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‘Disney Adults’ and Why They Are So Strongly Disliked on the Internet

In an article by Rolling Stone, writer EJ Dickson provided a deep dive into the history of the Disney fandom and the (often negatively used) term “Disney Adult.”

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It’s likely that most people have heard the phrase “Disney Adult” at some point in their travels across the internet, but what exactly does it mean? Where did it come from? Why is it often thrown out like an insult?

While fans of Disney have existed since Walt was first making cartoons, the “fandom” as we know it blossomed with the introduction of the internet. It grew on forums and chatrooms in the early heydays of online communities and has continued to grow onto blogging sites like Tumblr and social media like Instagram, where new generations of fans share their love for princesses, classic animated movies, and of course — DisneyBounding (a trend of wearing clothes resembling a Disney character). While neither positive nor negative in itself, the fandom allowed for freedom of expression and the growth of obsession for all things Disney.

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People have been using the term “Disney Adult” as a pejorative against Disney fans, especially those who frequent the theme parks, for several years. It hit the mainstream consciousness again recently thanks to a Reddit thread in which a bride decided to pay for Disney characters to appear at her wedding rather than pay for dinner for her guests.

This is what prompted Dickson’s article. She quotes Jodi Eichler-Levine, a religious studies professor at Lehigh University who studies the intersection of Disney and religion, who says, “People were saying Disney fans are a plague upon society, that they will be the end of Western civilization.”

Dickson says many fans and experts she spoke to used the word “cringe” when describing “Disney Adults.”

“On its most basic level,” Dickson writes, “it strikes outsiders as deeply embarrassing to throw oneself into a subculture ostensibly aimed at children — despite the fact that the Disney parks, as Walt Disney first conceived of them, were very much intended for people of all ages.”

“A lot of people see it as very naive,” says Sabrina Mittermeier, a Disney fan and postdoctoral researcher and lecturer of American cultural history at the University of Kassel. “It’s a lot of escapism, and if that works for you, then it works very well. And if it doesn’t, it has the opposite effect.”

Dickson points to one reason for intense hatred for “Disney Adults” being that Disney experiences are expensive. The high-profile influencers on social media are the people who can afford to visit the parks frequently and, as a result, are mostly white people. People of color often feel alienated from the mostly white fandom.

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“There’s more ‘Karens’ in the Disney fandom than others,” Mittermeier says.

Of course, as Dickson points out, the Disney fandom has a fairly even split by gender, but the “Disney Adult” is stereotyped as a young, millennial woman. Therefore, most vitriol about “Disney Adults” is aimed at women.

“People think of Disney as feelings-oriented. Thinking about the experience of the park, it’s mushy in a way that other ways of consuming fandom are not,” says Amanda Brennan, senior director of trends at XX Artists. “It’s emotion-driven — with these fans, there’s so much emotion wrapped up in all of this, so it’s perceived as a very feminine activity. And there’s still an element of female fandom that is looked down on in a certain way.”

Idil Galip, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology who studies fandom, also pointed at the generational differences. “[M]illennials are allowed to be more juvenile,” she explains. “But now all of a sudden they’ve become sort of cringey. You’re expected to grow out of it in a way, or at least hide it.”

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“Disney Adults” became the term for fans who were thought to be out of touch with reality. Stubbornly refusing to admit that dreams don’t come true and the world is horrible. But that’s not exactly fair, is it?

Eichler-Levine further explained, “when we pathologize these people, we are calling normal joy and grief and the human experience something that is diseased. And Disney fans are not diseased.”

In other words, just because someone enjoys something you don’t doesn’t make them wrong.

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Are you a proud Disney Adult? Tell us your feelings on the term in the comments.

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  1. 55 Year old male married no kids. We go to Disney from NC at least three times a year and happy and proud of it.

    1. Here! Here! Bravo 👏!! 59 year old female lives in North Carolina now, grew up in New York. Visits Disney more than three times a years for more than twenty years with my 7 kids and has two sons that are now cast members and also Proud 🥲 of it!!

