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The Very Merry Un-Gangs of Disneyland

Droves of tattoo-sporting, vest-wearing nerds roam the Happiest Place On Earth. They don't make war, they say­—they make magic

The Very Merry Un-Gangs of Disneyland
Photographer: Austen Risolvato | Design: Dustin Ames
Model: Cory James

Check out our slideshow of Social Club vests HERE!

The guy is drunk. Obviously drunk. Shitfaced. Instead of joining the 10-person line politely waiting to use the men's room at Disney California Adventure, the twentysomething in an oversized T-shirt and low-slung hat cuts in front of the surprised, squirming guys and stumbles inside, desperate to take a piss.

"Hey, there's a line here," someone toward the front says.

Yack city, yack yack city
Austen Risolvato
Yack city, yack yack city
Macready and his daughter
Austen Risolvato
Macready and his daughter

Location Info

Map

Disneyland

1313 S. Harbor Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Anaheim

Disney's California Adventure

499 Disney Way
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Anaheim

Details

"Yeah? So what?" the man responds, puffing his chest and indiscriminately getting in people's faces. "Whoever wants to stop me can step up."

No one takes the challenge. Instead, they watch as the guy uses a urinal and washes his hands before coming to an empty paper-towel dispenser. Suddenly, he grunts and throws a quick hook, knocking the dispenser off the wall and sending it clattering onto the tile floor as a member of the custodial staff looks on.

A few moments after the cutter leaves, three tall, wide men, each wearing a denim vest adorned with patches and pins in the style of punks or motorcycle gangs, rush out of the bathroom, their heads swiveling as they look for him. They join a larger group of roughly a dozen men and women, some with small children, all with back patches proclaiming "The Wonderlanders SC," before catching a glimpse of the guy. He's now slightly slumped against a lightpost, looking at his phone.

"That's him," Sean Macready, the bearded founder/leader of the Wonderlanders Social Club, says. "Does anyone see security?"

Macready, a bear of a man, finds a cast member to relay a description to security as the guy finally lifts his head and begins to walk away. Their job done, the Wonderlanders start to make their way toward Goofy's Sky School, a night of fun and quizzical stares ahead of them.

The Wonderlanders is just one of dozens of similar social clubs claiming hundreds, if not thousands, of members that have formed in the past several years around the same premise: dress in the same, faux-tough way to rep your set at the Happiest Place On Earth. An air of mystery surrounds them: Many regular attendees and cast members barely notice the crews, only remembering them when prompted with clear descriptions and pictures. Some remember the clubs clearly and with disdain, after unpleasant and unfortunate interactions. But others still idolize them, joining and many times mimicking the groups—even starting their own.

These social clubs are a new generation of hardcore Disney fans, powered by Instagram and Facebook and made up of grandparents in their 60s, as well as teens and toddlers plodding along beside their parents. Only 10 years ago, their style—tattooed and plugged—would have banned them from the parks and made them outcasts among Disney fans. But now, with tolerance, if not approval, from the Mouse, the social clubs have found a playground to call their own.

Like the Goths of the 1990s or the hippies of the 1960s, they trek the park like a second home, occasionally mistaken for troublemakers and ne'er-do-wells. But unlike other groups, they're not at the parks to scare or intimidate. They're there for fun, for friendship—and to uphold Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom ideal.

"I hope they get that guy," Macready says, holding his 6-year-old daughter's hand. He and the Wonderlanders have just seen the bathroom bandit again, aimlessly walking the opposite direction from them. "He should be tossed out of the park. Sure, you can drink, but this is still a family park. What a bummer."

*     *     *

"When Instagram started, three and a half years ago, [the Disneyland social club movement] was small, and everyone on it knew one another," says Adam Goetz. On weekdays, he's a San Jose-based general contractor and father, but during the five to 10 times each year that he makes it to his hometown of Anaheim, he's the Star Wars-tattoo-dotted, Storm Trooper-armor-wearing Jaster, a leader the Black Death Crew, among the largest and oldest Disney groups.

"Through Instagram, five of us became good friends. Some of us were [New York] Giants fans, so when the Giants went to the Super Bowl, I invited three random people I met on Instagram to my house," Goetz continues. "During the Super Bowl, we all decided to go to Disneyland on March 29, Ashley's [another co-founder] birthday. Our friend Nate [a third co-founder] from Kansas City, who couldn't make it to the Super Bowl, flew out, and when we all met at the front of the park, everyone was wearing black, randomly enough. Someone joked, 'Who died?' and it just kind of stuck. We were the Black Death Crew."

That was 2012, and the Crew initially found themselves strangers in a land they loved. Some had tattoos, multiple piercings or dyed hair, a far cry from the standard guise of a Disneyland-visiting family. From Main Street to Tomorrowland, the Matterhorn to the Resort's madcap spectacles, the visitors seemed better suited for a Germs show than Downtown Disney. Other parkgoers looked at them warily, wondering whether the Crew was there to rob them or just wanted to harmlessly hang out.

But by the beginning of 2013, similar groups began wandering the parks, enjoying one another's company and creating a style and ethos that others quickly aped. They began to garner attention because of the size of their groups and their choice of aesthetic—tattoos, denim, piercings. They distinguished themselves by wearing vests and patches reminiscent of motorcycle clubs but adorned with Disney pins and characters.

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