Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Team Rodent, Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen is undoubtedly one of the funniest novelists in recent memory.  In his hilarious novels, he revisits some recurring themes, including contempt for the many tourists who flood Florida and the out-of-control development of the state and the resulting demise of the native flora and fauna.  The stories and characters he writes are memorable, making his curmudgeonly anti-tourist, anti-development tolerable and amusing.

In Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World, a collection of essays criticizing all things Disney, that curmudgeonly side takes over, leaving none of the charm and engaging story telling of Hiaasen's novels.  I don't know if Hiaasen genuinely hates Disney, but it sure sounds like it.  He lets his bitterness blind him to anything positive that he might have said.

Hiaasen objects to the political and economic control Disney wields in Florida.  From the start, when they secretly started buying up land, they managed to keep their intentions quiet so that property values would not increase too quickly.  To Hiaasen, this unconscionably cheated landowners out of a fair price for their land.  Then Disney established their own municipality in order to have more control and autonomy in the area around the park.  Maybe Disney has more overreach than other large corporations, and maybe they have abused their autonomy, but on balance, it sure seems like Disney has been a boon for Orlando and the surrounding area.

I think it's strange when Hiaasen complains about Disney being too nice.  For instance, he bemoans the loss of X-rated entertainment venues in Times Square.  He writes, "Peep Land [a porn shop] is important precisely because it's so irredeemable and because it cannot be transformed into anything but what it is. . . . Standing in Disney's path, Peep Land remains a gummy little cell of resistance.  And resistance is called for."  What kind of person celebrates the existence of Peep Land and criticizes the existence of a Disney store?

Similarly, he criticizes Disney's cleansing of Castaway Cay, their cruise line's private island.  Before Disney bought it, it was used by drug runners to fly in drugs from South America to be smuggled into the U.S.  Their reimaging of the island is "a small illustration of how Team Rodent untarnishes reality, acquiring and recasting to its own designs."  Somehow in Hiaasen's universe it's a bad thing for a company to transform an island into a playground where tourists can have a fun and safe vacation.

Team Rodent is certainly funny at times with Hiaasen's trademark humor.  But his hatred of Disney clouds his reporting so deeply that I have a hard time respecting his criticism.  I will still eagerly snap up Hiaasen's novels, but this anti-Disney screed is too much.

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