What Has the Web Done for Disney Lately?

It started with a French fry.

On Jan. 8, the LA Times reported that a 16-year-old Orange resident had been charged with grand theft and receiving stolen property after the boy posted pictures of property allegedly stolen from Disneyland on his Web page, the Disneyland Underground Intelligence site (DUI). The unnamed teenager, known as "Ebola Man" online, where he is a frequent contributor to the alt.disney.disneyland newsgroup, is also being investigated in connection with the vandalism of a McDonald's French-fry cart.

"Disney better not build that McDonald's, or I will burn it down," Ebola Man posted in September and followed it up with a message in November that read, in part, "DUI and affiliates have done everything they could to stop the fry cart!"

Sympathy for Ebola Man's plight was scant on the newsgroup, where most posters are genuine fans of Disneyland, despite the occasional bitching about ride closures and the widespread antipathy toward recently departed park president Paul Pressler. "C'mon, people," wrote one participant. "How stupid do you have to be to advertise on the Internet that you've committed illegal acts on the property of a huge corporation? Good riddance."

Ebola Man's antics weren't exactly popular before news of his arrest hit the Net, either. One poster repeatedly threatened to kill the merry prankster, saying that his stunts were "ruining the park."

But as much as they might disapprove of his tactics, there is widespread support for his cause online. The Great French Fry Debate has been raging for months, spawning two Web sites and hundreds of postings protesting the encroachment of McDonald's on the fantasy world of Disneyland. "Is there anything that reminds you of the chaotic world we live in more than McDonald's, something we see on nearly every corner?" complains the Keep Disney McFree site (members.aol.com/_ht_a/LYNDAQUEST/mcdisney.html).

The epochal French-fry raid came at the same time the big D was suffering an embarrassing PR setback over its recall of a children's video. On Jan. 8, Disney announced it was recalling some 3.4 million videocassettes of The Rescuers, an execrable animated film from the '70s, because of what it called "an objectionable background image." It declined to give further details, like what the image was and exactly how objectionable it might be.

I don't know about you, but I was thirsting for more information. But the mainstream media fell all over themselves to deal with the issue politely and euphemistically, as if this weren't an ideal occasion for salacious details. Newsday called it a "photographic image of a nude woman," and the Toronto Star referred to it delicately as "a brief, virtually undetectable glimpse of the [human] female anatomy." God forbid the Walt Disney Co.-unlike, say, the president of the United States-should be embarrassed by the media, eh?

But as usual, the Web did not let me down. Within days, the offending frames from the video had been posted all over the Net. You can view them, along with a cogent retelling of the whole sordid affair, at one of my favorite sites, the Urban Legends Reference Pages (www.snopes.com; look under "Disney Legends"). (For those of you too lazy to hunt down the image, it's a picture of a nude woman's torso-hooters and all!-that can be seen through a "window" in an animated apartment building the background of two frames.) While you're at the site, be sure to check out the other tales of Disney dirt, some true, some most assuredly not-like the false rumor that a disgruntled artist worked a penis into the original jacket art for The Little Mermaid and the classic urban legend that the priest sports a stiffie during the wedding scene in that movie. Just another helpful public-service announcement from the friendly folks at the Weekly.

In the United States, zealous children's advocates spend all their time trying to protect kids from pornography online. But in Denmark, at least one man is crusading against the danger posed to kids by . . . the Disney Web site. The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 12 that Denmark's consumer ombudsman, Hagen Joergensen, is waging a one-man war against what he sees as the Mouse's unscrupulous marketing to children on its site (www.disney.com). Denmark has very strict rules against marketing to kids, and Joergensen argues that Disney's slick Web site, with its games, stories and, yes, ads, is nothing more than a gigantic effort to turn innocent Danish tots into frenzied consumers.

Disney has responded by clutching its ribs and rolling on the floor in helpless laughter. According to the Journal, the company replied to Joergensen's initial complaint two years ago by pointing out that, regardless of Danish law, Disney is an American company and the Web site is located in the United States, and is thus subject only to American law. But Joergensen hasn't given up, continuing to pick away at the Mouse in a series of increasingly nasty letters and a campaign to whip up anti-Disney sentiments among Nordic countries.

Joergensen's crusade may strike most Americans as nonsensical, given our traditionally lax attitudes toward consumer privacy; in our capitalist society, every day is open season on consumers-hell, that's the American Way. But given moral conservatives' efforts in this country to squeeze the Internet until it's milked of every objectionable drop-or strangled to death-it's kind of entertaining to watch the same thing happening overseas to their wholesome icon.

Mouseketeer roll call: Wyn at machineage@mediaone.net.

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