The Disney Fandom in the 1980s
The 1980s was a major part of the AIDs epidemic and were part of the “Dark Ages” of the Disney Animation studio. The company still had the classics like Snow White and Alice in Wonderland but there had not been much that garnered much of a fandom since Walt Disney’s death. Those movies have fan groups now but at the time they were not successful and one even flopped. The Disney store opened near the end of the decade to get official Disney products. The Disney Company’s focus was on the theme parks, creating attractions that had and still have many fans.
Those fans with HIV/AIDs had characters like Cinderella, being persevering even with a family that did not treat her well, and other stories that mostly have adventures with maybe a little bit of defeating a confidence problem. It was not a time with many characters that could be read as queer, as there was a code in Hollywood that did not allow homosexuality as a way to avoid controversy. This was not the time of many characters having to learn how to be strong like the 1990s.
The Disney Fandom in the 1990s
The 1990s were a great time to be a Disney fan. The animation studio released many well known and popular movies including the movies that Ashman worked on. It was the decade of the Disney Renaissance and was kicked off by the Little Mermaid. This was the decade of strong characters learning how to be themselves in their worlds even if they look different from those around them, like Quasimodo, Simba, and Mulan.
The Beast has been seen by many to be a symbol of someone hiding from the world after being diagnosed by HIV/AIDS. Alan Menken, co-lyricist for Beauty and the Beast, said of this idea,
“The parallels that people see, and I see them—God, they’re remarkable to see. But I don’t think [Ashman] did it consciously. It just wasn’t like him. He was so all about the musical, and the story line, and serving the characters, and serving the story arc, and that was it. But boy, the subtext is there, clearly.” (Robinson)
Even though not all that have AIDs are gay, the majority are gay, so it is possible to see some of the connections between Disney fandom and AIDs to go through homosexuality. According to Sean Griffin, a gay man who found ties between Disney and homosexuality through personal experience, gays were able to use characters that there were fans of to understand their own sexuality (xi). Sean Griffin argues that the Part of Your World connects strongly with homosexuals because both wish for their love to be accepted by their community (151). There were many more characters to connect to as a person with AIDs and/or homosexual as many stories involved main characters finding their place in their society. The 1990s was the start of a fan-created event called Gay days where LGBT people and their families all go to a single Disney theme park on one day and I am sure that there are those with AIDs in that group (Cloud). The Disney parks are great places to go to forget about the problems happening in the rest of the world and so are great places to forget about the problems associated with having AIDs if only for a little while. Sean Griffin argues that the Part of Your World connects strongly with homosexuals because both wish for their love to be accepted by their community.
The 1990s was the start of a new era for the Disney fandom that is still felt today.
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