Resistance Is Futile
. . . puny mortal, when you visit Disney World. Most of the contributors to World Wide Webers are with me there now, ostensibly for the benefit of five-year-old Jakob but also as part of an ongoing psychosocial experiment examining how one can be in and of a culture without necessarily being enthralled to it.
The fact is that whenever I visit Disney World I am very conscious of being emotionally manipulated for obvious economic reasons--yet because it's done so darn well, I enjoy (almost) every minute of it. Not only in the four major theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney/MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom) but everywhere in the vast panoply of Disney satellite facilities--hotels, recreation areas, restaurants, theaters, golf courses, and of course, stores, stores, stores--one is surrounded by thousands of visual, auditory, and sensory details artfully selected and arranged to induce a pleasant consumerist stupor by evoking a particular "theme" with just the right balance of familiarity and surprise so that one feels nostalgic, relaxed, and excited all at once.
This morning as we strolled the faux-1900-era seaside resort street fronted with shops ("emporia"), cafes, and amusement halls behind Disney's Boardwalk Villas, I commented to daughter Karen, "You know, I can't decide whether this is charming in a cheesy way or just cheesy enough not to be charming. Either way, I like it." You have to give Disney credit for the doggedness with which they carry out their "themes" (even the door to the workout room on the hotel's lower level is adorned with a pseudo-Edwardian sign exhorting patrons to "Exercise for Vim, Vigor, and Vitality!") as well as for the occasional infusion of truly clever originality that consistently marks Disney as superior to the other American corporate purveyors of kitsch.
For example, looming alongside the pool behind the Boardwalk Villas is a twenty-foot-high structure that looks for all the world like an old wooden roller coaster. But after a few moments you realize it's actually a water slide, a red plastic chute nestled among the intersecting white wooden crossbeams in place of a roller coaster track. It looks cool and is probably fun to ride (can't tell you from personal experience since we haven't yet had temperatures warm enough for swimming).
As you can tell, my approach to Disney is to try to maintain my awareness of how I am being worked over (if only for the sake of my self-respect) but also to let myself enjoy it--which I do, I do.
Later in the day, Karen expressed annoyance over having to listen to an audioanimatronic George W. Bush deliver a homily on freedom near the conclusion of the patriotic pageant presented in the grandly colonial Hall of Presidents on the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square. (He's one of 43 presidential figures arrayed on stage in period garb, who nod, shift in their chairs, and move their hands in an effort to appear lifelike--which is more than some actual politicians ever manage to do.) I understand Karen's feelings, although of course the robot version of Bill Clinton played the same role when he was president. It's a bit unreasonable to expect the Disney corporation to dis a sitting president (especially at a theme park located in a state governed by the president's brother).
However, I noticed that the Disney "imagineers" positioned Bush rather far from any of the other presidents in their tableau--except for Nixon, who stood immediately to his right. This probably wasn't intended as a sly comment on the fact that W's administration is the most corrupt, dishonest, and constitutionally reckless since Tricky Dick's, but I think I'll choose to take it that way.