Big name fandom and the (inevitable) failure of Disflix

Olympia Kiriakou

Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Big name fans are those who have attained a level of recognition within a fan community without necessarily knowing each participant in the subculture and who have the power to influence how other fans in their community engage with the object of their shared fandom. Their niche celebrity status can be achieved through the range of knowledge, access, and official or exclusive information available to them, as well as the degree to which they produce their own media content. In the Disney fan community, big name fans are also sometimes known as lifestylers (lifestyle influencers), and their status is derived primarily from their social media celebrity. These fans document their frequent visits to the Disney parks and official Disney media events on social media, and they use their online platform to interact with their followers and share how they incorporate Disney into all aspects of their lives. Their microcelebrity status gives them power to shape and commodify what it means to be a Disney fan in the new media age through an emphasis on producing and sharing marketable personal brand content. This article seeks to understand the ways the influencer phenomenon has affected the Disney fan community and how this group of fans has shifted the practices, interactions, and habits associated with Disney fandom; it also addresses the limits of their impact among their peers.

[0.2] Keywords—Content sharing; Disney; Influencer; Interactivity; Netflix; Social media

Kiriakou, Olympia. 2019. "Big Name Fandom and the (Inevitable) Failure of Disflix." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 30.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In a March 17, 2015, post on WDWMagic, a popular online forum for Disney fans, user ItsgrlBella asked, "The term 'Lifestyler' has popped up here and there throughout threads and I'm trying to figure out what it means. Is it a WDW subculture? People who work at WDW? People that have no jobs and endless money and practically 'live' at WDW? People that ONLY vacation at WDW? Are we lifestylers because we're active in the boards and follow WDW news? All of the above?" In the thread that followed, fans discussed the origins and qualifications of the term "lifestyler," asking such questions as, "Can anyone just become a lifestyler? Is there a 'how to' to becoming one?" (Johnson 2015), and wondering whether certain high-profile Disney fan are considered a member of this influential group (wdwfan4ever 2015).

[1.2] Lifestyler, a term synonymous with the more common term "influencer," is a title that applies to high-profile fans in the Disney community who are known for, and sometimes make a living from, sharing their opinions and news about the US Disney theme parks on social media. Like Disneyland and Walt Disney World locals, lifestylers are fans that typically frequent the Disney parks more than once or twice a week, but what distinguishes them from their peers is primarily their social media presence and large following. Some, like Tim Tracker, run popular Disney-themed YouTube channels, while others, like Francis Dominic, have garnered their reputation through their presence on image-based social media platforms like Instagram.

[1.3] In the years since the term first appeared on the WDWMagic forums, the lifestyler trend has steadily gained traction within the online Disney community, which boasts hundreds of thousands of members across multiple platforms. (There are also subgroups within the larger community whose fandom focuses on different spheres of the Disney company.) The Disney lifestyler phenomenon emerged within the sharing culture of social media, and, as a result of their subcultural celebrity status, their collective discursive power has shaped what it means to be a Disney fan in the new media age through an emphasis on producing and sharing curated and marketable brand content. Today, Disney parks fandom is measured in part by the ways in which it is made visible to the community on social media. Along the way, lifestylers have found ways to monetize the practices and habits associated with Disney fandom, a trend that reached its zenith in April 2017 with the creation of the short-lived subscription platform Disflix. With the promise of original shows, live streams, and online classes curated by Disney lifestylers, Disflix was marketed as a monthly subscription service to teach fans how to build their own lucrative Disney-themed social media brand. However, even before the platform's official launch, the company faced backlash from a large segment of the community, many of whom argued that Disflix exploited the foundation of Disney fandom.

[1.4] An analysis of the official press releases and fan reactions on social media demonstrate Disflix's failure as both a business model and social experiment, thereby indicating the limits of the persuasive power of big name fans within a fan community. In an effort to cash in on their subcultural celebrity, these lifestylers violated the largely unspoken rules of Disney fandom and fan communities as a whole, calling into question the limits of influencers as arbiters of fan community trends.

