Bob Iger Would NEVER Bring a Water Dish for Skippy: The Classist Myth of Unskilled Labor

I told my co-blogger that my next article would be titled “Bob Iger Would NEVER Bring a Water Dish for Skippy.” She packed her belongings into a handkerchief tied to a stick. I think that means she’s excited!

Okay, okay, a little context…

There’s a new video setting YouTube ablaze. It presents a clear and fascinating rebuttal to the classist myth of “the low-skill worker.”

  • The storyteller is YouTuber Jenny Nicholson.
  • The setting of her deep-dive is the recently defunct Star Wars hotel.
  • The villains are insanely wealthy people trying to make themselves even wealthier by guessing what the unwashed masses want… and getting it totally wrong because they’re inept, greedy, and out of touch.
  • The heroes are the unpaid interns and minimum-wage workers whose dedication, creativity, and work ethic create the magic their bosses unsuccessfully wasted millions of dollars chasing.

Y’all, this video FIRED ME UP. I’m neither a Star Wars fan nor a Disney adult, but it doesn’t matter. The video is well worth watching. I’m only going to speak to a very small slice of it, which I’ll summarize for folks who don’t have the time or interest to watch it all.

In this age of unprecedented wealth inequality, it’s singularly important for workers everywhere to understand how their labor is being exploited. The story is juicy and entertaining—but we also think it’s a great opportunity for readers to develop the skill of recognizing labor exploitation. Because if you don’t know you’re exploited, you can’t take steps to stop it.

So sit back and let me explain the significance of bringing a water dish for Skippy—and why Bob Iger would never think to do it.

A Quick Summary of “the Star Wars Hotel”

I’ve been a fan of YouTuber Jenny Nicholson since her 2020 pandemic video ranking all 14 The Land Before Time sequels. (My baby brother was the exact right age to have these on a loop. I still know all the words to “When You’re Big,” and it’s hard to find others who understand that pain.)

I also have an abiding hatred for soulless design-by-committee commercial media. My job used to be pitching ideas to creatively bankrupt executives. They veto all interesting ideas because they worry you, the customers, might find a single grind of black pepper to be too spicy.

So when I saw Nicholson release a deep dive into the colossal failures of Disney’s “immersive” Star Wars hotel, I cleared my calendar!

Nicholson’s experience was abysmal.

  • The base price was butthole-clenchingly high at $6K for two people.
  • Despite this, she was nickel-and-dimed at every opportunity.
  • The room was cramped, without access to a fire escape.
  • The games and activities were soulless and boring, basically requiring guests to sit on their phones 24/7.
  • Technology supporting the experience often broke, or hid critical features behind poor UX design.
  • Her assigned seating was behind a giant view-blocking pole.
  • The itinerary was uncomfortably full, culminating in a moment that sounded like a small panic attack.
  • The “immersive role-play” was shallow, with outcomes that felt random.
  • On the two occasions she needed customer support, she was ignored until they realized she was an influencer with a bazillion followers.
Basically every part of the Star Wars Experience EXCEPT the person who brought a water dish for Skippy.

Basically, the entire experience overpromised and underdelivered. It felt not just bad, but fundamentally disrespectful. Like it was designed by people who love Star Wars not for its stories or characters, but its potential to generate shareholder revenue.

… Because it was.

The overpaid idiots behind this failure

It makes sense that a company founder is deeply interested in the products or services their company offers.

Walt Disney’s a fine example. As a child, he liked to draw, and had great intuition for storytelling. As an adult, he understood the animation process from top to bottom because he actually did it. His experience gave him the ability to spot talent in others and embrace promising technological advances. When Disney founded his own business, it drew all of his interests and strengths together to make a pretty iconic American company.

Today, his company is helmed by people with no creative experience.

  • Michael Eisner (former CEO) specialized in programming and development—the business aspects of television production.
  • Bob Chapek (former CEO) has a brand management background. The major innovation that got him this job: creating artificial scarcity via the fabled “Disney Vault.”
  • Bob Iger (former and current CEO) also doesn’t have a creative background. His core skillset is also programming and development.

And it’s not just their CEOs. It’s all of their leaders.

I tried to find someone in leadership at Disney with direct creative experience. I gave up after the first 20.

And may I just add: The overwhelming majority came from obviously privileged backgrounds. I did not set out to find this information, I swear! Phrases like “raised on Park Avenue in Manhattan” and “rode horses competitively throughout college” leapt off the page at me. Many of these executives are the children of other executives. Am I shocked that these people built an unaffordable experience? Nope!

Butterfly meme: "Is this a Disney Executive?"

Business-first frameworks

The Star Wars hotel failed because it was a creative idea built upon a business framework.

The experience’s core goal was to make money by drawing a new demographic (people who love Star Wars) to Disney’s parks. They wanted to capture these people, and siphon the greatest possible percentage of their total vacation budget into the Disney machine.

So they designed an experience that would operate as cheaply as possible while extracting the maximum value from its fanbase.

