Saturday, January 17, 2009

Great Moments in Disneyland Drama: Ebola Man & The Fry Cart

It was 1998. The Pressler era was in full swing and Disney fans were beginning to realize what a mistake putting this guy in charge was, as if they had a choice in the matter.

The New Tomorrowland drama had come and gone. It was John Hench who said of the first Tomorrowland makeover that "movement depicts life" and that movement "was an essential element in establishing the overall character of Tomorrowland". After it was apparent that the '98 makeover of Tomorrowland all but snuffed out that life, the next Disneyland controversy presented itself.

In those days most Disneyland discussion took place on Usenet on groups like rec.arts.disney.parks and alt.disney.disneyland (A.D.D.). Usenet was unmoderated and the only recourse against trolls (i.e. people who disagreed with you) was to edit your "killfile", a file that blocked your client from downloading messages from unwanted authors.

It was never that effective because those posters you wanted to hear from would invariably quote posters you didn't want to hear from as arguments and flame wars erupted. Also, as much as Internet folk like to say, "Don't feed the trolls" they continue to do so because, let's face it, we love drama. The Pressler era was all about drama.

Sponsorship has always been a part of Disneyland. Companies would fund attractions, shows or exhibits in exchange for top billing as the attraction's sponsor. Walt never liked the hard sell and once had the post-show of the Bank of America-sponsored It's A Small World changed so it felt less like an advertisement and more like a farewell to riders.

So it was quite the surprise when plans for the McDonald's corporation to install a McDonald's branded snack stall selling french fries descended on the online Disneyland community. While a Disneyland spokesperson attempted to reassure fans that there were no plans for any other sales of McDonald's products at Disneyland, the sponsorship would eventually expand to a second location within Disneyland and another location at California Adventure.

The news divided the Disney Usenet groups, with some crying foul over the french fry folly and others wondering what the big deal was. The infamous Al Lutz was on Usenet back then and offered his view on why the fry cart was wrong for Disneyland.

Lutz would later become fed up with Usenet and swear it off forever.

But there was one young man, who went by the name of "Ebola Man", who expressed his discontent with the direction of the park in a very different way.

Ebola Man maintained a web site called the "Disneyland Underground Intelligence", or DUI for short. On his web site he would detail his exploitation of Disneyland, which included breaking into Club 33 and causing various types of mischief at the magic kingdom. He boasted about it all on Usenet.

Mere trinkets such as a script to the new Bug's Life 3D movie and other stolen items didn't satisfy Ebola Man. No, he had his eyes set on a bigger prize, the destruction of the McDonald's Fry Cart.

Who knew what actually went through his mind as he handed his annual pass to a Main Gate Employee, entered through the gates, and proceeded to unleash his master plan to stop McDonald's from selling fries in the park. I wonder if he thought he would be heralded as a hero. I wonder if he knew that capture was inevitable. How does Disneyland attract a person capable of theft and vandalism?

We may never know the answers to those questions, but on November 18th, 1998, Ebola Man announced that the deed was done.

If the lack of blueprints wasn't going to stop Disney, then the spilled paint surely would. I wish I could get hold of this guy and ask him just what the heck he was thinking. Fortunately for Ebola Man, he was a minor and his identity was not released after he was arrested in early '99 for a range of charges, including the fry cart incident.
The cart, unpopular with some park aficionados, was vandalized in a late-night attack in December. The damage, caused by someone slinging brown paint, was described in an Ebola Man posting on an Internet chat site the next morning.
Anaheim Police Sgt. Joe Vargas said the youth, whom The Times is not naming because he is a minor, was booked and released last month on felony charges of grand theft and receiving stolen property. He also is under investigation in connection with the vandalism, Vargas said Thursday.
It was a textbook example of a passion misdirected. Few will condone the youth's actions, but after all these years I understand his frustration. All he had to do was wait a decade. The presence of McDonald's in the parks has come and gone, recently removed amid a stream of celebration from longtime opponents.

Somewhere out there, Ebola Man must be smiling.


Spokker said...

The John Hench quotes and the Bank of America IASW story are from the book Designing Disney by John Hench.

I consider it the definitive book on the principles and ideals of Imagineering.

Dusty Banks said...

That is possibly the most outrageous Disney related story of recent history. What's even more incredible is Usenet. Usenet was just a tad before I became aquatinted with the internet and to bad. Gosh, pre-Mice age/Mouse Planet sounds just as tumultuous as the Pressler regime itself.

also interesting how the site is still up...

Spokker said...

Usenet isn't dead, but its main purpose is to share porn and warez now.

Back in the day Usenet had its pros and cons. It's not like there was never good discussion on there, but posters fled to moderated forums mainly to protect their egos. Also spam. Usenet has a lot of spam.

When you have such freedom to speak your mind, you have to take the good with the bad. Most people just got rid of the freedom.

Spokker said...

Al Lutz was involved in a lot of good drama as well. He once visited the house of a known troll, who was a teenager and said controversial things on A.D.D., and spoke to his parents.

There was also a controversy where Lutz was accused of breaking a bench in order to take a picture of it and feature it on his web site. Lutz claimed the bench was already broken and he was simply illustrating that someone could get hurt.

I don't know, the crazy cast of characters was quite entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the dude took the internet WAY too serious.

Anonymous said...

Al Lutz still posts on various Disneyland forums. Eventually you may figure out who it is if you keep your eyes open enough.

I can say no more.

Spokker said...

I wouldn't be surprised.

Email me anonymous. We can play twenty questions.