2. Big name fans

[2.1] Disney lifestylers can be described as big name fans, a nomenclature (known sometimes by its initialism, BNF) that grew out of science fiction fan communities of the 1930s. Originally conceived to describe fans who contributed to fanzines, participated in or organized conventions, or wrote fan fiction, today it also encompasses fandom on digital platforms. Matt Hills writes that the big name fan is "one of the fan-cultural or subcultural terms for fans who have attained a wide degree of recognition in the community, and so who are known to others via subcultural mediation without personally knowing all those other subcultural participants" (2006, 9). The big name fan is a subcultural celebrity, recognized simply by name or image (in a social media context, usually a combination of the two); outside of their community, their niche celebrity status holds little to no clout, but among their peers, they are instantly recognizable and often reap the rewards that come with such fame. Hills also explains that the big name fans exist "inside and outside the process of commodification, experiencing an intensely personal 'use-value' in relation to the object of their fandom, and then being re-positioned within more general and systematic processes of 'exchange-value"' (2006, 19).

[2.2] The Disney lifestylers' park visits are central to their social media identities, and they obsessively document every trip, snack, and ride on attractions, then share their experiences with their followers. Their collective use value lies in their willingness to provide Disney with marketable content that at first glance appears to constitute a form of free fan labor, which Abigail de Kosnik describes as being imperative to "corporations in an era of market fragmentation" (2013, 99). But their social media posts are in fact compensated labor: as a reward for their eagerness to give Disney unsolicited and (usually) positive publicity, Disney often grants them access to special events; previews of new dining, merchandise, or hotel offerings; and, for a lucky few, even complimentary Disney vacations. For de Kosnik, this mutually beneficial relationship is dependent on "both the fans and corporations acknowledging that fandom is a form of labor that adds value to mass-produced commodities and is worthy of compensation" (2013, 110). For the corporations, it gives them a better understanding of their most loyal (and often most critical) consumers, allowing a company to hone their products and marketing to maximize their revenue. Because this form of social media advertising is being produced, written, and photographed by the fans, the messaging is decorporatized, thereby appearing more authentic and honest to the community.

[2.3] For lifestylers, the perks of being a loyal Disney fan puts them in a privileged position, as they are able to have unique experiences beyond what is accessible to the average park visitor or fan. For example, in February 2018, Francis Dominic posted several photos of him at a screening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to promote the film's Blu-ray rerelease. In one of his captions, he thanked Disney for inviting him to the screening, writing, "It's so cool watching THE PRINCESS THAT STARTED IT ALL ON THE BIG SCREENS." Similarly, in late April 2017, Dominic posted a photo of one of the pools at Aulani: A Disney Resort and Spa, with the caption, "I did nothing but lay out for 5 hours today and I'm getting paid while I'm down here this weekend to do just that" (2017a). Having access to these types of special events or vacation perks elevates the lifestylers' statuses and personal brands; such access makes them stand out in the highly saturated online Disney fan community. While Dominic never revealed the details of how Disney compensated his vacation, his posts from the pricey Hawaiian resort (where rooms can cost up to $700 or $800 per night) drew the attention of his nearly 76,000 Instagram followers. With comments such as, "Literally what do I have to do to do that. Omg." and "I want that job. No fair!!" (Dominic 2017a), his followers shared their envy about his relationship with Disney.

[2.4] For their part, popular lifestylers like Dominic have taken advantage of their subcultural celebrity status, producing their own news websites, books, and travel guides. For example, Dominic's loyal following has led to a collaboration with Disney-inspired clothing companies, including 2319 Threads and My Oh My Supply Co. 2319 Thread's Francis Dominic Collection was made up of T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats emblazoned with Disney-inspired graphics, as well as statements reflecting his brand message of acceptance and positivity, summarized by his catchphrase "love yourself" (Dominic 2017c). The teaser trailer for Dominic's season 2 collection encapsulates his big name fandom. It features a purple-black background with graphics of stars and colorful light patterns, with catchy techno dance music playing. The words "The wait is over" flash on screen, followed by the date and time of the collection's release date and the phrase "Get ready to be shook" underneath. Next, Dominic's logo (his initials) appears on screen. The image turns to black, then the hashtags "the FD collection" and "love yourself" fade in (2319 Threads 2017). Dominic is noticeably absent from this promotional video; instead, he is represented entirely by his initials and catchphrase. He personifies the subcultural fan celebrity insofar as his recognizability is carried through his name (and in this case, his logo) rather than his iconicity. One of the notable pieces in the season 2 collection was a simple white T-shirt with the phrase "lol ur not francis dominic" written in black (Dominic 2017b). The shirt, a re-creation of the one worn in 2016 by model Gigi Hadid in homage to her then boyfriend, singer and former One Direction member Zayn Malik (Torgerson 2016), is similarly predicated on Dominic's name recognition, though at a much more niche level than the original it is based on. The reliance on Dominic's logo and name to signify his brand reveals his ubiquity within the Disney fan community, demonstrating the level of subcultural fame and brand relevance he holds among his peers.

