By: Marla Dickerson
While critics have worked themselves into a lather denouncing Disneyland's cleanup of lusty swashbucklers on its Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, it appears that a park insider has pulled off the ultimate in politically incorrect pranks.
More than a dozen photographs of women baring their breasts on the park's Splash Mountain log ride have appeared on sites across the Internet in recent months -- leading some cheeky cyber-fans to christen the attraction "Flash Mountain."
The photos were captured by a special video camera mounted inside the ride that snaps souvenir photos of each log and its crew of up to eight riders as they plunge down Splash Mountain's watery, five-story drop.
Through the years, uninhibited adventurers of both sexes have flashed more than a smile to the camera in the hopes of walking away with an R-rated memento from the G-rated Magic Kingdom.
Such spicy images usually are intercepted and destroyed by Disneyland employees, who edit the digital pictures before they can be turned into $9.95 souvenir 8-by-10s.
But park officials say the topless photos now circulating on the Internet were likely swiped by an employee who proceeded to launch them into cyberspace.
An internal investigation last year failed to turn up the culprit, according to Disneyland spokesman Tom Brocato. He says park management since has tightened security procedures and added more oversight to the editing process.
"This is obviously something we don't condone," Brocato said. "We've put additional controls in place to keep it from happening again."
Opened in the Anaheim park's Critter Country in 1989, Splash Mountain is a log flume themed on Disney's movie classic "Song of the South." Critters such as Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear cavort and sing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" while riders hang on for a white-knuckle adventure through the faux swamps and rapids.
But the real thrill for some riders is the chance to perform for the camera. Park veterans know precisely where it's located and can time their gestures and expressions accordingly.
The high jinks aren't unique to Splash Mountain or Disneyland. Parks nationwide have equipped their thrill rides with cameras, and most screen their souvenir photos for off-color activity.
"People view it as an opportunity to do something outrageous," said Cincinnati-based theme park consultant Dennis Speigel. "It's the ultimate form of show and tell."
Brocato said the purloined pictures first surfaced on the Internet last spring. But like other information hatched in cyberspace, copies have proliferated and taken on a life of their own.
One popular Web site now promotes the photos in serial form -- posting a new one every so often to keep voyeuristic Net surfers coming back for more.
He failed to answer e-mail requests for an interview.
Disney's inability to control a freewheeling, sometimes bawdy forum like the Internet stands in stark contrast to its plans to sanitize its classic Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. The audio-animatronic pirates will soon be depicted lusting after food, rather than village maidens.
Legal experts say the Flash Mountain caper is a good example of how the Internet is straining traditional definitions of copyright, publicity and privacy rights.
The Walt Disney Co. owns the images and could seek to have charges filed against those posting them on Web sites and electronic bulletin boards. But Brocato says the company hasn't bothered because it's clearly a prank and no one appears to be exploiting the pictures for money.
Likewise, the topless riders might be stunned to learn that they've become one of the most eye-popping attractions to hit Disneyland since the Indiana Jones Adventure.
But winning a case against the park for violating their privacy would be a tremendous undertaking, particularly since the riders appear to have willingly exposed themselves in public, said Maureen Dorney, a Palo Alto attorney specializing in Internet law.
"In this day and age, people really need to think about this sort of conduct," Dorney said. "The public domain gets really public when images can be broadcast globally through the Internet."
But theme park veterans say the specter of ending up on someone's home page isn't likely to discourage exhibitionist patrons. In fact, it could encourage a few, says consultant Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services.
"This has been going on since parks first started installing these cameras in the 1970s," he said. "The technology may change, but human nature won't."