Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: June 29, 2005 at 12:55 AM
One of my local news channels tried to make me jump out of my seat during a commercial break a couple hours ago with this announcement: "Disney shuts down ANOTHER ride! News at 11!" Having such an eagle eye, I immediately recognized the Matterhorn and stopped writing the column I was working on for this late-breaking news alert:
A WOMAN GOT SICK!
Yeah, that's basically it. Apparently she was sick enough to go to the hospital, but the doctor immediately said it wasn't due to the ride - the woman was sixty-two, fer gawdsakes - and Disney reopened the Matterhorn the following afternoon.
So what's the big deal? Well, a boy died on Mission: Space recently, and there's nothing the media likes more than jumping on a bandwagon. (Apparently there aren't any new breaks in the current missing-white-girl case in Aruba and no new missing-white-girl cases to take up the slack.) Really, the only big deal I could find was that Disney closed the ride for about 22 hours because of a sickness.
While many people inside the parks were undoubtedly ticked off at the ride being closed, if someone is carted off to the hospital then that ride SHOULD be shut down until everyone is certain the ride is not the cause. While I would like to give kudos to Disneyland, they only shut down the ride because of Cal-OSHA regulations. In fact, the ride wasn't reopened until it was given the go-ahead by state safety inspectors.
Compare that to Mission: Space in Epcot. The ride closed there too, but only because the poor kid was rigid and unconscious when the ride ended. Yet that ride has caused multiple hospital visits and I don't recall the ride shutting down for any of them. So kudos to California!
Which, of course, will get some of the red-staters whining, "Too much government!!! The California government shouldn't be getting involved in the public's affairs... unless it involves Unions or homosexuals, of course!!!!" Or something like that, depending on their states. But those so-called Less-Governmenters should remember that Disneyland was one of the focuses of Al-Qaeda, and a person suddenly becoming uncharacteristically ill on a ride might not have anything to do with the ride itself. Remember the many anthrax scares at Disneyland a few years back? What would have happened had someone secretly dumped some biological agent on the Matterhorn while riding it, someone after that came off the ride extremely ill, and Disney ignored it and cycled thousands more people through the mountain? Disneyland would have become a ghost town overnight. (Of course, a real anthrax scare would probably raise attendance at DCA, since there'd finally be something to do there! HA!) We all need to remember that those bag-check stations out front aren't there just to irritate us.
Still, was this newsworthy? Especially the night AFTER it happened? Hells no! Not that Disney hasn't deserved a media feeding frenzy in the past (cough, Big Thunder, cough), but this is a bit ridiculous. If someone had died on a ride - even a 90-year-old with a baboon heart and a faulty pacemaker - then it would've been understandable. But really, this is little different than if the ride had gone down due to mechanical problems. I don't recall the media all over the up-and-down first year of California Screamin' over at DCA. Even extremely problematic Disney rides, like Test Track, got little press outside specialty sites like ours. Luckily for Disney some white woman hasn't run away from her scheduled wedding at the Walt Disney World Wedding Chapel! Then all hell would break loose!
Still, a question remains: Is Disney posting proper warnings on their attractions? I don't know what the signage outside the ride says, but it is probably similar to this, which can be found on the Matterhorn page of the official Disneyland website: "Guests should be in good health, and free from heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride." Is this enough? Considering how many older people seem to be having problems on certain Disney rides, including the two most recent media darlings, maybe Disney needs to look into adding senior citizenism onto its list - though nicely. The woman was Peruvian, though, and maybe she didn't read English. Does the park offer Spanish guidemaps with Spanish warnings on them? Because certainly we don't need to see signage with a dozen different languages on them. If not, they should look into doing so, with as many languages as possible.
Why should Disney have to do this? Disney DOESN'T. It's as simple as that. But Disney is the most visible theme park company out there, and this kind of scrutiny is what comes with being Number One. As Tom Cruise - along with his fake fiancee and his fake religion - well knows, sometimes media attention ISN'T that beneficial. And Disney definitely has a perception problem, one that has been festering for about a decade now. Many people, ESPECIALLY older people, still equate Disney with kiddie stuff. Yeah, you can plainly see the Matterhorn isn't kiddie stuff, but there is still that perception out there that Disney doesn't create scary or thrilling attractions, especially considering most of these types of attractions are not as visible to the guests as the Matterhorn. Attractions like Indiana Jones, Tower of Terror, Alien Encounter, It's Tough to Be a Bug, Test Track, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Mission: Space, and so on. In fact, only a portion of Splash Mountain's final drop is visible to passersby. It's becoming clearer that Disney needs to do as much as they can to prevent these problems from happening without hurting the experience for everybody.
That's my two pennies... gimme yours!
Walt Disney World