[2.5] The ability to monetize celebrity is not new; nor is it a phenomenon specific to the Disney fan community. It began in the 1920s when studios realized that using their contract stars to promote specific commodities like cigarettes, clothes, and cars in film and print media would in the short run help boost box-office sales, and in the long run reinforce audience investment in their products (Eckert [1978] 2000). Through the trappings of glamour and fame associated with stardom, these star promotions also sold more elusive concepts like upward mobility, financial success, and, by extension, Hollywood itself—all within reach through direct consumption. According to Richard deCordova, the Walt Disney Company was a pioneer in this type of brand promotion, so much so that in a 1932 letter to toy licensee George Borgfeldt, Roy Disney explained that each Mickey Mouse doll sold is "a daily advertisement…for our company and keeps [consumers] all 'Mickey Mouse Minded'" (1994, 205). Roy's strategy quickly paid off: in 1932, they had nearly sixty separate licensing agreements with manufacturers in the United States, and by 1948, the company had made close to $100 million in revenue solely from Disney character merchandise (Bryman 2004, 83). The practice of cultivating public interest in stars via commodifiable products continues to this day, with celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Kanye West, and Justin Bieber all launching their own merchandise lines or embarking on corporate partnership agreements. Given the historical precedent, it is not illogical to assume this business model would extend to realm of subcultural celebrities in various forms—and in different fan communities.

[2.6] Is subcultural fame a prerequisite for merchandise success? Not necessarily. Even the most unknown fan can grow to become a BNF through strategic self-promotion. For example, fan fiction writers can gain a community following, and for the lucky few, this popularity can lead to book deals. Author E. L. James is arguably the most famous example of this phenomenon. Her Bella/Edward fan fiction in the Twilight franchise became popular on an online fan fiction site, but some readers thought that her stories were too provocative. This pushback prompted James to create a website called where she could post her content, including Fifty Shades of Grey, which in 2011 she self-published through a writers' community called the Writer's Coffee Shop. After selling nearly thirty thousand copies of her e-book, James caught the attention of literary agents, and in 2012, she signed a contract with Random House, then later that same year a $5 million movie rights deal with Universal (Business Insider 2015; McClintock 2018). James's success led to an appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2012, where she was able to meet fellow Twilight fans—and, notably, fans of her own. While James is perhaps an extreme example, her case is offered here to show how influencers are widespread beyond Disney fandom, and that the relationship dynamics between subcultural celebrities and fans can be fairly similar.

[2.7] What unites the Disney lifestylers is the way they make their fandom visible to their community on various social media platforms. The satiric line "do it for the 'gram" rings true within Disney fandom: there is an emphasis on creating curated content for social media that fits the theme of one's profile in order to demonstrate to others in the community that they are actively engaging with the object of their fandom. In her study of internet fandom, Kristina Busse writes that big name fans treat their microcelebrity "as something to be aspired to…[their] online persona is indeed an important aspect of many fans' identity and affect their self-worth in a supposedly separate 'real life' as well" (2006, 222). Busse's idea gets to the heart of one of the criticisms of social media, and one not necessarily specific to Disney fandom: the extent to which, through social pressure, people present the best version of themselves, all for the sake of likes, followers, and increased visibility (Fox 2017). In discourses about postmodern celebrity, Busse argues that "we have become accustomed to the various manipulations of reality and the way reality is already narrativized and packaged to entertain" (2006, 222). For example, when social media celebrities post a photo on Instagram, their followers often do not see the work involved in taking the photo, nor the potentially dozens of other bad takes. This hidden labor often amplifies what Christina Best calls "messages of self-enhancement," or the tendency to oversell oneself to others (2016, 62). The public performance of fandom is critical to success as an influencer, and the extent to which Disney lifestylers present their personal brand in an aesthetically conscious and engaging way on social media correlates to the potential for financial rewards or corporate compensation they receive from Disney and other affiliated companies.

[2.8] The focus on aesthetics in Disney fandom takes form through various means. One popular fan trend at the Disney parks is Disneybounding, which is a phenomenon similar to cosplay. However, rather than dressing in full costume, Disney fans wear colors that are reminiscent of a particular character. For example, if I were to Disneybound as Mickey Mouse, I might wear a black top, red bottoms, and yellow shoes (plus appropriately styled accessories). Disneybounding was conceived by fan Leslie Kay on her Tumblr account, DisneyBound, where in 2011 she began posting collages of outfit ideas for various Disney characters as mainstream as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and as obscure as Benny, the skeleton cab driver from Halloweentown (1998) (Kay 2018). Fans can either bound solo or with other fans in a group representing different characters from a particular franchise. For example, for Disney California Adventure's 2019 Lunar New Year celebration, fans Rayna and Sydney (@magicbymuses) Disneybounded as Mulan and Ping (Mulan's male disguise). Although Kay explains that Disneybounding began as a personal hobby to express her creativity (Borrensen 2017), it is also the practical response to a real problem. Cosplay violates Disney's theme park costume guidelines. Outside of hard-ticketed events that occur during specific times of the year, guests fourteen and older are prohibited from entering the park dressed in costumes that would cause them to be mistaken for Disney character performers ( Disneybounding therefore maintains the spirit of cosplay while reflecting the limits of self-expression set out by Disney's park mandate.

[2.9] In addition to Disneybounding, another popular trend is wall photos, where fans take pictures in front of painted walls. It began in 2017 when several high-profile lifestylers began posting photos on Instagram. There is an obvious Instagrammable quality to these Disney walls: they are brightly colored, and they add a vibrancy to one's feed. Disney fans have since flocked to take their pictures in front of walls, which can be found around the resorts on both coasts. At Disney's California Adventure, there is the blue wall and the Buzz Lightyear wall (added to promote the official opening of the park's rethemed land, Pixar Pier, on June 23, 2018); the bubblegum wall at Epcot; and the moss wall in Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom (Fickley-Baker 2017). The walls have become so popular within the Disney fan community that each has its own devoted hashtags and Instagram accounts boasting several thousand followers each, which showcases photos of fans posing against them wearing their best Disney-inspired outfits. Undeniably, the most famous of all of the walls is the purple wall in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, which, as a result of its immense popularity as the original wall that inspired this trend, has been the subject of a months-long refurbishment that transformed it from solid lavender to a geometric-shaped purple color scheme. In their official press release for the purple wall updates, Disney writes, "As the popular Disney saying goes, 'It all started with a mouse!' But for Instagrammers, the #DisneyWall trend all started with a wall—a purple wall to be exact, that sits to the right of the entrance into Tomorrowland" (Fickley-Baker 2018). Invoking Walt Disney's famous phrase about Mickey Mouse to describe the wall photo trend weaves Disney consumers and fans into the company's history, tying the trendsetting activities of Disney's most powerful fans with the company's creator. While such a comparison may raise eyebrows to those outside of the community, Disney's blog post reveals just how much fan-generated content influences the company's online brand identity and the extent to which they monitor the activities and habits of their most loyal consumers.

[2.10] Unsurprisingly, Disney has tried to profit from this lifestyler trend. Shortly after Pandora opened at Disney's Animal Kingdom in May 2017, Disney temporarily assigned a Photopass Cast Member (the term Disney uses for their employees) to stand at the moss wall to take high-quality photos of park guests—that guests would then have to purchase (Killebrew 2018). A Disney Parks blog article entitled "9 'Walls' Disney Parks Super Fans Deem Instagram Worthy" gives readers the exact location of the walls, featuring photos taken from the Instagram accounts of some popular lifestylers posing at each location (Fickley-Baker 2017). Notably, Disney does not describe the fans according to their community-given name but instead designates them as superfans, thus reproducing the stereotype of fandom as being simultaneously hierarchical and excessive (Jenkins 1992). But apparently it was not excessive enough for Disney to see the market value of this fan trend. In January 2018, they released a baseball hat in the same shade of purple as the purple wall, with the words "meet me at the" on the back and "Purple Wall" on the front in the Tomorrowland font (a typographical nod to the wall's location in the Magic Kingdom), as well as a Magic Band with the same phrase on the side. In July 2019, they released a windbreaker with a pattern that exactly matches the purple wall. In their press release for the new merchandise items, Disney claims, "Fans can now show off their appreciation for the famous and Instagram-worthy Purple Wall…which our team has carefully designed to match the exact color shade" (Jarvis 2018). Thus, Disney fully capitalizes on a fan trend that only became popular through lifestyler influence. While Disney's "vampiric appropriation" of this fan trend upholds the producer-consumer balance of power (Kiriakou 2018), it also demonstrates the level of influence these high-profile fans have on Disney corporate decisions. It also has obvious benefits for Disney: in an effort to compete for distinct consumer demographic dollars, Disney uses the oversharing component of social media to their advantage. Social media provides them with a window into the tastes, habits, and opinions of their consumers, allowing them to precisely target their messaging and products to increasingly diverse segments of their consumer base.

3. Disflix

[3.1] The lifestylers' effect reached its peak in mid-April 2017 with the short-lived company Disflix. Cofounded by former Inside the Magic merchandise specialist Corinne Anderson, Disflix was conceived as a subscription service that offered fans services such as trip planning, live-streams, and videos that were to be curated by at least a dozen or so of the community's most popular lifestylers. In a post on the now-deleted Disflix website (archived on the fan-run Disney website Theme Park University), Anderson explains the idea behind the venture: "It started with the intention of creating a collaboration of people in the Disney community and building a place for fans and vacationers. Many were eager to be a part of the project, in part because the collaboration aspect of the model and wanting to be a part of something positive and new" (Young 2017). Anderson and her team emphasized that Disflix was conceived as a community-building enterprise designed to bring together big name fans and those new to Disney fandom. It is impossible to describe Disflix in more concrete terms because it never materialized, but the rhetoric in this statement suggests that the platform was to be a virtual gathering space that could expand to accommodate a wide range of users, all united by their interest in Disney and the shared goal of growing their social media presence. Ostensibly, too, additional lifestylers could join the Disflix influencer team to better target different segments of the diverse Disney fan community.

[3.2] To promote their new project, on April 11, 2017, accounts associated with Disflix posted a teaser video on social media featuring several prominent lifestylers, including those behind the accounts @meettheroyers and @spokesmayne, in front of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. The phrase "Now you can be part of the magic in a whole new way" appears atop images of the lifestylers, as well as a list of services available on the platform. The images are accompanied by the song "The Trouble" (2014) by Pogo, who is known for remixing audio from well-known film and television soundtracks. Implicit in this video's messaging is the lifestylers' assumption of their perceived clout within the community; Disflix hosts have each built their own brands, and they are now offering their advice and tips (for a fee) to other Disney fans. This is when things went south. Almost immediately, Disney parks fans began to voice their opinions about the project on social media. For once, the usually polarized community seemed to agree that Disflix was a step too far.

[3.3] On a methodological level, it is challenging to track this sort of information (particularly when, as in this case, the series of events occurred in a compounded forty-eight-hour period), which speaks to the problems scholars can encounter when trying to contextualize contemporary social media practices. Inevitably there will be missing information that affects how an event or period of time is recounted. Another issue is synthesizing the vast quantity and scope of social media activity into a cohesive argument. Social media is a lot like deep space: there is a seemingly endless horizon, and you do not quite know what you'll come across. From a user's perspective, there is a lot of shouting into the void, and unless you have a large follower count or one of your posts goes viral, in most instances, you're only interacting with a small number of people. Additionally, there is the question of the motivations behind fan discourse. Transparency in social media advertising has recently been a hot-button issue, with companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Facebook's subsidiary, Instagram, all pledging to better disclose the nature of their sponsored content. In an effort to rehabilitate their image after it was revealed that the Russian government used Facebook to spread misinformation in an effort to sway the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, the company announced that they were launching a feature called View Ads, which "allows users to see every active ad" as well as make available information about the creator, cost, and target demographic on all of Facebook's social media platforms (Lapowsky and Matskis 2018).

[3.4] This is a step in the right direction, but it does not get to the heart of the other side of the transparency issue: sponsored content by social media users. A tool like View Ads might force a company like Disney to indicate that their social media posts are advertisements, but it does not compel an influencer to do the same. So, for example, when I see one of my favorite lifestylers talking about how great the latest Marvel movie was, or how he or she cannot wait until the next Kingdom Hearts game is released, what remains hidden is the potential financial arrangement that person has with Disney. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated its endorsement guidelines in an effort to make social media influencers disclose their corporate deals. Subsequently, Instagram added a promotions feature on their platform that allows influencers to include the phrase "paid partnership with" at the top of a post (Chacon 2017). Influencers also have the option to simply add #ad or #sponsored at the end of their caption, which, ironically, has led to a peculiar trend of aspiring influencers using these same hashtags to appear as though they have sponsorship deals, when in fact they don't (Lorenz 2018). Unfortunately, the FTC admits that they do not actively monitor social media posts; nor do they require any uniformity in the way influencers disclose their sponsored content (Federal Trade Commission 2017). As a result, it is often difficult to discern the motives behind an influencer's post. This hampers our understanding of the fan reaction toward Disflix because it is impossible to determine with certainty whether fans' reactions to the platform is a result of their (alleged) financial ties to Disney. Determining intentionality is a futile endeavor from the start, but it is complicated even further by the opacity of social media discourse.

[3.5] In spite of the hurdles I have just laid out, I will nonetheless attempt to evaluate the community discourse around Disflix in order to situate the quantity and range of responses against my wider argument. On April 11 alone, around two hundred tweets with the #disflix tag appeared on Twitter, plus several dozen more on both Facebook and Instagram—a comparatively minuscule number compared to the trending hashtags that appear on Twitter, but notable given the niche market Disflix was targeting. Many more replies to those initial tweets also exist but do not include the Disflix hashtag, which makes it hard to determine the total amount of traffic around Disflix during this preview period. Ever since the failed Disflix rollout in April 2017, there have been an additional couple dozen tweets that include the #disflix hashtag, many of which use the company name as a reference point to measure any type of controversy, noteworthy headline news, or flopped business venture (Disney or otherwise). For example, in summer 2018, when it was reported that MoviePass was raising their subscription fees in an effort to stabilize the value of their stock, Disney podcaster Tim Grassey (2018) joked, "BREAKING: Movie Pass change its model once again. Still cheaper than DisFlix." Likewise, in reaction to the news that White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci was leaving his position after only ten days on the job, Grassey's cohost, Derek Burgan (2017), sarcastically tweeted, "Disflix lasted longer than Scaramucci." Within the Disney community, the term "Disflix" has come to stand in for wide-ranging failure, short-sightedness, or greed.

[3.6] Searching through the #disflix tweets results in a high percentage of negative reactions, save for a handful of sympathetic posts. Those in the latter category share sentiments similar to that of user Savannah Dison (2017), who reminds fellow fans that "you can absolutely disagree with the premise of Disflix without sending out a witch hunt to be mean to people." Like Dison, user Dan-O (2017) writes, "I feel bad for the #Disflix hosts, I bet they never predicted a reception like this. Best of luck to fellow Dis creators though." The majority of posts in favor of Disflix appear not to necessarily be championing the service, but rather reacting to the hostile community reception toward Disflix's creators. To that end, the tweets that are critical of Disflix cite the creators' perceived overinflated egos, the cost, and the fact that they were charging for content that can be found online for free. For example, user Starport Seven-Five (2017) writes, "Disflix feels to me like all the popular kids are charging you to sit at the lunch table next to theirs and watch them be popular." The Disflix controversy even caught the attention of Universal, Disney's biggest competitor in the central Florida market. The official Universal Orlando Resort Twitter account tweeted on April 11, 2017, "We're totally going to make Uniflix a thing." Late in the evening of April 11, Disflix had issued a statement promising full refunds to anyone who had already purchased a subscription, and by April 13, they had taken down their website. The unsigned message, briefly uploaded to their now-deleted site, stated in part: "Unfortunately social media, being what it is, created a negative and hateful view of the business…We weren't trying to offend anyone, just having the courage to pursue another dream or venture. We wanted to test the business model and try something new. If the Disney community is determined to be against it, then we see no reason to continue pursuing it" (Disflix 2017).

