There was a time when Disneyland turned away people for looking “too weird.” Mohawks, crazy hair color, men in makeup, bondage gear, creepy T-shirts — all were subject to refusal for entry. Those of us over 35, into punk rock, metal or goth style, who visited the House of Mouse back then, pretty much all have stories about being turned away or asked to return to our cars to remove an offensive item or to “normalize” our look. Thankfully, Disneyland not only opened its mind over the years, it embraced dark subcultures, even marketing to them with cool merch branded with its Haunted Mansion and Villains themes. In recent years, its collaborations with Tim Burton (Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland) have made Disneyland a goth haven. Bats Day in the Fun Park has been a big part of this evolution, attracting thousands of black-clad denizens annually for a day of photo ops at D-land as well as off-site parties and gatherings surrounding the big day.
Disneyland doesn't officially sanction any of the many meetups that happen there all year long, but for the big ones like Gay Day, Dapper Day and Bats Day, it does work with the organizers, sometimes holding events in the nearby Disney Hotel. At the park itself, staffers help to facilitate photos and crowd control. This Sunday, May 6, Bats Day will once again drench Disney with darkness, but for the first time in two decades, there is no marketplace event or pre-party. And next year there may not be traditional photo shoots, either. Bats Day is hitting the coffin, at least in its current form. We spoke with organizer and creator Noah Korda this week and asked him to explain.
L.A. Weekly: So is this Sunday really the end of Bats Day at the Fun Park?
Noah Korda: That’s the funny thing. Bats Day will never really go away. After 20 years of spooky gatherings, the event is just going through some changes.
Why did you decide to end Bats Day as we know it?
Unfortunately due to the economy, new tax laws and community interests, the event can't run the way it has been for the last 15 years. Bats Day is going back to its roots of how it all began, as a park meet. But as a “park meet” it will be just that. No hotel accommodations, no discount tickets to Disneyland, no group photo ops at the Sleeping Beauty Castle and Haunted Mansion … no Bats Day Black Market or even our entertainment nights beforehand anymore.
The Black Market vendor gathering was a really fun pre-event, as were your dance balls in Anaheim. You put out an announcement explaining your reasons for not doing the marketplace or party events any longer. Some people didn't get it. Can you explain what happened further?
With the direction of the economy and seeing what was in store with how the tax situation was going, we knew this was not going to be an easy task to continue the event. This decision wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. This was something that was researched for a while to see if there was any way around it.
I love all the other events (the Bats Day Black Market, the Bats Day Happy Haunts Swinging Wake: Costume Ball, and our Dark Park Music Event) and so much came from it to benefit the community. I know it’s a big loss and I will miss that aspect of the weekend. Who knows? Maybe it will come back someday, but for now it just can't.
The main thing is that the event can no longer do as many deductions and writeoffs like it used to. Since the event doesn’t make a profit, those deductions and writeoffs were key to the event. To make up the difference of the loss of those deductions and writeoffs, the cost of the entertainment tickets and prices for the spots to the Black Market would end up pricing us out. A $35 ticket would end up being $175 after the fact with nothing new or additional to offer. All of this is a grassroots thing. We are not a huge corporation. We don’t get huge corporate sponsors. Myself as well as my crew put in a lot of their own time and sometimes money toward this event for the community without expecting anything in return.
What are your biggest and best memories from Bats Day?
So many things have happened. The fact that this event has been going on for now 20 years is just something in itself. Since I'm a huge Haunted Mansion fan from Disneyland, the fact that I have managed to have group photos able to be taken on the steps of the Haunted Mansion during the event just blows my mind. In the history of Disneyland, there has not been anything like that. Also as far as I know, this event has been the biggest group that has been in front of the Castle for a group photo. I'm thankful for all of the amazing acts and artists who have performed during the pre-events, such as David J (Bauhaus, Love & Rockets) and Voltaire.
One great memory was when someone came up to me after the event about 10 years ago, thanking me and telling me how special it was seeing their daughter enjoy the music and culture they grew up on. It was surreal for them. Also, watching my own daughter grow up in the middle of this event and living it through her eyes.
I took my 10-year-old daughter to Bats Day and felt the same way. It really is a family gathering and it has had a hand in Disney's own marketing decisions, which in turn has influenced pop culture and how dark aesthetics are perceived and now more accepted. How do you feel Disneyland and goth culture has changed?
The goth culture has changed a lot. It will never go away and will always be here. It's not like how it was. Goth was all about the music and what followed from that. Since there really isn't a lot of goth music out there to support it, goth is now, in my eyes, more of a style. It's not a bad thing. It's what happens over time to anything. But for those of us who lived during the actual spooky age of goth, it is our responsibility as crusty old death rockers to teach the baby bats what goth was and that it was more than just a style.
As for Disneyland, now that's a different beast altogether. It's not the park that I grew up with, but much like the goth culture, it too has to change for the times. I do believe that the dress code with going to Disneyland and how this subculture is viewed now by Disneyland has a lot to do with Bats Day in the Fun Park. I can tell how relaxed the park is now by it. I remember when I was a teenager, you could not really go to Disneyland with colored hair or dark-dress attire. It's almost like they welcome it now. So it's amazing that Bats Day in the Fun Park helped create a new way to go to Disneyland. It paved the way for so many other events and social clubs to thrive and be inspired to be creative. Bats Day is the original Disney goth.
Anything else people should know about Bats Day and why you created it?
Bats Day in the Fun Park was and is a labor of love. It didn’t start out that way. Who knew that when two goth dance clubs -Absynthe and Release the Bats- got together just to have some fun at Disneyland that something amazing would happen that would last 20 years later. After the second year, when Release the Bats stepped down, I just kept the tradition going, finding new ways to add to the event and to help it grow. I love bringing people together to enjoy something we all love.
With this new transitional stage the event is going through now, I think that once again it will find its place with a new generation amongst the current attendees. Being a fan of the Disneyland Resort, Bats Day in the Fun Park will continue to live on. I hope we can all find new ways for spooky goth people to continue to have fun and help our community grow.
Bats Day in the Fun Park (meetup with photo ops) at Disneyland, 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim; Sun., May 6, 8 a.m.-mid. For photo shoot times and more info see https://www.batsday.net/events/events.html.
Read more about all of Disneyland's unofficial meetups and dress-up days here and check out the Lina in L.A. Bat's Day slideshow from 2015 here.