Magic Kingdom’s Totalitarian Rule


Photo by Express Monorail

Photographer William Beem found himself on the wrong side of the House of Mouse this past Sunday when he was taking photos at Disney World’s House of Blues. He was approached four times by security who wanted to know what he was doing — I know what you’re thinking, taking photos at Disney IS highly unusual and suspicious! But, read on.

The fourth time Beem was approached, a manager named Don came along to report there had been complaints about him. Beem was puzzled. He was taking photos of buildings, not people, and he hadn’t even had interactions with anyone around him. Who would complain?

Manager Don requested Beem’s personal details, which Beem provided in the interest of being cooperative, and ultimately Don admitted that he felt Beem’s architectural photos were suspicious, insinuating a terrorist connection. At one point Don threatened to call the sheriff if Beem didn’t provide his ID. This made Beem uncomfortable and so he decided to leave. Don and a guard escorted him to his car and a few more showed up to watch him pack up and leave. Don was even on the phone, presumably to the sheriff’s office, reporting that Beem was unresponsive and wouldn’t give over his identification. Beem was alarmed that Don was telling blatant lies to bolster his “case.” Then he ordered the guards to take photos of Beem and his car and belongings. Finally, a Disney security car followed him out of the park.

Now this is just bizarre behavior from a very misguided park manager. Certainly there are better ways to handle photographers in the park that satisfies security concerns but also allows tourists to enjoy themselves, which is the whole point of the place. If photographers are treated this way in the happiest place on earth, what can we expect in the rough-and-tumble real world? Oh yeah, we already know.

Here are Beem’s lessons from the encounter, from his blog:

• Appeasement doesn’t work. You don’t know what is going to set them off, so it’s best to just stay quiet.
• Remain calm & polite. I could’ve become as indignant as I felt, but I think that would’ve just taken me down a more annoying path and I didn’t want to continue ruining what started out as a lovely evening.
• Follow-up. I’ll be writing to Disney management to learn and understand why I was singled-out for harassment and if I should expect such behavior in the future.
• Listen. Better to let them reveal information and intent than for me to share information.  See #1.
• Share. Ultimately, we need to keep this message alive.  Harassment of photographers is not providing any security.  If there’s someone out there with ill intent toward Disney, they aren’t going to go out with an expensive camera and a tripod to draw attention to themselves.  They’ll show up with some buddies or a family to look things over.  There’s no indication at all photography was used in any other high profile attack, so they probably won’t even have a camera.  If we’re going to stop this asinine behavior from the security industry, we need to continue communicating about the stupidity of their actions.

Read about the whole encounter on Beem’s blog here (via Thomas Hawk).

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2 Responses to “Magic Kingdom’s Totalitarian Rule”


  1. 1 twogiraffe April 13, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    These morons will never thwart a terrorist attack by ways of investigation. Only by way of pure luck… being at the right place at the right time.

    Many security guards are just meat-heads wanting to get some power trip. I’ve had many different encounters, most are just stern and cold… don’t know, don’t care, you can’t photograph here! One time it was a personable and friendly retired detective. We talked for a few minutes about photography and he learned more about me in conversation than any ID card can tell you.

    I do not mind the heightened security after 9-11, but just train them to be more human and they might actually solve a crime and get a mayor’s award or something.

    • 2 babydiscarted April 14, 2010 at 8:01 pm

      True, a lot of the problem is ignorance and just some misguided sense that photographers = terrorist.


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