fear of mice and the diseases they carry

OK, perhaps I overreacted a little when I said that I was trapped inside “the most evil place on earth” a few days ago. As the comments following my post reminded me, there are places far more evil than the one I found myself in. Women were not being stoned to death for learning how to read where I was, minority ethnic groups weren’t being systematically “cleansed,” and the name of God wasn’t being invoked to stop the progress of scientific inquiry… at least as far as I know. The place where I spent last week is just evil in the sense that it’s responsible for the generating a particularly virulent strain of the commercial kudzu we’re now finding it so difficlut to hack our way out of.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I was at Walt Disney World. I was there for a conference. The conference was very good, and I’m glad that I went, but the full Disney immersion began to take it’s toll on my mind after the first few hours. I found myself getting into heated debates with strangers over the Disney “magic” which enveloped us (every few minutes, someone wishes you a “magical day”) and its role in the obfuscation of American history and our society’s growing acceptance of the fictional as real. No one seemed to share my opinion. A friend, who was at the conference with me, is a big fan of the Disney ethos. At some point, he confided in me that if he could, he would like to live 24/7 in a Disney environment, like the one launched not too long ago in Celebration, Florida.

On more than one occasion, fueled by drinks and overwhelmed by “magic”, I was forced to confront people with the simple question – “What’s the matter with authentic experiences?” Defensive, people would tell me that these experiences we were sharing were authentic. Standing on a fake boardwalk made to recall 1920 Atlantic City, as fake birds playfully twittered in the distance, I was told that what we were experiencing was, in a way, “more real than the real thing” — more real because all of the extraneous noise (like that generated by the history of race, class, and labor) had been filtered out. We were inside a pure America, one that had been distilled and cultured, like designer drug.

My friend, the one who told me that he’d like to move his family to Celebration, explained to me that what he loves most about Disney is that they’ve been able to bring small-town America back to life. In response, I contended that the Disney America, in addition to being super-sized and homogenized, strives to resurrect an America that never really existed. When I offered the fact that there were, at this very moment, real small towns across America where he and his family could move, if that’s what they wanted, I was told that it wasn’t the same.

America isn’t a country that values history. We don’t like the inherited, and often inconvenient legacies that come along with real small-town America — the kinds of things I often rant about here at MM.com, like my city’s industrial contamination, prostitution, and the culture of decay at the hands of slumlords. We want brand new old. We like our denim pre-frayed, and for our town squares to evoke the sense of history and tradition without the awkwardness that comes along with artifacts of the slave trade. We want ice cream franchises where rosy-cheeked kids in crisp white shirts say, “Hello, neighbor” like Stepford children. (Who cares that the cheap facade needs to be replaced every few years? The Mexicans will do it for a song.)

I coped by walking around with my iPod, pumping a deadly mixture of Public Enemy, NWA, the Ramones, Elliott Smith and Mississippi John Hurt directly into my brain, and bathing excessively.

So, here’s the revelation that I had on my trip. One of two things will happen in this world of ours. Either there will be the complete and utter collapse of all infrastructure as we know it, in which case we’ll revert to some kind of city-state kind of arrangement (in which case I plan to run for Ypsilanti warlord), or we’ll see the further stratification between two classes in America — one supporting as “cast members” (which is what they call them here in Disney), and the other living the lives of pampered guests. Those of us who can afford to do so, will live their lives in “imagineered” environments, completely divorced from the realities of everyday existence. The machinery of production will be hidden. There will be Disneyfied towns and cities surrounded by well-hidden shantytowns.

And, no, my daughter didn’t accompany me to Disney. I wouldn’t do that to someone I loved.

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  1. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted March 15, 2006 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    And, during the holiday season, the town of Celebration has fake snow every evening!


  2. ol' e cross
    Posted March 15, 2006 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Nicely put.