  2. Eh, people get worked up over anything and everything. Personally, I don’t care if you’re a group made up of 3 generations with 15 grandchildren or a couple mid-30s single adults as long as you’re (1) kind to Cast Members and (2) kind to other guests.

  3. Sigh

    There is always extreme fans in everything. Movies, tv, music, videogames, sports, whatever. And for a few cases they ‘insult’ everyone. Whatever. We are free to like whatever we like. If we all liked the same thing it would be boring. Call me a Disney Adult despectively if that makes you feel better.

  4. They also take up spaces in long lines which should be for kids and families. These people need to get a real hobby and a life and stop ruining kids’ vacations.

  5. I am a proud Disney addict. To me, I feel happy when I listen to Disney music, my favorite movies and visit the parks. It’s an escape from the real world, to be a kid and never lose that feeling. I like so many people, get eye rolls when they find out I’m going to Disney again. “Don’t you want to go someplace else?” My husband & I do sometimes, but Disney keeps us young. I really don’t care what people think of me wearing Disney tees, jewelry, my watch with a Mickey face/watchband, iphone case, etc. Let them think whatever.

    1. I am a very proud Disney fanatic. I love everything Disney. I believe in what you said. I am 55 years young. I also believe to live life to the fullest if not that is when you get old and are that old lady in the park feeding birds or that cranky old man shaking a cane at kids and yelling. This may sound crazy but you sound like someone i could be a friend with and have a blast with in the FL parks.

  6. You will be surprised by the number of these Disney Adults are well into their 60s and 70s.
    We would take our children to Disneyland or Disney World.
    we still go to the parks. We also attend pin trading events .
    We hold Disney meet and greets at our homes.
    Our love of Disney gets us through the rough times.

  7. While I don’t consider myself a Disney adult, I do consider myself an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO). It’s interesting to compare the similarities and differences between these two fandoms. Both companies have massive fanbases, bloggers, vloggers, and expensive products. However, LEGO supports the creativity and nostalgia of its adult fans, while Disney just wants its adult fans to mindlessly consume. This, I believe, is the main reason for the “Disney Adult” stigma: LEGO is seen as a creative outlet for imagination that can become anything, while Disney is seen as a static entertainment venue that can only be experienced one way.

  8. This is nothing but an opinion. I’m sorry it can not be called a study. I mean people like golf I think golf is stupid and expensive being in the sun hitting a little ball with a stick all day is not for me, but that’s my opinion if people have the money for it and enjoy doing it they are free to do so. Most what they are calling ‘Disney Adults’ are passholders it isn’t really a privilege ( it’s not super cheap but it’s something at least before the pandemic people could afford and pay in monthly installments) I think these people have no idea what they are talking about. I’m a functional working adult and Disney is a place to have fun, some people go to a bar to escape reality we go to Disney to have fun. And I’m sorry I do believe dreams do come true and Walt Disney is a proof of that but you gotta work hard towards your dreams and not just sit there and expect them to become reality. I believe that if people use Disney as an addiction then it’s gonna be like any other addiction like drinking, gambling, food addiction, drugs… some people know how to drink some can’t. All addictions are bad. So it’s not a Disney thing it’s more of a personal thing. I think they were very unfortunate in their line of thinking and I’m not trying to be disrespectful, again that’s my opinion. If it makes you happy and it’s not harming you or anybody else and you have the money and freedom for it go do what makes you happy.

  9. I have never used the term Disney adult however I’m an adult and I still love Disney and everything associated with Disney, as a child my aunt and uncle lived in California and every year for two weeks in the summer I would spend my vacations with them and while on vacation they would always take me to Disneyland, as I grew older I loved Walt Disney’s philosophy growing old doesn’t mean you have to grow up I think you should always keep a piece of your childhood in your heart, it keeps you young, I have an extensive collection of Disney collectibles and art work a whole room in my home dedicated to Disney I love looking at my collection and it makes me happy, I have a good job and I work hard for my money, yes I can afford to stay at Disney resorts and take Disney cruises I offer no apologies for my Life style and the things I enjoy and love to do if other individuals have a problem with me being an adult and enjoying Disney that’s their issue? Disney is not just for children because when it comes to the profit side of the business children can’t afford most of the high end collectibles Disney puts out in the parks those are geared at hard core collectors and Disney fans. For me Disney is a lifestyle not a hobby I enjoy the parks, the restaurants and atmosphere I’m not going to stop doing something I enjoy because some individuals think Disney is just for families and kids nothing is further from the truth and Disney knows that and will happily continue to take my adult money as long as I’m willing to spend it in their parks, cruise ships, restaurants and resorts.
    Thank you,
    Anthony M

  10. The use of the name Karen in this article is offensive. This is a trend that needs to stop. Turning a name into a noun meaning entitled unreasonable white woman is unacceptable for a professional writer.

