attempt to airbrush American history with a theme park near the Civil War battlefield of Manassas (an idea that created a backlash that managed to derail their plans for once), its cruise-ship business, the personality of boss Michael Eisner (who Hiassen refers to as 'Insane Clown Michael'), and Disney's own 1950's throwback suburban subdivision, Celebration, which came complete with a Disney-sized premium (although this was written a couple years ago, and Disney has now sold out). If you've ever harbored any bitterness towards Disney's extreme tweeness this is quite an entertaining book, because it's short length means that the acidity of the writing doesn't bore you (which would probably be the case if it extended to several hundred pages). As to whether it is worth the purchas, I'm not so sure, his column collections are probably a better bet, but if you see it in a library it's definitely worth a look.

this is the third in a series I've been doing of reviews about Florida-related books, the others can be found here and here
|| RPH || 6:48 PM || |