The intersection of counterculture and commercialism often provokes strong emotions. If you’re a counterculture figure and sign a deal with a corporation, you’ll be angrily branded a sellout. If your art presents a brand in a way the owners don’t like, you’re likely to be sued. (Chief examples of this are the films Escape from Tomorrow, which was illegally filmed at Disneyland, and Superstar, a biopic of Karen Carpenter which presented Richard Carpenter in an unflattering light.) In this week in fandom, however, we had two readings in which counterculture and commercialism are joined without too much controversy. In “Buying In: The Straw Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”, we examine the the commodification of skate culture of southern California. In “The Very Merry Un-Gangs of Disneyland”, we take a look at the social clubs of Disneyland that style themselves after gangs. But why don’t these provoke a stronger reaction?
One reason for the lack of outrage is because both groups remain deeply embedded in their respective fan communities. When you are called a sellout, it’s often for a perceived betrayal of the community: by foregrounding your commercial interests, you are placing your own needs above those of the community. The skaters of “Buying In” largely don’t have this problem because their commercial sales were initially to each other– by keeping within the community, you don’t seem like a sellout. The last example of Tony Hawk is the most likely to be called a sellout, with his tacit approval of people who are not skaters participating in skate culture. However, he can deflect accusations of selling out by claiming that his ventures are evangelization– he is encouraging the expansion of his community– and profit-sharing– by including other skaters in his video games.
The Disneyland social clubs are communities themselves and part of the larger Disney community. They embrace larger Disney values, and accept questions and criticism from regular parkgoers (“feel free to ask any questions” and “always say hi” advises one leader cited in the article.) By following the existing codes of behaviour of the Disney community, they’ve earned themselves tolerance. Additionally, by banding together, they’re also able to protect each other– the films I mentioned in the opening are by solo auteurs, and by being alone they are easier for a corporation to target.
Values and Fan Context
Another reason why these groups do not provoke fan outrage is that the fan objects– skateboard culture and Disney– do not have values that disallow or discourage this intersection. Although skateboarding is purportedly rebellious, nothing in its fan context disapproves of commercial interests. The first team even formed as part of a local skate shop, Zephyr, and young fans hope to gain sponsorship deals. Arguably, selling things is a part of the fan context. So long as you’re not printing anti-skate park propaganda, you’re still behaving in line with skateboarding culture.
The social clubs of Disneyland do not look like they represent Disney values, but they prove themselves with their actions. They raise money for charity, and try their best to help people. Disney values are often about children and family, and many social clubs bring their children along, or act as family for each other. Disney wants to look inclusive, so they include the social clubs.
Finally, one last reason that this intersection is tolerated is commercial: everybody wants to make a living. Skateboarders need to make money somehow, so why would they begrudge the ones who manage to turn their counterculture into a career? If anything, that’s to be admired: doing something they love while making money. Disney profits from the social clubs via their annual memberships, as well as their buying food and merchandise. There’s no reason to turn this money down by shutting these clubs down. Overall, counterculture and commerce can intersect peacefully– so long as it stays in line with core values.
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