Last year Greg Maletic defended Walt Disney Worldâ€™s Magic Kingdom against criticism from Disneyland fans who think the Florida attraction is a corruption of Walt’s dream. Soon after, he published a more interesting and better essay about the meaining of Disneyland as a cultural landmark. In it he explores Walt’s original vision, not of “the happiest place on Earth,” but as a tribute to American ideals. He points out that a close reading of the Disneyland dedication plaque gives a lot of insight into what Walt was trying to achieve and how that vision has strayed over time:
bq. To all who come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.
Think about the attractions: Main Street USA, an idealized version of small-town America; the Disneyland Railroad, a historic train ride from the dawn of man to the future; Frontierland, a celebration fo the American West; and of course Tomorrowland, a joyous look at a future of 50’s progress and limitless possibility.
I first visited Disneyland in the late 80s or early 90s, and back then a lot of the original vision was still there. Over time the creep of time and corporate planning has subtly but fundamentally altered the Disney experience, turning it into a mish-mash of competing ideas centered around “fun” more than any sense of shared values.
Like Greg, I can’t come out and say this progress is inherently bad, or inherently good. It is change, change that reflects how our culture has changed, that reflects a fundamentally different America, a different world. Disneyland has become muddled because the world is a lot more complicated, what it means to be American is more complicated, and notions of how we fit into the world are in flux. And of course many of the starring attractions of the original Disneyland experience would today be considered kitschy or starry-eyed over-the-top ridiculousness.
But despite this all Disneyland still draws me in. Shaina and I are planning a visit when we’re back in California. The place is still amazing and fascinating, even if it isn’t what its founder intended.
And, seperately, I’ve found out that I have some old frequent flyer miles that will expire soon, enough to take a trip somewhere in the continental US. I could go anywhere, some place I’ve never been before, but I’m really leaning towards the idea of going down to Florida and seeing Disneyworld again for the first time in ten years. That said, I’m not really thrilled about the idea of going alone. Anyone want to come along for an adventure?