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Dumbo or Die: A Parable of Middle Age

30 Dec

As the new year approaches, my thoughts turn to resolutions. Strangely enough, mine seem to revolve around Dumbo. From this week’s Jentasmic! column at StudiosCentral:

A few weeks before my most recent trip to Walt Disney World, for WDW Today Reunion 2011, I surprised myself by telling my best friend Lisa that I almost never rode Dumbo because I felt guilty about taking up a spot in line when there would be so many small kids and stressed parents waiting their turn behind me. I felt badly about making some family wait a little while longer than they would if I’d just headed to another attraction. Sometimes I feel that way about the character meet-and-greets too, especially when I travel alone, and feel silly as a middle-aged lady waiting for her turn with Mickey amongst all the small children. Somehow even when I’m with other middle-aged folks, it doesn’t seem as silly as when I’m on my own.

And of course, this isn’t really about Dumbo. I promise. Go read.

Why You Should Oppose SOPA, and Let Disney Know

22 Dec

Anybody familiar with the history of the Copyright Term Extension Act (aka the Mickey Mouse Protection Act) should not be surprised that Disney’s supporting SOPA, the very bad no good ready-to-break-the-internet Act on which the US Congress will resume deliberation in January.

You don’t believe that SOPA’s really all that bad? Maybe you’ll listen to Adam Savage of Mythbusters:

These bills aren’t simply unconstitutional, they are anticonstitutional. They would allow for the wholesale elimination of entire websites, domain names, and chunks of the DNS (the underlying structure of the whole Internet), based on nothing more than the “good faith” assertion by a single party that the website is infringing on a copyright of the complainant. The accused doesn’t even have to be aware that the complaint has been made.

Okay, he’s a TV star. Maybe you want something a little less glossy, like perhaps the Stanford Law Review (not usually my go-to site for internet technology discussions, but they distill this one quite nicely):

Directing the remedial power of the courts towards the Internet’s core technical infrastructure in this sledgehammer fashion has impact far beyond intellectual property rights enforcement—it threatens the fundamental principle of interconnectivity that is at the very heart of the Internet. The Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) is a foundational block upon which the Internet has been built and upon which its continued functioning critically depends; it is among a handful of protocols upon which almost every other protocol, and countless Internet applications, rely to operate smoothly. Court-ordered removal or replacement of entries from the series of interlocking databases that reside in domain name servers and domain name registries around the globe undermines the principle of domain name universality—the principle that all domain name servers, wherever they may be located across the network, will return the same answer when queried with respect to the Internet address of any specific domain name. Much Internet communication, and many of the thousands of protocols and applications that together provide the platform for that communication, are premised on this principle.

Or, well, my spouse, who writes on internet security for CIO:

SOPA and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), another piece of legislation, both want to crack down on internet pirating – a goal every bit as laudable as the measures themselves are flawed. The bills would require companies to monitor user content, limiting the use of pictures, video and audio and other media. One problem that is it is pretty much impossible to tell the difference between an ISP interfering with a connection because of a court order and a hacker interfering prior to an attack.

The US House of Representatives lists both ABC and “Disney Publishing Worldwide” as supporters of SOPA. It’s not clear to me how to contact their offices; when I tried the number listed for them on Gizmodo, I had a lovely conversation with a receptionist in upstate New York, after which I was convinced that Disney’s support of SOPA is coming from somewhere other than this small local office. Which, of course, would be consistent with the fact that many other companies on the list are essentially part of Disney (ie, ABC, Marvel, ESPN). So, I’ve directed my comments through the Disney Corporate Citizenship feedback form, and invite you to do the same. Here’s what I wrote:

The US House of Representatives web site tells me that Disney Publishing Worldwide is a supporter of SOPA, HR 3261 (http://judiciary.house.gov/issues/Rouge%20Websites/SOPA%20Supporters.pdf). SOPA poses threats both to the First Amendment, and to the fundamental technical underpinnings of the Internet.

As a regular consumer of many Disney media channels, parks, and products, and as a US citizen and voter, I ask that Disney retract its support of this act.

And if all this opposition to SOPA is for naught? For all the technical and legal problems SOPA would cause, certain of its intrusions would be surprisingly easy to get around. Download this episode of GeekNights now, on Circumventing SOPA. You’re welcome.

(And hey, am I the only one who noticed that the House.gov URL above includes the phrase “Rouge Websites?” I know they mean rogue . . . but it makes me think SOPA is targeting Sephora.)

Return to Babycakes: A Follow-up Review

16 Dec
Baked treats at Babycakes

Are these doughnuts? Maybe. Keep an open mind

In January, I visited Babycakes at Downtown Disney, and tried the cupcakes that my friends had been raving about. And, well, I wasn’t thrilled. But I was glad to see Disney making room for healthy foods, and promised the manager that I’d give Babycakes another try.

Last week, I made good on that promise, and stopped in at Babycakes for the WDW Today Reunion 2011 Bye Bye Babycakes Brunch. This time, I tried several menu items: A quartet of mini-“doughnuts”, a frozen chocolate-chip-cookie sandwich, and a piece of a giant chocolate-chip-cookie sandwich.

The chocolate-chip-cookie sandwiches were fantastic, both the large and the small. Had nobody told me these were vegan, kosher, refined-sugar-free, and free of a variety of common allergens, I wouldn’t have noticed. The cookie itself was fairly basic, essentially a delivery system for the super-sweet frosting and the generous heaps of chocolate chips.

The “doughnuts” provided the more interesting case study. And yes, I’ve got “doughnuts” in quotes on purpose. Biting into one for the first time, I was surprised by the texture. They’re crunchier and slightly more oily than one would generally expect from a doughnut, and perhaps even a little sweeter. The chocolate glazed was the closest to a traditional doughnut in flavor, though with the slightly-crunchy, moist texture that all the doughnuts shared (I assume they’re all made with the same doughnut base, with different toppings on each). The coconut and vanilla glazed doughnuts were both quite subtle flavors. I’d been told that the cookie crunch was their best seller; the crunchy glaze felt slightly strange in combination with the slightly-crunchy doughnut itself.

Now, I’m not generally a food reviewer, and I must tell you I’ve never paid such careful attention to eating a doughnut in my life. I sat at a table with a few other reunion-goers, who watched with amusement as I nibbled, took notes, and occasionally made thoughtful faces. On careful thought, I decided that if I’d stopped into a doughnut shop to pick these up on the way to work and was nibbling at one on my desk, they might just have seemed regular. They were all perfectly fine, snackable “doughnuts.” And here’s where we need to bring nutritional analysis into the mix.

I’m a Bostonian, so my default doughnut is the Dunkin’. (We’ve got some coffee wars here between Dunkin’ and Starbucks, but the doughnut field is pretty darn tied up. There are at least three DD’s within a quarter mile of my house.) Fortunately, both Dunkin’ Donuts and Babycakes provide nutritional analysis of (at least some ) of their products online, so I picked fairly equivalent doughnuts and did the math, comparing only on the categories in which both companies had provided data.

Babycakes vs Dunkin' Donuts

Babycakes vs Dunkin' Donuts

Now, don’t go being surprised that the calories aren’t that different. Or that there’s still a decent amount of fat. Vegan food was never promised to be low-calorie. Don’t go thinking that you can eat unlimited sweets at Babycakes (or any other healthier-food outlet) because they’re so healthy they just don’t count. Your metabolism is still doing the math.

Do notice, though, there are a couple places where Babycakes is remarkably different: Dietary fiber, and fat. Doughnuts aren’t part of my everyday diet, and I don’t think I’d want to change that. But the difference in fiber and fat listed for these fairly-equivalent doughnuts is enough to make a real difference if you’re eating these sweets on a regular basis. Your metabolism hasn’t put down the calculator, but your arteries might just be thanking you. And I wouldn’t say you’re sacrificing taste by going with these doughnuts — just choosing a different taste.

Would it make sense to call these something other than doughnuts, just to avoid the surprise factor? I’m not sure. They look like doughnuts, so chances are people would think of them as such even if sold under a different name. It’s an interesting exercise in marketing, perhaps good fodder for a paper in one of my business school classes sometime.

I’ll definitely go back to Babycakes again, and this time not just because I promised I would. I might still stay away from the cupcakes; I suspect their stronger suits are the products with more add-ons (such as frosting or chocolate chips), rather than those where the cake/cookie itself takes center stage. If you’ve eaten at Babycakes and have a favorite product to recommend, drop me a note so I’ll know what to try next time!

Avatar at Disney Parks? Why Not . . . Something Else?

