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Disney and FOSS: Fun and FUD in the Magic Kingdom?

Disney and FOSS: Fun and FUD in the Magic Kingdom?

"Did you use open source code to save time and the virus was hidden in it?" one character asked another on a recent episode of the Disney show "Shake It Up." Was it the work of an uninformed children's show screenwriter who simply tried to make up a line that would sound vaguely like high-level techno-talk? Or is Disney really anti-FOSS?

By Katherine Noyes
08/27/12 5:00 AM PT

They say it's a small world after all, but in the Magic Kingdom, it appears to be a FUD-filled world as well.

How else to explain a recent episode of "Shake It Up" on the Disney Channel?

Asked to diagnose a misbehaving PC, a stereotypically geeky character asks, "Did you use open source code to save time and the virus was hidden in it?"

Much canned laughter ensued, of course -- as did widespread outrage throughout the FOSS community.

Happiest place on Earth? Might be time to change that to "Angriest" instead.

'Part of Apple's Marketing Department'

"Well, they are partners of Apple, aren't they?" Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol pointed out, for instance.

"I guess it is a 'lip service' Disney is doing for Apple to demonize free software, the real threat for the proprietary software companies," Ebersol added.

Indeed, "having two young children, I spend more time than I care to admit watching the Disney Channel," began Google+ blogger Linux Rants. "All technology at the Disney Channel that is 'good' is from Apple. Disney is practically part of Apple's marketing department."

'Disney Is in Apple's House'

In fact, "this isn't all that surprising when you consider Disney's purchase of Pixar in 2006," Linux Rants added. "At the time of his death, Steve Jobs was Disney's single largest shareholder and even sat on its board of directors."

Not only that, but "many of Disney's TV shows are only available digitally through iTunes, and several of its apps are iOS-only," he pointed out. "No, Disney is in Apple's house.

"While this particular incident may have been the work of some random writer and not some overall policy of Disney, I do think that this is the opinion that's prevalent at Disney," Linux Rants concluded. "This won't be the last we'll see of this kind of propaganda from them."

'This Is an Election Year'

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza was inclined to take a similar view.

"Disney is one of the world's largest media conglomerates," Espinoza pointed out. "This is of course an election year and a lot of money is being pumped into big media by the current candidates.

"Which companies receive political ad money and in what proportion will help determine the immediate future of the media market, so it's conceivable that media networks will pander to political parties by carrying their messages in programming other than commercial spots," he suggested. "In particular, ABC might like to get a bit of that revenue away from Fox."

'Maybe We're Overthinking This'

Since voters are watching more streaming media "and thus in theory seeing less political ads, they may well be seeking to distribute their messages by nontraditional means," Espinoza said.

"Disney clearly benefits from open source software, but it is possible that this tendency was driven by the merger with Pixar," he concluded.

On the other hand, "maybe we're just all overthinking this; it's possible that this is a combination of bad writing and worse editing, producing a completely nonsensical line of dialogue that the authors thought would sound amazingly hip," Espinoza added.

'Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and OS/2'

"It's not clear whether Disney's portrayal of FLOSS as virus-ridden is part of M$'s 'technological evangelism,' blogger Robert Pogson opined.

"Mopping up can be a lot of fun," Pogson explained. "In the mopping up phase, evangelism's goal is to put the final nail into the competing technology's coffin, and bury it in the burning depths of the earth.

"Ideally, use of the competing technology becomes associated with mental deficiency, as in, 'he believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and OS/2'," Pogson pointed out. "Just keep rubbing it in, via the press, analysts, newsgroups, whatever. Make the complete failure of the competition's technology part of the mythology of the computer industry."

Of course, "FLOSS is succeeding wildly on a global scale, so Wintel has no victory," Pogson noted.

Nevertheless, "writers are very deliberate people, and the writer must have placed that line deliberately," he concluded. "It's a shame it got past management -- or did it? Perhaps some writer is about to be fired for alienating a lot of computer-geek kids in the audience."

Evil Mastermind or Plain Stupidity?

Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien was inclined to suspend judgment.

"I am not going to be too eager to jump to conclusions here," O'Brien told LinuxInsider. "While it may possibly turn out that someone at Disney is an evil mastermind of an anti-FOSS agenda, I am not at all sure this is the most likely answer."

Rather, "'Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity' is a maxim I have lived by," O'Brien said. "Most likely it is some dumb screen-writer making a desperate attempt to look cool by using terms he has no understanding of."

'Just Disney Being Disney'

Indeed, "it's Disney," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out. "How exactly do people expect them to come up with an original script?

"It's not as if they have ever been good at anything other than taking old fables and sanitizing the endings," Mack added. "Not a conspiracy -- it's just Disney being Disney."

And again: "Who listens to Disney?" asked Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. "The same company that has bribed congress how many times to hit the snooze alarm on the mouse becoming public domain?

"ALL software can have malware -- it doesn't matter if it's open, closed, shared, PD, you name it," hairyfeet added. "But listening to the mouse house? Please."


Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


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