Mindless cynicism du jour

Hate Disney World if you must. Fine. It’s a small world, but there’s still room for diverse opinions.

Just have a reason for doing so other than thinking you’re just too cool for the whole experience.

At Slate, Seth Stevenson takes a shot at the land of the Mouse:

After spending the past five days here, I’ve come to the conclusion that Disney World teaches kids three things: 1) a meaningless, bubble-headed utopianism, 2) a grasping, whining consumerism, and 3) a preference for soulless facsimiles of culture and architecture instead of for the real thing. I suppose it also teaches them that monorails are cool. So there’s that.

Except that he doesn’t develop any of those points.

He sees “bubble-headed utopianism” in the “It’s a Small World” ride but concedes that he finds it charming. “It’s an unassailable message, and there’s also something comforting in the ride’s retro simplicity.”

The rest of his complaints:

1. Disney World sells packages to people who go roughly once a year. Isn’t that excessive? People buy time shares near warm-weather golf courses all the time. Think of Disney World as some great golfing that happens to have a few amusement parks within a shuttle or monorail ride, and is it really so strange?

2. Had Disney lived longer, his utopian vision might have mutated into something like L. Ron Hubbard’s. OK. And if Jim Morrison had lived longer, the Doors might have become a Christian rock band. Lots of historical determinism there, and it has nothing to do with the park itself.

3. Disney World is like a church of Disneyism! Just look at all the weddings in the Magic Kingdom! Weddings, you say? That’s a sign of religion? If that were true, shouldn’t we all pray facing Vegas?

4. Between the Mickey/Minnie gender roles and the princess/pirate split among kids, Disney World reinforces gender stereotypes. OK, sure, the storytelling in Disney films can be a little old-fashioned. But plenty of kids have favorite characters who aren’t so easily pinned down. What the hell is Stitch, anyway?

5. Everything is so sanitized. The fireworks always start at exactly 9 p.m. The berms hide the Dumpsters. Concealed trash? Fireworks starting on time? Those freaking Nazi bastards!

Look, if I want to see Dumpsters, I’ll walk out behind my local grocery store. (It’s not in front? Those freaking Nazi bastards!) If I want to see a little utopian fantasy land, I’ll go to the Magic Kingdom.

And he doesn’t even scratch the surface of what you can actually see in Disney World. Animal Kingdom’s safari ride gives you the closest view of wild animals you could possibly want. If you’re tired of the “Small World” utopianism, take your pick from the rides at any of the parks.

He briefly mentions Epcot — “Mightn’t it be better to broaden your children’s horizons just a tad? Like, maybe visit Canada—instead of just the Canada pavilion in Epcot?”

Notice that he mentions Canada. Notice how different — and how elitist — this sentence would read if he had said, “Like, maybe visit Japan — instead of just the Japan pavilion in Epcot?”

Those of us who have neither tens of thousands of dollars nor eight weeks of annual vacation to travel the world with our kids appreciate the chance to go culture-browsing at Epcot. Even if we had all the time and money in the world, we might still take the Epcot highlight reel.

We don’t live far from the National Zoo, but we still check out the panda cam on occasion. If we use a shortcut like that instead of packing up and driving 30-40 minutes, would we really pack up and fly to Mexico every time we want to see something vaguely Aztec?

Essentially, this guy’s arguments boil down to some what-ifs and some complaints about consumer behavior. If people take Disney World as something more than an occasional escape, if they buy time-shares, if their girls dress as princesses, if they only see international culture at Epcot and if they get married at the Magic Kingdom … then they might have warped views on gender roles and garbage collection.

When he takes Disney World for what it is rather than what obsessed fans with no sense of reality make of it, he enjoys it.

But how unhip a story would that be?


4 thoughts on “Mindless cynicism du jour

  1. Great stuff, Beau. If anything is worse than the people who love Disney so much it makes you sick, it’s the people who hate it just so they can look down on the millions in the middle who see it for what it is – a great vacation spot which allows you to choose from dozens of activities to create your own experience.

  2. If you’d like to read a nuanced development of the Disney culture is an inadequate replacement for real culture (in the context of operating systems no less) check out “In The Beginning was the Command Line” by Neal Stephenson. (I’m a massive Stephenson dork, so take my shameless fawning with appropriate grains of salt.)

    (It’s available for free all over the web. That’s the first non zip file link on Google.)

    The operating system points are hopelessly dated (it was written in 1995 or 1996 I think). The cultural metaphor points are more true than ever.

  3. As we are about to embark on our second Disney voyage with the kids, I’ll be sure to note the secret location of those garbage dumpsters (Nazi bastards). And, for now, its a hell of a lot cheaper to fly my two toddlers to Orlando than Narita. Japan can wait.

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