  • They designed cramped rooms for maximum possible occupancy.
  • The weird, uncomfortable schedule was almost certainly a dodge to avoid paying staff full time wages, let alone overtime.
  • They eliminated anything that would be flashy and cool, yet too expensive or labor-intensive to maintain. (The original concept art depicted a lot more human-piloted droids and costumed actors, for example.)
  • They were too stingy or disorganized to even put Disney+ on the hotel room TVs.
  • Guest interactions were “streamlined” down to automated text messages and phone games.
  • They cosmetically grafted the bare minimum of Star Warsiness onto the experience.

Basically, you can attribute every aspect of Nicholson’s terrible experience to this framework.

By contrast, Disney’s most successful ideas are business ideas built upon creative frameworks. Think, for example, of Cinderella’s Castle. It’s based on a drawing meant to convey a sense of setting and tone in a movie—not generate revenue IRL. The real structure is a masterwork, built by people with world-class talent for engineering spectacle, enjoyed by all who see it… but especially by the wealthy who get to eat in its exclusive dining room and stay in its elite hotel!

They cannot create—only destroy

The core skillset of a businessperson is to monetize creative ideas. Often, the path to monetization lies through exploitation.

I suspect that the executives who crafted the Star Wars hotel don’t actually like Star Wars. Honestly, I bet they don’t watch movies at all. If you showed them one, I’m convinced they couldn’t explain if they thought it was good or bad without asking to see the box office numbers or test audience data first.

I’m far from the first person to suggest that the design-by-committee, producer-controlled approach to creative endeavors is ruining pop culture. When business people hold the reins of creative decisions, they betray their lack of artistic vision, creative bravery, and production know-how. Y’know—all the things Walt Disney himself had in spades?

(I’m not trying to tongue Walt Disney’s asshole here. The nicest thing I can say about him is that he’s a complicated historical figure. But I went to film school. I’m very accustomed to the necessity of praising the final products of awful men. Don’t @ me!)

In the case of the Stars Wars hotel, it’s as if the designers of the experience said “light sabers and Chewbacca” in response to the question “why do people love Star Wars?”

Like its increasingly shitty movies, the hotel ticks a superficial number of boxes of Things They Think We Like. But it’s like reading poetry written by AI. Its stilted, unpracticed, unrefined voice betrays its soullessness.

These people had a blank canvas and all the time, money, and expertise in the world to fill it.

This was what they came up with? Scanning QR codes??

Mon Dieu.

IS IT?!???!!!!

The underpaid geniuses who saved the experience

Jenny Nicholson’s trip wasn’t entirely bad.

Toward the end of her video, she discusses her experience with the cast members and service workers who tried their best to show her a great time.

  • Cast members took every interaction, no matter how mundane, as an opportunity to engage with her in-character.
  • A cashier at the gift shop noticed she was pining for a sold-out item. They asked for their manager’s approval to sell her the floor model so she wouldn’t be disappointed.
  • The bartender remembered their drink orders from Night 1, and had them ready again on Night 2.
  • A hotel staff member couldn’t allow her to stand on chairs to take better pictures—but they took the initiative to find her a stepstool instead.
  • Their server noticed she wasn’t enjoying one of the dinner courses, and brought her an alternative entrée without being asked.

And best of all…

Someone brought a water dish for Skippy.

See, Nicholson committed to the bit. She role-played a character from the Star Wars universe. Her costume included a small stuffed alien, which she carried around as a sort of space purse dog.

Its name was Skippy.

At one point, a server brought Nicholson and her sister their drinks—and also set down a water dish for Skippy.

That’s a thoughtful consideration if Skippy were a real animal. But bringing water for a stuffed animal is exactly the kind of touchingly whimsical, magical, and personal experience people remember when they leave a place like Disney World. It’s an incredible “yes and…” that rewards eager and participatory park guests with a unique and inimitable human interaction.

Any time the Star Cruiser felt deluxe to me… Any time I felt they had gone above and beyond to give a good experience… It was entirely due through the efforts of individual cast members.

-Jenny Nicholson

Unskilled work is a classist myth

Bob Iger makes pretty good money as Disney’s CEO. In 2021, he made $45.9 million dollars. That means he’s paid about $22,000 an hour.

I’m not sure why he needs that money, since his estimated net worth is a little under $700 million dollars. But, y’know, whatever! Maybe he’s super bad with money? Maybe he burns piles of it to keep warm through Florida’s brutal winters??

You would never bring a water dish for Skippy, Bob Iger, you strike-breaking two-shower loser.

According to Nicholson, the overwhelming majority of cast members who staffed the Star Wars hotel were interns. I don’t know exactly how much money they made—if you were a cast member, hit me up to anonymously spill these deets! But research tells me it’s not much more than minimum wage, which is $8.65 in Florida right now. Many must pay fees to stay in company housing and utilize company parking lots, which is pretty yikes. Even if they didn’t, this cast member would only have an annual salary of about $18,000.