    1. The use of the name Karen in this article was merely accurate reporting, as it was presented within the statement of the person who was quoted for the article. It was not USED by the writer; it was RECOUNTED by the writer. That’s an important difference.

      Also, for the record, believing that a website should stop using a widely embraced, oft-coined term in the national lexicon, simply because it offends you, comes off sounding entitled and unreasonable. So there’s that.

  11. I’m normally a pretty pessimistic person when it comes to social issues, where the human race is going, etc. Disney is escapism for me, but to think of it as JUST escapism is to undervalue the escape. There’s an optimism underlying Disney fandom that isn’t specifically optimistic about anything, but rather keeps the door open to dream. Walt’s vision of Disney is what people need to offset the harshness of reality, to believe in the good of others. The Disney character I would most want to be like is Mickey Mouse because of his naive optimism, which perhaps isn’t naive at all but instead just leaving the door open enough to dream.

  12. Husband and I love Disney- no kids. Haters gonna hate! Good thing all the Disney trips keep us happy enough not to have this kind of negativity towards others. :)

  13. I was a military brat in Japan and grew up on Disney titles ( no TV and we went to movies often ). When my family moved back to the States we visited Disneyland which was all of five years old. Every Sunday night was “The Wonderful World Of Color” in black & white. Disney wasn’t cool when I was a teenager. Who bothered with “The Aristocats”? Now the whole world saw “Finding Nemo”! Due to a college chum I got to visit the old Disney studio in 1983… the backlots and Western set was still up!
    I was last at Disney World ( solo ) in 2009 and had a blast. Everyone there is wanting to have a good time so that vibe is there but knowing what I know about Disney security I felt very safe & comfortable. It’s kind of like when Disneyland was mentioned my Mom always remarked “And it was so clean”.
    As much as Disney has been a part of my life it is not my life. There are places to visit in America other than Orlando and Anaheim, but being a Disney Adult is just as normal as having a shrine to a favorite sports team in your home or sitting in a blizzard shirtless with your face painted colors.

  14. I will never go back to Disney
    My son spent the entire day on his phone booking rides
    Money for the park money for genie plus money to get on the ride faster
    Finding a restaurant booking a restaurant
    Terrible experience.
    All about money

  15. I am a “Disney Adult.” I will be 50 this summer. I’m in CA, have the Magic Key Dreamer pass, and love going to the parks, regularly. We call it “doing Adult Disney.” My husband and I have had annual passes since the early 90s and started frequenting the parks on dates. After 14 years, we had our first child and it just seemed natural to raise our kids in the parks. We probably enjoy the parks more now than ever as we have higher incomes and less expenses. We hang out and have wine and Charcuterie. We go to fancy dinners at Napa Rose. We relax with friends in front of the fireplaces and listen to live music or have drinks. It’s definitely a big change from our younger years running around with the kids (who STILL adore Disney-anything at 17 & 20). I just think Disney is part of us and always will be.

