Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Theme Parking: Giving In To The Fantasy

  • Coincident with my rejuvenated affinity for all things Disneyland has been the launch of Dismaland. The temporary art installation coordinated by British street artist Banksy has been discussed quite a lot over the last month. What it's really about is open to some debate. But a recent link crossed my Twitter feed that tried to do so in some detail.

  • Heather Havrilesky's article, "Burning Down the Mouse", describes her family's visit to Disneyland at the behest of her children and, through that that lens, the larger corruption of culture through capitalism. Her argument seems to be that corporate-driven consumerism has made the world a bad place. In her personal anecdote, she was almost tricked into enjoying herself at Disneyland. It was only upon examining the consumerist sheep around her that snapped her out of the capitalist illusion.

  • I don't bring this up specifically to attack Havrilesky's (or Banksy's) critique of the pitfalls of capitalism. In many ways, I agree with them. The drive for money over all other considerations is dehumanizing. Conversely, there are people who occasionally can turn the vast corporate power at their disposal toward doing a real good. I think that, despite whatever other the company's intentions, Disneyland is one of those good works.

  • In the article, Havrilesky can't help but belittle the type of people she imagines would enjoy the theme park. She describes watching a parade and wondering why everyone she saw took in the entertainment so passively or with such disinterest. Instead of clapping and dancing along to the music, the crowd sat and watched the parade go by. Some were even so distracted that they were checking their cell phones instead.

  • I had a similar experience recently that this article made me rethink. While celebrating my wife's birthday at the Disneyland Resort, we took our daughter to the Frozen sing-along show. She loves to belt out the songs, which my wife and I find to be adorable. And I admit that I am a fan of the songs as well. As we sat in the theater, singing along with "Love Is An Open Door" (my wife and I singing a duet), I looked around the theater. Almost every face was blank, each person staring blankly at the screen. I turned to my wife and asked, "Do you think everyone else knows that this is a sing-along?" Even the wildly popular "Let It Go" was greeted with silence from the crowd. As we walked out of the theater, I wondered why all of those people went to watch a not-so-great stage show if they weren't there for the singing.

  • But thinking back, I wonder why I felt so judgmental about how those people watched the show. Maybe they really did want to watch the show. Maybe they were shy about singing in public, but still wanted to experience it. Maybe they were hot (and it was really hot that day) and they were just looking for respite. Why did I need to say that they were doing it wrong?

  • When I see people in the park who may not be enjoying themselves in the moment, there could be any number of reasons why. There are crowds, weather, closures, queues, money, and family pressures to deal with. Those things don't magically go away just because you've entered The Happiest Place On Earth. People find themselves under pressure to have fun and sometimes they just can't. We should not judge them for not living up to our expectations.

  • Finally, we should not be judging people for finding enjoyment where they can. People are not sheep just because they want to watch a parade go by. People are not sheep because they want to experience a thrilling but perfectly safe ride. People are not sheep because they want to ride through an elaborately told story. We understand that there is a capitalistic side to everything in the park. But there is also the thought and hard work that goes into everything we might see and do.

  • Fantasy is not a bad thing. Authenticity is not automatically some universal virtue to judge everything else against. We seek out fantasy because we want to experience something more than mundanity. It is not weakness to share in the imaginative. Fantasy can be used as an escape, certainly. But people deserve to be reminded that not everything is terrible in the world. We deserve to enjoy life, no matter how we might choose to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment