Is Disney Dropping Woke Capitalism Or Doubling Down?

The entertainment industry (including one-time news media outlets) has struggled in recent years. Some of the struggle arises from inevitable technological change, which has been exacerbated by COVID and the hyperventilative response. But the industry has also kneecapped itself, turning uber-woke in places like sports coverage and comic books where it really didn’t make business sense, given wholly understood audience preferences.

Scott Shepard

Scott Shepard

Things seem to be rushing, in the purple prose of industry practitioners, toward a denouement. Some evidence suggests that big industry players have seen the error of their woke ways, while other indications imply that some have picked this hill to die on.

Take Disney as an example.

First, the hopeful news. ESPN, owned by Disney, has been ghoulishly obsessed with race and with finding cancel-worthy offenses against leftwing ideology in recent years. It might reasonably have changed its traditional tagline to “worldwide leader in woke.” Yet ESPN’s president last year admitted that his customers don’t want the politics.

More recently, ESPN appears not to have covered an incident in which a basketball player “hurled” a “racist slur” at a competitor (such comments must always be called “slurs,” and must always be “hurled” or “uttered.” It’s in the New Left Style Book, below the injunction to capitalize Black but to leave white lower-case). The incident also included what could very well have been a “damaging” homophobic taunt. And the player so horribly subjected to literal violence (because that’s how violence is “literally” defined now, right – words or the lack of words?) was an immigrant.

All of this seemed to be pure wokebait – but ESPN ignored it. Similarly, Disney and ESPN took no action against a further new eructation of hate from a high-level staffer who had been admonished and even suspended for similar unhinged diatribes in the past. And ABC, also a Disney subsidiary, has retrieved from suspension another high-level employee who had not so very long ago engaged in the sort of racist stupidity that usually gets even low-level entertainment-industry types fired.

The hopeful interpretation of these omissions is that ESPN and Disney are finally shaking off their infatuation with at least the most petty and inane strands of wokeness, with ESPN returning to reporting the actual sports that occur in sports, instead of amplifying all of the endless, and embarrassing, leftwing crying. (What happened to “There’s no crying in …”?) This rosy view is supported by a rumor racing around Disney that it is looking – corporation-wide – to ease out of the woke lane by “parting ways” (again, the Style Book) with its most Social Justice Warrior (SJW) employees, the ones who are serving their own political fixations rather than audience interests in what they produce, to the heavy cost of the company and its shareholders.

If this interpretation is right, allow me to be the first to congratulate Disney on its volte face, and urge other industry players to follow. The financial carnage of SJW has ripped across the whole industry, from the destruction of once-daunting news credibility to ticket purchases to viewing figures.

There is, though, another highly plausible interpretation of these events, one that suggests that the industry is even now doubling down on its commitment to the deeply racist “anti-racism” of the far left in ways that bid fair to add wide new vistas for industry losses.

You see, the immigrant basketball player so roughly used by his opponent was a white immigrant from Slovenia who was called a “bitch-ass white boy” by a black opponent. The “hurler” of “slurs” apologized; ESPN remained mute. Fear arises that ESPN is not relaxing its racial hyperfocus, but deploying it in unidirectional – and therefore incontrovertibly racist – ways. Concern grows sharper given Disney’s easy treatment of the other two employees. The first is Jemele Hill, who was once suspended at ESPN for throwing around Nazi references, but just recently went unchastened for calling the United States and its history and people morally comparable to that of Nazi Germany. And the “suspended” employee was histrionically woke talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, who has worn blackface on ABC’s air in the recent past, but was apparently subjected to nothing more than a summer vacation for his sin, and is now back at work at ABC.

All of these details should and will attract the attention of both investors and current employees. (While the example here is Disney because it is so involved throughout the industry, the analysis applies equally to most big entertainment and former news outlets.) The metric by which to judge developments will be Disney’s workforce changes in coming months. The company “furloughed” vast numbers of workers in response to the lockdowns, while other industry players have shed waves of employees permanently. Suspicions are strong that Disney will follow suit soon. When it does, will it sack the SJWs who are killing its business, or will it fire on other grounds?

Investors should take that as an indication of whether the company and the industry still care about profits. Employees should watch for deeply personal reasons. If the SJWs remain while those who are not tanking the company are dismissed, the now-former employees should investigate further. Are there racial or other surface-characteristic disparities in the dismissals? The industry has seemed determined to conduct – to flaunt – a pattern and practice of discriminatory behavior against the groups the fetid left disfavors. This makes it legally vulnerable if the firings’ characteristics resemble its racist predilections. And this should give investors even greater ground for careful scrutiny. If the current industry players really do intend to conduct collective ritual suicide, wise investors will want to be well away.

Scott Shepard is a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Deputy Director of its Free Enterprise Project. This first appeared at Townhall Finance.

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