[3.7] The sentiment about the motive behind Disflix vaguely mirrors that found in their initial press release. Several fans mocked this message, including a popular Disney-themed YouTube vlogger, whose tweet paraphrased the statement as, "'Our business model sucks and everyone online is saying so. Let's cancel everything and just blame them.'—#Disflix" (Plays 2017b). In a similar vein, user Victoria Castle (2017) tweeted, "'The Disney community on Twitter is full of negative and mean people.' No, we just don't fall for your Instagram life crap #disflix." It seems that that not all fans were buying their explanation. Many clearly viewed Disflix as a thinly veiled attempt to exploit the community. Fans were also irked by the tone of the statement. Rather than take responsibility for their actions, it was perceived that the Disflix creators were shifting the blame to social media and, by extension, to the very fans whom they were targeting as their audience.

[3.8] Disflix failed for a number of reasons. First, aesthetically, it was a rip-off of Netflix; it even used the same font and logo style, as well as a similar color scheme. As a service, it drew inspiration from both Netflix and Disney, yet it wasn't officially affiliated with either company, thereby hinting that this fan-generated platform could enter precarious legal waters. In another since-deleted promotional video, the creators touted Disflix as "the Netflix of Disney" (WDW Kingdomcast 2017), yet the introductory rate for their service was set at $9.99, which at the time was about $2 more than a basic Netflix package. Many in the community felt this was both uninspiring and greedy. As a tweet from one Disney fan summarizes, "If Netflix can fork out original content like House of Cards for less a month what kind of Sistine Chapel stuff was #disflix planning?" (Helms 2017). Whether out of hubris or ignorance, the Disflix website had a copyright page that explained that the company was concerned with protecting their hosts' ideas and content (Disflix 2017). However, at the most basic level, Disflix breached Disney's own terms and conditions. A simple search on the official Walt Disney World website reveals among the list of park rules and regulations no "photography, videography or recording of any kind for commercial purposes" ( To that end, user WDW Crane (2017) tweeted, "The highlight of #disflix would have been them confronted during a live stream, trespassed and escorted out for commercial filming."

[3.9] Second, virtually all of Disflix's promised content is already available online for free. For example, searching for "Wishes," the old fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom, results in 106,000 videos. Universal TIMation Resort (2017) writes, "#Disflix is $9 a month? But I can get this on YouTube right now for $0 a month." Similarly, on a 2017 episode of the podcast WDW Kingdomcast, host Gary asks, "Why would you spend $9.99 to watch a shitty quality video on Periscope when you can watch the same content for free on YouTube?" The logic behind charging a fee for content that is available on other platforms for free presumes either that their content is of better quality, or that they are filling a void or reaching an untapped segment of the market. Yet as Gary rightly points out, the image quality of livestreams (whether on Periscope, Instagram, or YouTube) is poor compared to uploaded videos because most of these platforms operate on devices and networks with limited streaming speeds.

[3.10] Third, and most important, Disflix was ill conceived because its creators were never clear about whom they were targeting as their primary audience. Locals and frequent theme park visitors would find no need for their services; they arguably are as knowledgeable and spend as much time in the parks as the lifestylers. In their press release, Anderson also cites "[theme park] visitors" as one of their main demographics, but reason would suggest this would not be the case: first-time guests or casual Disney fans either might not know to look for the service or would be unlikely to pay a monthly subscription fee for a service that would only briefly be useful to them. Twitter user Isabel (@BornToDisney), on April 11, 2017, wrote in a now-deleted post, "Disflix is IMO completely unnecessary and made to set a hierarchy in fandom." Such a comment suggests that fans perceived a self-serving goal underlying Disflix—namely to give these social media influencers an even bigger platform to expand their personal brands within the community (and beyond). The fact that their community collectively viewed it as inauthentic speaks to the limits of acceptable fan practices—what Michelle McCudden describes as activities that signal when one's fandom can become "too big" or goes "too far" to the point of being undesirable (2011, 58), disruptive, and potentially destructive to the community in question.

