Our letter to the Universal Orlando Studios CEO/Chairman, Robert Gault was followed by members in Florida reporting shock and dismay to learn about the stigmatizing mental illness theme for Universal Orlando Theme Parks Halloween Horrors Events during October 2004. This Theme Park attracts tourists from around the U.S. and the world to Orlando.
Mr. Gault, through his Public Relations Director Ted Schroder, responded with the following email message:
Thank you for your letter to Bob Gault regarding our Halloween Horror Nights’ marketing and publicity campaign. Bob has asked me to respond on his behalf.
We understand the viewpoint of your organization, but want you to know that we would never intentionally offend anyone. Halloween Horror Nights is one of Universal Orlando's most popular events and is known for offering great scares in a fun, safe, environment. We know that we push the envelope when it comes to Halloween Horror Nights because that is what our guests want.
The event has built its reputation on Hollywood-style entertainment that offers an escape from every day life. We believe our guests and the media understand they leave reality behind as they walk through our gates. That same philosophy extends to the advertising and marketing we use to support Halloween Horror Nights. And -- as with our event -- we believe people understand our Halloween advertising and marketing has no connection with reality.
We're grateful that you have shared your feelings and the feelings of your group's membership. We always want to hear from people with different viewpoints. Thank you.
Tom Schroder, Director, Public Relations
We had several conversations with Ted Schroder interrupted by the hurricanes, followed by an email suggesting their creative staff could convert this image to a scary image, based on the many scary events in the world today -- hoping for an image we might praise rather than protest.
The response was negative. View the Web site image at: http://themeparks.universalstudios.com/orlando/hhn/2004/index.html
Please send or fax another message to:
Mr. Robert Gault, President & CEO
Universal Orlando Studios
1000 Universal Studios Plaza
Orlando, Florida 32819-7610
General Information: 407-363-8000
Email Ted Shroder, Director of Public Relations
And two important corporate partners at the theme park
E. Neville Isdell, Chairman & CEO
The Coca-Cola Corp
One Coca-Cola Plaza
Atlanta, GA 30301
Daniel Carp, Chairman & CEO
Eastman Kodak Company
343 State St.
Rochester, NY 14650
* That one in five real persons and their real families struggling daily with a severe mental illness cannot toss off a biologically based brain disorder. It is as devastating as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, HIV, cancer. Would you feature a bald headed person with cancer to horrify your visitors seeking escape from reality? We guess not. Persons with mental disorders deserve the same respect and consideration
* Today persons with mental illness do and are recovering with new medications and rehabilitation. However, many do not seek treatment because of the stigma of the centuries old stereotypes, perpetuated by images such as on your Web site, featuring a man wrapped in a straight-jacket with distraught facial expressions, and head movements. This is most traumatic for real persons who have experienced this most dehumanizing and demeaning restriction. It’s no fun!
* Your mental illness theme runs counter to the recommendations of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report and the President’s Commission on Mental Health Report that seeks to defuse the stigma so all individuals will seek treatment to recover, live and participate in a supportive, understanding community.
* We hope you will give this renewed consideration for changing the Web site to truly scary images that will not be hurtful to any population, but will be out of this world frightening fun for your visitors.
The Jane Pauley interview on Dateline NBC about her bipolar disorder relates to Mental Illness Awareness Week October 3 to 9, with October 7 being Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day. She received excellent reviews for her candid answers about her hospitalization. NAMI’s Medical Director, Dr. Ken Duckworth, was a consultant to Dateline NBC and assisted them with their research in understanding bipolar disorder. He also gave advice for the show, which provided the accurate information it achieved.
Jane Pauley, one of the most recognizable newswomen in America, recently published her autobiographical book, "Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue," that covers her three-weeks in the hospital for bipolar disorder as well as her three decades in television. Currently she is hosting her own talk show daily on NBC. See your local TV listings for time.
Another local success story from -- South Africa -- where a local agency director following our model of dealing with local stigma, had an offensive ad for Play Station pulled.
Please continue to share your successes. You are most important. We appreciate your eyes and ears that bring us reports about stigma and discrimination which we read, evaluate, and prioritize to investigate for the Alert. And -- remember, NUMBERS COUNT with your responses to alert protests.
Stella March, National Coordinator