  16. Born in 1955 and attended Disneyland for the first time in 1960. I’ve been to Disneyland every other year since then and sometimes more 🏰. Will be attending the D23 expo come September as I’ve done in years past. Disney adult yes, and proud of it. ✨Never grow up✨

  17. This whole anti Adult fans of Disney is a joke. Disney himself said Disneyland is “Your Land”. To me, that means everyone. So to pull this bigot card and attempt to demonize a certain demographic is ignorant. To me, it’s anti-Walt. Walt was an Adult fan of Trains and Animation. So doesn’t this sound anti-Walt to you? Ask yourself, are you a bigot? I myself am a middle-aged dude who loves the Parks. What’s not to love? I’ve been married for decades (To the same person). Raised three kids. You’re telling me, it’s not okay to enjoy a day at Disneyland? I’m no Peter Tu… However, some of us actually try to make the place better for everyone. In our own way. If you don’t try, you may be the problem. Don’t be an “Anti-Walt”. (For the religious folks, I’m not implying you’re the anti-Christ)

  18. I have liked Disney for several years & I have studied Walt in books I have bought. I have been a Castmember & hope to be again. And lastly I found out that I am tied to the Disney family 2 time in blood & 2 times in marriage Walt’s wife Lillian & Roy’s wife Edna. So I will still be part of Walt’s Disney!

    1. There are us older folks who remember Disney as Walt’s Disney and now it is not with what the current leadership & the Woke movement is doing to Walt’s Disney. Some of the newer generation do not know what Walt’s Disney was like all some know is that they could drink & Walt was against that. I hate to say this but I think the best way to get things back to Walt’s thinking is to BOYCOTT Disney until there are people in charge that Walt would have approved of!!

  19. I am an adult woman who is married, a scientist, and will never have kids. Disney is my favorite place to go for vacations and always will be. I save up and try to go once a year with my husband! I love to hug characters, ride dark rides, eat amazing food, and have fun! Some would I guess classify me as weird or juvenile, but I don’t care!

  20. Yeah sure that’s why there are dozens of bars and high end restaurants on property; you know for the 5 year olds

  21. I am unabashedly a Disney Fan. Although I have family (son, grandkids) it isn’t about them. Disney calls to mind memories in all eras. My Dad was fascinated about Disneyland. Both he and my mother and later, my husband and I honeymooned there. It is a safe environment. I love roller coasters. My husband does not. Disney is a place we can go together. Why is that a negative thing?

  22. NEVER GROW UP… isn’t that what Peter Pan said? I spent 20 yrs going three times a year to disney world with my daughter. Now I have retired a half hour away. It is the best retirement ever! I started to go to disneyland in 1975 and disney world in 1977.I like many of us “boomers” couldn’t wait for Sunday night at 7 p.m. to watch the wonderful world of disney. It was the first show I saw in color. I read all the disney comics. I still get on a ride or two when I go weekly but most of the time I do adult stuff. I use the parks for exercise and people watching. We do the monorail crawl, watch the free epcot concerts, do the epcot food festivals… The christmas holiday lights are the best. pretty adult stuff if you ask me. Sometimes we sit down at disney springs to listen to the nightly performers. The author of this piece also wrongly assumes everyone is mostly white attending because it is expensive. Every week I see people of all races and nationalities. Disney world is very diverse, Tons of international visitors. I see the joy on african american guests faces in animal kingdom as they embrace their culture in a theme park! It still is magical to me every week. I think the writer needs to take a trip to both parks, because it seems to me that this person has never been to either,

  23. Some people go to every home game of their local sports team, some paint their bodies to match the team’s colors. Other people follow musicians, some go to comic book conventions, or Star Wars/Star Trek conventions… but does anyone still read Rolling Stone?

  24. I am all for being a “Disney Adult” I am one-an annual pass holder who frequently escapes to the parks to ride a few rides, have some snacks and adult beverages.
    Here is where the “Disney Adults” need to take a pause. I avoid one park… the Magic Kingdom, but I also have a five year old niece so being a good auntie I take her for a day of fun.
    I cannot emphasize enough how utterly awful it is to have her hockey checked by two adults pushing past her to get in line for POC-guys it’s a boat that holds 6 people per row really?
    She has tiny legs she is a kid not necessary.
    The exact same thing happened after the stretching room in HM-adults pushing a kid to get in line-guys again constant stream of doom buggys no need.
    This is why folks-specifically with children are frustrated.
    As an adult who doesn’t want their magic ruined when they go to parks don’t be the ones who ruin it for kids.
    Just be kind and have some patience we are all in the same stand by line and will get to where we are going. Pushing past a kid doesn’t get you there that much faster , but it sure makes you look like an ascot.

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