4. What can we learn from Disflix?

[4.1] Although it was marketed as a community-building service, Disflix was also conceived as a platform to teach subscribers how to be popular and money-making Disney fans. Ostensibly, by taking their classes and watching the video tutorials, one would be armed with the necessary tools to not only tour the parks efficiently but also to create one's own Disney-inspired brand according to the templates set out by the lifestylers. The biggest criticism of Disflix's subscription-service model was what it would mean for other fan-run accounts that provide content for free and make their money through ads or sponsorship deals. Should Disflix enter any legal battle with Disney, how might that affect vloggers who film in the parks?

[4.2] Such a question points to one of the fundamental reasons why Disflix failed: it was perceived that the creators were trying to commodify the discursive power associated with their subcultural status for personal gain. In other words, rather than selling merchandise or an official Disney product or service, they were selling the very idea of big name fandom, as well as access to the community influence that goes along with being a BNF. Disney fan and popular YouTube vlogger Adam Hattan (2017) writes on Twitter, "I disagree with the #Disflix concept. My content is fun for me to make. I am and always will be happy to share it with you for free." Many Disney fans turn to YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms to share their love of the Disney parks and to forge bonds with fellow fans. These platforms are critical to online fandom, as they function both as a means of self-expression and community building. When a fan practice comes under threat—especially as a result of the actions of people in the community—fans tend to feel exploited. As one YouTuber writes, "I'm laying into #Disflix b/c beyond being a bad idea, it's the kind of thing that can have a ripple effect to other creators" (Plays 2017a). Similarly, in a post on the DISboards forum, user Lesverts (2017) writes, "It could have and honestly still can have a very chilling impact on the Disney online community…Honestly this could be the thing that sparks Disney to take a more proactive stance against stuff like this…I worry this could be the thing, even as a failure, that could change Disney's mind and make the company enforce their rules without allowing for the grey area."

[4.3] In their work on internet fandom, Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson write that fan communities operate according to a "fannish code of conduct." Each community follows a set of "unspoken rules, handed down to new fans and often learned via fannish osmosis or by seeing a clear closing of ranks when these rules are violated" (2012, 42). When those rules are broken, fans justifiably feel like they are being hustled. Such risks have been present in fan communities long before Disflix. For example, in May 2007, the website FanLib was launched as a space for fans to upload their fan fiction. FanLib was created by industry insiders Jon Landau, Jon Moonves, and Anil Singh for $3 million, and their aim was to "commodify fan fiction" by promising users prizes, the prospect of e-publication, and attention from Hollywood producers in exchange for their creative labor (Hellekson 2009, 117). FanLib was shut down in August 2008 after fans criticized the owners for "attempting to control the community component without the community members' cooperation," which for Hellekson shows how fans are central in shaping the discourse, aims, and patterns of behavior in their own community (2009, 118).

[4.4] Unlike FanLib, where slick corporate outsiders attempted to extract revenue from a core fan practice, Disflix originated from within a fan community. Disflix was a business designed by Disney fans to exploit the codes of Disney fandom—the ultimate fan betrayal. As the earlier cited comments make clear, a common fear from some Disney fans on Twitter was the potential repercussions the Disflix business model would have in the community—specifically, that it would push Disney to crack down on content sharing. In today's social media landscape, content sharing is an essential part of Disney fandom and fan communities more broadly. Should Disney tighten their terms and conditions, the changes could fundamentally affect what it means to be a Disney fan.

[4.5] The lifestylers have been able to successfully dictate aesthetic trends within the community, yet they face very real pushback in their attempts to turn the social media practices associated with theme park fandom into a commodity. Ironically, Disney has and continues to do just that, as exemplified by the wall photos. Yet when Disney does this, the fans seem to perceive it positively—regardless of the fact that they receive no financial compensation for their ideas—presumably because in the process, their fandom gets validated, or at least publicly acknowledged, by Disney. The Disflix debacle demonstrates the precarious nature of subcultural celebrity status, although it does not appear that this phenomenon caused any long-term damage to the reputations of the lifestylers involved, including Corinn Anderson, who continues to run her popular Disney Lifestylers Instagram account. However, in their quest for followers and greater influence in their community, these social media influencers exploit the implicitly understood codes of Disney fandom, thereby becoming "bad" fans (temporarily, at least). The Disflix debacle has cast a negative shadow over the lifestyler influence, and it calls into question the staying power and future that this small group of fans will have in the Disney community.

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