“I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the park. I want to feel they’re in another world.” - Walt Disney
When I was in Disney World last weekend, I noticed a little storefront in Frontierland, next to the Town Hall, labeled “Chinese Laundry.” I had visited New York’s Museum of Chinese in America only a few days before, and found it interesting that Disney was acknowledging the Chinese presence in the Old West.
But why is Frontierland’s “Chinese Laundry” just a plain, empty shell? It could just as easily been labeled “Jewish Pawn Shop” or “Mexican Cantina” (to mention two of the many minority groups present in the Old West but often ignored in a typical Western). Nowadays, Disney mixes a little bit of education into its ethnic fluff. EPCOT’s Fake China lets visitors view Xi’an clay soldiers and ancient vases among the greasy food stands and tchotchke shops. It seemed like “Chinese Laundry” had something to hide.
Uncle Google confirmed my suspicions, and then some. Disney theme parks have created no less than FIVE Chinese laundries. Disneyland in California has the original Chinese Laundry in its “Main Street USA” section. Disney World has its Frontierland Chinese laundry and another absurd Chinese laundry storefront in Hollywood Studios that houses a Chinese restaurant. A third Disney World Chinese laundry, which was located on its own Main Street USA section, closed when a nearby store expanded.
Disneyland Paris’s Chinese Laundry, created in the 1990s, has a mah-jongg parlor on its upper floor. One online reviewer gushes about the location, “Listening to the Chinese chattering reminds you why Disneyland Paris is just so plain wonderful: there is so much to be discovered.”
I have not yet found whether Disney has the gall to put Chinese laundries in its Tokyo or Hong Kong parks.
Why does Disney have so many Chinese laundries? It probably has to do with founder Walt Disney, who designed the Main Street USA in Disneyland to mirror his Illinois hometown around the 1900s. Today, the Disney parks’ Main Street USAs are revisionist fantasy, pretending our society a century ago was integrated (but with minorities in the minority), without a hint of Jim Crow or Plessy vs. Ferguson. But Walt Disney originally wanted to convey “the way things used to be” …
Most launderers at the time of Walt Disney’s childhood were women, mostly black and foreign-born, but a sizable percentage were also Asian men. According to sociologist Peter Li, about 25% of all employed Chinese men in the United States between 1900 to 1930 worked in laundries. So 100 years ago, the Chinese laundryman was a stock character in the popular U.S. imagination.
This stock Asian stereotype is featured in one of the first movies ever made, Edison Studio’s “Chinese Laundry” (1894), which shows a Chinese man doing acrobatics around his laundry to escape a cop. When Disney made his own “Silly Symphonies” cartoons, he filled one of them, “The China Plate” (1931), to the brim with horrific Chinese stereotypes. The film stars by suggesting the story takes place within the decorations on a piece of china. Within seconds, a variation on the Oriental riff is heard, followed by eight more minutes of slanty eyes, long fingernails, bound feet, and the like.
Even as Disney’s work became artistically mature, he still mined anti-Asian racism for laughs. Biographer Michael Barrier says during the writing of “Fantasia,” Disney told his staffers that “a Chinese turtle should dance by moving in a stiff-jointed way and jerking his head back and forth in what a stenographer described as a ‘wooden tempo.’” The evil Siamese cats in “Lady and the Tramp” and an episode of “Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers” bring these racist stereotypes into present times.
Now, Walt Disney was not a complete segregationist. He had talented Asian artists work for him, including Tyrus Wong (still living at age 102!), who was the concept artist for “Bambi.” But within a few years Donald Duck was taking on a Japanese air force base single-handed in “Commando Duck” and Disney turned a blind eye to his former employee, “Snow White” artist Bob Kuwahara, being held in a U.S. internment camp.