23 Sep

Ever since hearing about the new collaboration of James Cameron and Fox Entertainment to bring AVATAR to Disney Parks, I’ve been moving through the stages of grief. From this week’s Jentasmic! column at Studios Central:

Denial: What? This is crazy, and it’s got to be a rumor. This is simply too far outside the Disney brand. Plus, we’re talking a hit movie here people, with two new sequels expected in the coming years . . . why isn’t this coming to the Studios?

Anger: Noooo! This is too much in one week! I’m still reeling from the latest George Lucas Star Wars re-vamp, and now you expect me to accept AVATAR as a reasonabley addition to Animal Kingdom?

Bargaining: Okay, I can deal with this, I don’t even spend much time at Animal Kingdom anyway. But Disney, if you’re gonna do this, could you also pleeeeeeze fix the Disco Yeti? Enough with the strobe lights, let’s get some audio-animatronic action going.

It looks like I’ll be working through the Bargaining stage for a while, because I’ve got another property in mind that would have been a much smoother fit for a themed land in Animal Kingdom. It’s conservation-oriented, Academy Award-winning, Disney-owned, and would have been an excellent opportunity for expansion of the Living Character Initiative. Plus, if Disney would just take a teeny tiny flight into the ironic, we could be sipping cupcake-in-a-cup.

WALL-E poster

 

Russia Bans Mickey Mouse Jesus Painting

1 Sep

Mickey Mouse as Jesus Christ

From Deseret News:

The Kaluga Region court has banned as extremist a painting by Alexander Savko that depicts the Sermon on the Mount with Mickey Mouse sitting on a rock surrounded by halo-clad disciples and admiring onlookers, reports RIA Novosti.

The story’s been covered in Business Insider Europe as well, which provides this handy link to a LiveJournal page which provides the image I’ve displayed above. Plus, a couple years before the image was banned, two prominent Russian intellectuals were found guilty “of inciting religious and ethnic hatred in an exhibition called “Forbidden Art — 2006,” which displayed works that had been banned by Russian museums” including this same painting (New York Times).

Traveling to Germany last month, I was struck by the number and style of irreverent iconic Disney images.

I'm Watching You Mickey Logo

Street art in Heidelberg, photo courtesy of Mr. Broke Hoedown

Scrooge Diving into Money

Unknown gallery in Munich, photo courtesy of Mr. Broke Hoedown

Donald Duck Capitalist

Unknown gallery in Munich, photo courtesy of Mr. Broke Hoedown

So, am I offended by the Mickey Jesus image? As a person who respects many faiths, I do feel a bit tweaked and disconcerted when I look at it.

I believe that one of art’s many roles is to challenge the viewer. And what I’m really offended by is the reality of what it portrays: That consumerism has trumped spiritual life for many people. As Savko told the Huffington Post:

THE PUPROSE OF THIS PAINTING IS NOT ABUSE OF CHRIST AND NOT ABUSE OF CHRISTIANS. THIS IS DISPLAYING OF CURRENT REALITY: THE SUBSTITUTION OF HUMAN SPIRITUAL, MORAL VALUES WITH MASS-CULTURAL VALUES.

Mickey Mouse is a cultural icon (as are some of his buds); his image belongs to the global, visual language of artistic expression.

Donald Duck Lifestyle Magazine

26 Aug
Donald Lifestyle Magazine

Donald Lifestyle Magazine

Nothing could have really prepared me for the popularity of Donald Duck in Germany. Sure, I’d heard that he’s a comic genuis in Deutschland, and I’m certainly familiar with the worldwide appeal of many Disney characters, but I was still surprised to find his likeness in so many places. It seemed like you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a Duck.

Donald Duck Ice Cream

Donald Duck Ice Cream, Frankfurt

Donald Duck in Game Store Window

Donald Duck in Game Store Window, Frankfurt

Drunk Donald Duck

Google Translate tells me this means "Power Class Binge Drinkers", seen in Prien

Most surprising of all is Donald Lifestyle Magazine, which focuses of course on cars, fashion, music, games, and pretty ladies, all with an emphasis on our favorite Duck. I picked up a copy my first night in Germany, and despite having leafed through it quite a few times I’m still at a loss to explain it. The features include:

  • Brief news pieces, including a piece on the Walt Disney Family Museum
  • Parody album covers featuring Disney characters
  • An interview with Jan Gulbransson
  • An article on Uncharted 3, for no reason I can discern
  • A seductive centerfold of Daisy Duck
  • Women dressed in Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse themed outfits
According to Fashion Daily, this magazine is being run in a limited edition of 150,000 copies. (Either I’m underestimating the potential audience, or that’s not particularly limited.) It’s available at a variety of newsstands and bookstores; I happened to pick mine up at a gas station. Since the target audience seems to be men ages 18-40 (if I’m correctly understanding the Google Translate version of this Mode article). I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to find it in the Mens’ magazine section, near Maxim and Playboy.
Donald Duck Lifestyle Magazine

Donald Lifestyle Magazine, Sharing Shelf Space with softcore porn in Heidelberg

Now, all of this seems strange to my US-centric sensibilities. But maybe I wouldn’t be all that surprised if I were Dutch, as they seem to have had a similar magazine in Holland in 2009, as described in Paper Mode.

Wondering how on earth Disney decided to license such a thing? Well, according to the masthead, Donald Lifestyle is published by none other than Disney Enterprises. If you can read German, or are willing to wade through a whole bunch of Google Translate, it looks like you can buy a copy at the Ehapa Shop, which also has a few pictures from the magazine, as well as a variety of other (less surprising) Donald Duck products.

You Kids Don’t Know How Good You’ve Got It!

17 Jun

This week in my Jentasmic! column at StudiosCentral:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1970s lately, as I’ve been working on a panel for the upcoming ConnectiCon convention, Middle-aged Geeks Tell All! In preparing for this panel, I’ve been running back through my childhood favorites, both on TV and in the movies. And thinking back, I’m surprised at how little Disney entertainment was available, especially compared to the media saturation of today.

I remember tuning into Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, watching Tinkerbell fly over Sleeping Beauty Castle in the opening credits. I remember cartoons and branded Disney characters being on the show from time to time, but just as often it would be a live-action feature, which (in my eyes at least) usually seemed to have nothing to do with Disney. Maybe it would be a movie, split up across two weeks (The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit! Monkeys, Go Home!). Maybe it would be a nature program, in which case I’d probably go looking for Star Trek re-runs instead. The opening credits often felt like a bait-and-switch. But every now and then there was a special: Julie Andrews at Disneyland! Disney Parade! It felt like opening up the Cracker Jack box and finding a real toy, instead of those lousy tattoos.

Disney Channel? TiVo? Disney Afternoon? A 1970s youngster knew not of these things.

 

 

Head on over to StudiosCentral to read the rest. And tell me about walking up hill six miles to school, wouldya? Why, I remember tying an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time . . .

Disney Withdraws “Seal Team 6” Trademark Application

25 May

Did you happen to miss the story about Disney and the US Navy fighting over the rights to the phrase, “SEAL Team 6?” Well, it’s now a bit of a moot point, as Disney’s dropped its application. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that it will withdraw its applications to trademark the term “SEAL Team 6” for use on toys, games, and other consumer products.

A lawyer for the Los Angeles-area entertainment giant filed the applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on May 3, two days after the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 unit killed Osama bin Laden.

All of which means this Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon is obsolete. But still amusing. And no, you really don’t want to read it if you’re troubled by criticism of The Mouse.

WDW Today Reunion 2011

14 May

Watch out world! The frequent-flier gods have smiled upon me, so I’ve just booked my flights for WDW Today Reunion 2011, December 8-11, 2011, at Walt Disney World. I had a fantastic time when I attended the WDW Today Reunion and other fan meets in December of 2009, and I’m looking forward to meeting up with both familiar faces and new friends this year.

There are only a few meets on the schedule so far, but it’s still more than 200 days away so I’ll bet more will be added. I’m definitely looking forward to filling up a Starspeeder, and giving Babycakes another chance. Plus, one of the great things about these fan meets is that people tend to be super-friendly, so if you’re traveling solo it’s easy to meet up with like-minded Disney geeks and hit the rides together, grab a meal, or just plain geek out over the difference between the Haunted Mansion variations worldwide.

Booking packages through MouseFan Travel brings certain perks (I particularly envy the VIP event and priority standing for event ticket purchases), but isn’t required for Reunion attendance. Reunion registration is free, not required, and online now.

Mickey Mouse Suicide Shirt

9 May

At least, I think it’s a shirt. It could be a skirt. It would be awfully strange as curtains or a tablecloth.

C’mon Mickey, things aren’t really that bad! Whatever’s wrong, let’s just blame Hooter. That’s what Captain EO’s crew always seem to do.

Readers, can you translate any of the background text? Maybe we can help poor Mickey.

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