  3. Collin
    Posted March 15, 2006 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    “Those of us who can afford to do so, will live their lives in

  4. chris
    Posted March 15, 2006 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    We were there last year and every sign out is “have a magical day” it was like the village in “The Prisoner” what was it that they would say? was it, “be seeing you”. I confronted a few folk , like the desk clerk, askinig them if they alsways had to say, “have a magical day” and they would just stare at me blankly and blink which made me wonder if there was like one of the seven dwarves crouching beneath the desk ready to give them 300 volts of shut the f up w/ a mickey taser if they did not. Actually, I felt bad as I am sure some smart ass asks them that question like once every 5 mins.

    Hey Mark, did you know that Mickey will never be seen simultaneously in two different kingdoms? They have that shit timed, to ensure a magical experience. Man, that place was careeeepy. You do know people die there all the time and they bring their corpses to the other side to be picked up y the morgue. And that pedophiles often take their victims there for photoshoots.

  5. mark
    Posted March 16, 2006 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    I’m going to be a new kind of warlord, Collin – the kind that avoids confrontation at all costs and cries when yelled at.

  6. mark
    Posted March 16, 2006 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Chris, if I ever get a chance to talk with Mr. McGoohan, I will ask him whether or not he would have prefered Disney World to The Village. It’s a good question. (I’ll also be asking if he, like me, has OCD, as has been suggested on this site before.)

  7. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 16, 2006 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  8. schutzman
    Posted March 16, 2006 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Gee, Mark, it sounds like someone has reached the “Age of Not Believing.” I would suggest you take a little bit of pixie dust and call me in the morning.

    My opinion of the Disney Theme Parks probably falls between the views of you and your co-worker.

    I think they’re wonderful, horrible, amazing, disturbing, empowering, dehumanizing, evil, good, authentic and inauthentic all at the same time. It’s certainly easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to the product placement (which has gotten much worse in the last couple years), and many of the better rides (mr. toad and 20,000 leagues under the sea, for example) have been replaced with crap, but there’s still enough interesting stuff there that I wouldn’t completely discount it.

    It’s inauthentic, yes, but at it’s very best it does tend to capture the viewer’s imagination, much like a psychedelic drug, and allow your synapses to make a few jumps that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I went there when I was very young, and I honestly feel that I wouldn’t have a lot of my interests and peculiarities today, if it weren’t for exposure to Disney. I would certainly never have made hot_presidents if I’d not been subjected to the disturbing image of 40 audioanimatronic chief executives on a stage when I was younger. Although they were hardly what I’d now consider to be ‘skilled historical interpreters’, it was also the first time I’d seen dynamic presentations made by live people in historic costuming, which I can’t imagine didn’t have an influence on me.

    If you (or anyone else) are interested in some behind-the-scenes takes on how the parks are going downhill, and why, and what exactly some people (like me) used to like about them, I’d recommend checking out a great blog I just discovered called re-imagineering , which was set up by disenchanted disney imagineers.

  9. mark
    Posted March 16, 2006 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Cool link. Thanks, Brett.

    As for Disney, I should mention that I did have one very nice experience. A young woman with very good posture, who was working at on the concierge floor of the Beach Club property, made some kind of crack about me, after I’d sucked down a few too many of the free aperitifs. (We were joking about how bad the TV was there, I think. The channel choices are very limited.) I can’t recall the specifics, but we both laughed and then I pointed out that her behavior wasn’t terribly “Disney.” She laughed again, and then immediately composed herself. It was a pretty cool moment. I like Disney rebellion. (They probably had her shot shortly after I left.)

  10. It's Skinner Again
    Posted March 17, 2006 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I once had dinner with the woman who was then playing Mickey at Disneyland. She told me one of her favorite things to do was to tie the Dwarves’ caps together: they can’t really see out of those heads, so they stumble around bumping into each other until they catch on. I thought you’d like to know.

  11. mark
    Posted March 19, 2006 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    If someone could pull everything together, I’m sure there’s one hell of a book out there waiting to be made. “Mutiny at the Happiest Place of Earth.” I’m sure there must be hundreds of great stories of people rebelling in one way or another against the strictly enforced the Disney ethos.

  12. doulicia
    Posted March 21, 2006 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    You MUST read George Saunders’ story Pastoralia.


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