Social clubs have long been a part of Disneyland. It is located in the geographic middle of one of the largest metropolises in the world and has always drawn a very large portion of its attendance from the region. When admission was free, families and friends would go to hang out while their kids spent a precious paper ticket to go on rides.
Later, when annual passes were introduced, Disneyland became the place to hang out if you were into pop music (Tomorrowland), swing dancing and big bands (Carnation Plaza), Rag Time Piano (Coke Corner), the smoking rockers (the phones behind Tomorrowland near the Matterhorn), etc. At one time in the mid-1990s, I counted 11 distinct circles of friends who hung out in the park reasons for various shared interests and a love of Disneyland. Yes, there was some overlap, but their behaviors were so reliable, I could circle where I expected to find them on a map and I was usually right.
The first regular meetup of friends who shared a love of Disneyland via an online group (in this case the USENET newsgroups rec.arts.disney.parks or alt.disney.disneyland) started in June of 1994. I know, I was there at the first meetup. That group evolved into what was known as the Sunday afternoon group. It met every Sunday at the hub (because there were benches and shade). At times the meet up was as large as 60 fans on any given Sunday.
I know people who met at that group, got married, and are still married today. I made many great friends just because we all knew we shared one thing, a love of Disney, and were respectful to each other.
Out of this group grew two splinter groups who started to identify themselves by little buttons we would wear on on our hats, backpacks or jackets. RADP and ADD (short for the USENET Groups they started on) were the first formal social groups. They would meet up outside of Disneyland at various events or museums too.
(A quick note, I’m not including the various collector fan clubs like NFFC (now Disneyana Fan Club) and Once Upon a Classic collectors club, since they didn’t meet at the park on a regular basis, but they both got their start in the mid-80s.)
In recent years (since the late 2000s despite what the article below says), the concept of a social club became a bit more formal. Groups started to identify via patches on jackets, then unique jackets, then there became membership rules, and at times you would see many different groups in the park together.
The Disneyland social clubs make a point of following Disneyland’s rules since the last thing they want to happen is to be banned from the park. But there has been controversy over the years. Many accuse them of gang like behavior and old timers find their obsession with tattoos and dressing up like motorcycle gangs off-putting. The biggest complaint is how they sometimes move together in groups through the park (something everyone does, but is made more identifiable since they’re all wearing the same jackets).
To be honest, I’ve always found it a fascinating way that one culture adapts that to another. The physical location of Disneyland means it too is a giant salad of different cultures from around the region. From cast members to guests, people will bring their traditions and cultures with them into the parks. I see the social clubs as an extension of that and mostly harmless. To the extend they do non-profit work together, even a positive thing for the community.
That’s not always the case, however. A recent article in the LA Times examines a lawsuit that has been filed alleging one group is using tactics of intimidation to demand protection money from another. The truth will come out in court, but it is something to keep an eye on. If Disneyland feels that social club attire is detracting from the park experience, they are within their rights to ban it or to ban large meet ups. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Do you have a similar experience to mine or belong to a Disneyland social club? What has your experience been like?