Dweebs on Disney: Small World, After All

I don’t even like Peter Pan.
By Matt Springer
April 13, 2005

I am the only adult male in the Disney Character Outlet store.

That’s not fully true. I see one or two other guys. But seeing as they’re with either eager wives and/or children, it may be safer to say I’m the only adult male willingly in the Disney Character Outlet Store.

The store’s in a fairly nondescript strip mall in Fullerton, CA. It’s got a very low-end feel, kinda dollar-store slummy.

I’ve been lured here by the promise of first-run Disney goods at bargain-basement prices. I’ve heard tell of T-shirts available for a fraction of what they cost in the Disney parks, and I’m itching to snare a deal.

I also feel clammy and creepy, like someone you’d look at and assume is a twisted pedophile.

But then, that’s how I often feel when exercising my Disney fandom. Whether I’m buying Sleeping Beauty on DVD, going to Disneyland by myself, or wearing the tattered tie-dyed Donald Duck shirt I’ve had since high school, I almost never feel proud to be a Disney dweeb. (We have no preferred nomenclature to the best of my knowledge, but I defer to my esteemed colleague Jim Hill, who I believe coined the term “Disney dweeb.” It works for me.)

When I’m being a Disney dweeb, I feel weird. I’m happy, I’m having a good time, but I deep down know that few will understand why I enjoy it so. In fact, more than any of my other dweebdoms, I feel as though I am constantly judged for liking Disney.

My theory? There’s no cultural context for being a Disney dweeb. I hit the streets in my Star Wars T-shirt or my Firefly baseball cap, and I’m a geek. People get that. They have a complete library of cultural references to draw from in defining me. It’s not always the most flattering picture, but it’s there.

I go to Beatlefest in Chicago and I see the Beatle obsessives in their faded Paul McCartney tour T-shirts sporting long hair and luxurious beards, and I have a context for them. They’re probably aging hippies, clinging to the peace, love, dope vibe of their youth. Again, it’s not a flattering or complete picture, but again, it’s there.

I often conteplate how I am perceived by others when I am out in Disney apparel, when I literally wear my dweebdom on my sleeve (or my back, as it were). I assume that their first thought is that I look like someone who went to Disney on vacation and was unfortunate enough to have spent $543 on a T-shirt, which I then insist on wearing out in public when NOT at Disney, simply to justify the expense.

The next immediate fear is that I probably look like a pervert.

I guess that’s Michael Jackson’s fault. His appreciation for Disney certainly hasn’t done us dweebs any favors. Or maybe it’s just the automatic knee-jerk assumption of those who see someone enjoying something that seems exclusively the province of young children. We must all have problems, we who don the ears and pin lanyards and trod the grounds of the Happiest Place on Earth.

We may have problems, that’s true, but we are certainly not pedophiles. We are businessmen and housewives, twentysomethings and seniors, white and black and male and female alike. We are drawn to artistry of a rare caliber, consumed perhaps most often by kids but open to all whose hearts can accept it. We can escape to the grounds of a fantastical place where one man created a tactile reminder that entertainment and quality and fun are not something you have to abandon as you grow older.

In short, because we are Disney dweebs, our eyes are open a bit wider to the wonders of the world.

I’d argue that’s how sci-fi geeks feel sometimes too. There’s a relationship between the way my heart jumps when that Star Destroyer crawls across the screen in Star Wars and the way my chest gets warm when I hear “When You Wish Upon A Star.” It’s a willingness to suspend just about everything, from disbelief to “adulthood” and beyond, in order to surrender myself to a fantasy beyond my imagination.

When I’m being a Disney dweeb, I let go, I abandon, and I get carried effortlessly away. Which is exactly what happens sometimes when I’m being a geek.

So do not shun the older gentleman standing next to you in line at Blockbuster wearing the Main Street Electrical Parade T-shirt and the Disneyland baseball cap. He is not a pervert, and he is not trapped in childhood.

He’s ready to escape. Just like you.