Walt Disney’s racist work was not the product of a lone, diseased mind, but a reflection of a larger, disturbed society. When Disney put a Chinese laundry in his first amusement park, he was also mirroring one of his early rivals, Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in California. In 1940, Knott’s built a Western ghost town, complete with a crude Chinese laundry operated by a character named Hop Wing Lee. To my surprise, visitors more than 70 years later can still peek into the horrid booth and gape at the carved wooden statue of slanty-eyed Hop Wing Lee, smoking in front of an ironing board and singing a looped song in “Mandarin.” Millions of visitors file past the Disney theme parks’ Chinese laundries, but not many are aware that behind the storefronts’ hollow walls lies Hop Wing Lee’s twanging song of cultural belittlement.
A few generations’ worth of nostalgia has kept both the good and the outdated in Disney’s work relevant in our society. The films and theme parks of Disney can entertain us but can also seduce us, leading us to search for ourselves in characters that match our hair color or skin tone, or giving us pat answers for how things can turn out “happily ever after.” It’s up to us to question and subvert the stereotypes, and to not contain our 21st-century souls within 20th-century fantasies.
African-American runner as Princess Tiana, from promotional material for the Disney Princess Half Marathon.
Actual African-American runner in the 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon, wearing Minnie ears and a shirt reading “Black Girls Run!”
You can go over to the Mary Sue and read more but here’s the short version. Over the last 24 hours a post the James Gunn, the director helming the next Marvel movie “Guardians of the Galaxy” created about “The 50 Superheroes You want to have sex with” was dug up.
And what a post it is! Filled with the kind of language I am sure the management of Disney who own Marvel will be thrilled to see!
Beware this is pretty awful slut shaming language with a extra dose of disgusting homophobia.
It goes on.
And like many of these polls (such as one run by a “humor” site whose name I will not repeat as to not have their followers come back and harass me after I called them out and ended their fun.) it’s not funny.
Of course, when the word starting spreading and the shit hit the fan the writer, director James Gunn, did what many people do when caught doing something that perhaps they regret - he deleted it.
Sadly, as smart a dude as he may be, he wasn’t aware of Google Cache.
So what to do?
Well you could plan on boycotting the movie. But that won’t be out until 2014.
So in the short term perhaps a note to Disney and let them know your concerns. I would think this gentleman might be a good person to send a polite letter:
c/o The Walt Disney Studios500 South Buena Vista St.Burbank, CA 91521-7376
Welcome to another installment of This Week In Fuckery! Today we will be recapping the week of October 5th through the 11th. If you missed any of the previous installments, you can go here to check those out. Trigger warnings for rape, rape culture, racism, transphobia, Islamophobia, and hate crimes in the links. Let’s get this depressing show on the road.
- Arkansas state Rep. Jon Hubbard (R) wrote in his book, “Letters to the Editor: Confessions of a Frustrated Conservative,” that slavery was a “blessing in disguise” for black people.
- Another Arkansas state Rep., Loy Mauch (R), wrote in a letter to the Democrat-Gazette “If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861?”
- Tamon Robinson’s Mother, Laverne Dobbinson, Owes NYPD $710 For Damages To Police Car That Killed Son
- According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, women are constantly in a state of consent unless they explicitly state otherwise.
- Billionaire CEO David Siegel threatened to fire his employees if President Barack Obama wins another term. (Am I the only one who is pretty sure this is illegal?)
- This week, the Supreme Court is to hear the case of Abigail Fisher, who said she was rejected by a university because she is white, drawing new attention to affirmative action’s constitutionality. Both the New York Times article and the transcript of the first day’s arguments are facepalm worthy.
- Disney sued for discrimination by former employee over Muslim hijab
- Rep. Roger Rivard (R) said that his father told him when he was young that “some girls rape easy.”
- A plethora of people have been tweeting “it’s called the White House for a reason.” The reason they come up with is racist as hell. (It’s funny how fast we forget that slaves built the White House and U.S. Capitol.)
- A “pro-life” congressman and doctor, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tennessee), pressured his mistress into having an abortion.
- A transgender woman died after being dragged by a car in São Paulo Brazil.
- The person who murdered Kyra Kruz Cordova, a transgender woman of color, is still at large. If you have any information about the murder or would like to donate to her memorial fund, please click the link.
- Another transgender woman in Philadelphia was shot in her home. She is currently in critical condition in Hahnemann University Hospital. Her mother was also shot but she was killed.