That means Bob Iger makes more money in a single hour than his lowest-level employees make in an entire year. And this is true even though these “low skilled workers” have proven that their hard work requires incredible skill and drives the company’s legendary success even in lean times.

I cannot imagine the unfathomable arrogance of any leader thinking their efforts are equal to 2,500 of their employees.

But Iger isn’t just any leader. Iger is a bad leader, by pretty much any metric! As a business leader, he botched his own succession, overpaid for more than one key acquisition, and shat the bed on streaming. As a creative leader, he tanked the Marvel superhero machine, overinvested in television and streaming, cheapened the Disney brand with poor quality live-action remakes, and rubber-stamped a string of formulaic duds neither audiences nor critics liked.

One day soon, Iger will sail into obscurity on a golden parachute. Disney will live on—not because of his 4D chess leadership. No, it’ll keep going on the strength of its lowest-paid staff members. The roamers, cashiers, servers, animators, in-betweeners, puppeteers, and—

Well, there are no puppeteers.

They were going to unionize, so Disney destroyed them back in 2014.

… What was I saying?

A New Hope

How do we stop this cycle of exploitation?

It’s clear that we cannot expect Disney and huge companies like it to decide to do the right thing on their own. They’re oligarchies run by executive sons of executive fathers. When I look at their actions, the only conclusion I can make is that they psychotically believe themselves to be gods among men, at complete ease with the status quo. They really think we live in a meritocracy, and it’s not their fault they’re Just The Best Men!

The only people whose welfare they care about is the shareholders.

… Which makes a ton of sense when you understand that they themselves are the shareholders.

Participation in the stock market is at an all-time high. More “normal people” than ever own a share of something. But it doesn’t really matter, because it’s too late! The top 10% of Americans already own 93% of stocks. The richest 1% own more than the bottom half. We can never win by out-investing them.

The Rebel Alliance Practical solutions

To me, the best solution is regulation. It would not be hard to mandate a maximum worker-to-executive pay ratio. But there is zero political will among elected officials to enact this kind of meaningful change. We can’t even update the national minimum wage, which hasn’t changed since the days of President Charlemagne, I’m pretty sure…

The second-best option is organized labor. And there must be a blue moon a’coming, because I have good news on that front!

Just a few days ago, Disneyland workers in Anaheim voted in favor of unionizing under Actor’s Equity. A tentative agreement with the union will give 32,000 workers a 37% pay raise over the next five years. They have a long way to go to catch up to Bob, but it’s a start.

No one who works should be impoverished. But in particular, no one who’s underpaid should feel pressured to overperform to compensate for their highly paid superiors’ failures.

Anecdotally, I hear about so many hospitals held together by overworked nurses; schools kept going by underpaid teachers; retail franchises struggling to stay open. It’s not just “the way things are!” It’s part of the mass enshitification of everything. You’re being squeezed every day, everywhere you go, for more money, more attention, more time, more labor. And I’m sorry to say that I think we need to stop overachieving and let these systems fail—no matter how painful that may be!—because there’s no other way to make the executive class of greedy dumbasses listen.

Disney, when employees start talking about unionizing, probably...

The server who brought a water dish for Skippy deserves recognition for her genius. She found a way to make a guest feel delighted, with no extra money or effort. She deserves a cushy job with a six-figure salary, training others to spot similar opportunities. But she probably won’t be. Instead, the actual value of her hard work and creativity get hoovered up into another fractional gain in the already bursting bank accounts of people like Bob Iger.

Bob Iger would NEVER think to bring a water dish for Skippy.

Forget creativity and empathy—I don’t think he has the courage to just be kinda silly.

If there was justice in the world, this would not stand. I feel the sting of some emotion like shame, knowing that the CEO of the world’s second-largest entertainment company can’t muster up the most basic fundamentals of make-believe any toddler at a stuffed animal tea party instinctively embraces.

But the only story he’s willing or able to tell is: “once upon a time, I delivered shareholder value.”

And that’s a story I’m sick of hearing.

2 thoughts to “Bob Iger Would NEVER Bring a Water Dish for Skippy: The Classist Myth of Unskilled Labor”

  1. Another really refreshing read. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that other people also see the crushing weight of capitalism and it’s not a personal failure on my part at all. The world is upside down right now, but impartial analysis and concrete action always helps. Thanks for another wonderful read in between corporate emails

  2. I’d like to add another action to the To Do list. We could just stop shopping at Disney and do our best to get everyone to follow our lead. Don’t buy Disney merchandise. Don’t subscribe to the Disney channel. Don’t spend your vacation dollars at their theme park. These people only understand the bottom line so hit them where it will hurt them the most. For those of you who have children, I admit, this will be harder to do. But there has to be more equitable and creative animated programming out there for children. Maybe it would result in a two for one – hit Disney where it counts and promote new, non-corporate talent.

    Just putting it out there for the universe.

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