Murder and (A Very Different Kind of) Mousetrapped

Bet that blog post title caught your attention, eh? Yes, there’s lots of news coming out of Orlando this week and it seems like unfortunately none of it is good.

The Town That Disney Built Gets Its First Murder

In Mousetrapped I talked about my (mild?) obsession with the town of Celebration, a master-planned community just south of Disney’s world famous Orlando theme parks. Built by the company in the mid-nineties, Celebration was the best return for Disney’s money on a few thousand acres of disused swamp land they owned but for the town’s founding residents, it was the dream of living in the sanitized, cohesive aesthetic of Magic Kingdom’s Main Street U.S.A.

A view of Market Street, the heart of Celebration's downtown, from across Celebration Lake.

Although Disney is no longer involved in the community – except for World Drive, the main thoroughfare through Walt Disney World, connecting the two – and the place has matured into a town as real as the people who live there, there was still shock this past week when the town experienced not one but two violent crimes, the first of their kind in the town that Disney built.

Sometime over Thanksgiving weekend, 58-year-old Matteo Patrick Giovanditto was murdered in his Water Street apartment in Celebration’s downtown. Then yesterday, Craig Foushee, 52, barricaded himself in his soon-to-be-foreclosed Celebration home and shot at sheriff’s deputies during a 14-hour standoff. It ended with Foushee turning the gun on himself.

Obviously these events are both disturbing and tragic, but they wouldn’t be getting anywhere near the news coverage they currently are if they’d happened anywhere else. “We call this the Stepford place,” an unidentified woman tells a reporter, and much is made of Market Street’s piped Christmas Muzak – even though, as I have long argued, this community is no different to any of the hundreds of other master-planned communities dotted all over the Sunshine State. (Save for the fact, perhaps, that it doesn’t have gates.) Celebration isn’t fake, it just has a sunny disposition. And while Mickey may no longer be around, evidently he still casts a long shadow over this Floridian town.

Disgruntled WDW Employees Release ‘Mouse Trapped 2010’

I knew something was up when the hits on my Mousetrapped site went through the roof and a little digging on Google News soon led to the reason why: contract negotiations between The Walt Disney Company powers-that-be and the union representing Walt Disney World employees or ‘Cast Members’ have broken down, forcing the release of a short video highlighting their complaints. They’ve called it Mouse Trapped 2010. Of course, in my book I was referring to being trapped within Disney in geographical terms (by no car and no money), but they really couldn’t have called it anything else, now could they? (Even if it is wrecking havoc with my Google search results…!)

Their demand is a simple one: give Cast Members a fairer share. Anyone who has been to Walt Disney World will tell you two things: (i) the Cast Members are the ones who sprinkle the pixie dust on what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill theme park experience; they are the Disney magic and (ii) from ticket prices to food and beverage sales to merchandise, Disney must be making a mint from what is just one small piece of their colossal empire. Walt Disney World is one of the largest single-site employers in the United States and the biggest employer in Central Florida, and yet many of their Cast Members are living on or below the poverty line. (Some even qualify for government assistance.) In the video, one CM says he is earning $8 an hour after 3 years with the company, yet in 2006, I started on $9 an hour in a non-Disney owned but ‘on property’ hotel that, door to door, was five minutes walk from Epcot’s International Entrance. They don’t want to leave their jobs because they love Disney – one woman in the video has worked there for 32 years – but instead of rewarding this dedication, the company appears to take advantage of it. And anyway, where would they find other jobs?

But on the other hand, as I watched CMs talk about the costs of their medication and health problems, I was reminded that this is a country where at least a significant portion of the population thinks that public healthcare is a socialist evil. The mind boggles…

2 thoughts on “Murder and (A Very Different Kind of) Mousetrapped

  1. loulocke says:

    Dear Catherine,

    Thanks for the update, We here in US need to be reminded of how insane our class system is for the working poor. Places like Disney World couldn’t survive without the dedication of the workers, but very few of them can afford to go to a place like Disney World on the salaries they make (or buy the cars, or purchase the computers, or any of the other things the companies they work for make) and people wonder why the economy isn’t bouncing back.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Exactly! There’s a guy in the video who says he works 50 hours a week and his take home pay is $160-ish thanks to deductions. A single day ticket to Disney is almost $90 and if I remember you have to pay for parking too, which is another $10-$15. So he couldn’t afford to go in there on his own, let alone take his family. It’s such a shame because truly the cast members make the experience and the vast majority of them really believe in the “magic.”

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