A number of friendly, charity-minded social clubs have sprung up in Disney fandom. They dress in disnefied versions of biker wear, gather together in Disneyland, help people out, and keep each other company. I encountered the Neverlanders several times last year when I had a residency at Disney Imagineering, and I loved the way they blended counterculture and fandom. A long, smart piece about the clubs in OC Weekly traces their history and growth — fuelled by Instagram — and the way they encountered mainstream Disney fandom through message-boards and in the parks.
As the article notes, there's a long history of counterculture at Disney parks, from the Yippie invasion to the goth takeover of Tomorrowland prior to the New Tomorrowland renovation. This sort of thing was my direct inspiration for proposing a fan takeover of Disney in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and the goth redesign of Fantasyland in Makers.
The presence of counterculture/bohemians in Disneyland shows how appropriation runs in two directions, and also points to a new direction in fraternal organizations. The activities of Disneyland's social clubs — Neverlanders, Pix Pak, Black Death Crew, Main Street Elite — would be recognizable to my grandparents, who were active in groups like Kiwanis and B'nai Brith, and who unwound with their friends through bowling and card-games and multi-family picnics.
Michael Stout, an LA-based barber, is the co-founder of the Main Street Elite, one of the most visible clubs. "We started the Main Street Elite with the intention of bringing people together for their common love—some would say obsession—with Disney and the Disney parks," he says. "Being heavily tattooed and having somewhat of an 'alternative' image compared to the average Disney-goer, it was hard for us to mesh with the families you usually see at the park. So we decided we'll make our own Disney family, seeking out the rest of the Disney fanatics who were left with no one to go to the park with."
The clubs could be found throughout Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, doing everything en masse, from sitting at restaurants and waiting in line to taking over entire rides and filling standing sections at park events. They immediately sparked massive interest among Disney-watchers, a famously obsessive lot that treats any new trends among themselves with a mix of skepticism and glee.
The first public reference to the crews appeared April 2013 on MiceChat, among the oldest Disney fan websites. The forum post—titled "does anyone know the name of this crew?"—was styled like a police bulletin:
"10-20 people, men and women."
"'Hardcore' type, with gauged ears, wearing mostly black."
The Very Merry Un-Gangs of Disneyland [Charles Lam/OC Weekly]
(Image: Photographer: Austen Risolvato | Design: Dustin Ames)