Baudrillard and Disneyland

On the Inability of a  French Post-Modernist to Enjoy the Magic Kingdom

Micky Mouse by Ralph Steadman

At least once every 365 days, I take some time out of my life to visit Disneyland. This week, I journeyed back into Magic Kingdom to exploit the fruits of a free birthday pass (I turned 14), and titillate my insatiable addiction to churro smell (not taste). So, while wandering around the all-too-real reality of Disneyland’s stroller-pushing, teenaged mothers and churro-eating masses, I, of course, remembered the words of my, and undoubtedly your, favorite postmoderist, poststructuralist Frenchie philosopher, Jean Baudrillard:

Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation.

The late Baudrillard apparently had a complicated time at D-Land–he even calls the parking lot a concentration camp– but he penned this (perhaps pretentiously) hilarious treatise on the why Disneyland is, like, soooo PoMo. I’ve posted the short excerpt from Simulacra and Simulations after the jump. If only Baudrillard was able to experience fully the Russian doll, So-Cal microcosm of California Adventure…

Put this in your pipe and smoke it…

http://z.about.com/d/collectibles/1/0/F/H/1/disneycastle1.jpg

Hyperreal and imaginary

from Simulacra and Simulations, Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 1988), pp.166-184.

Article Soundtrack: This is Not the World – The Futureheads

Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation. To begin with it is a play of illusions and phantasms: pirates, the frontier, future world, etc. This imaginary world is supposed to be what makes the operation successful. But, what draws the crowds is undoubtedly much more the social microcosm, the miniaturized and religious revelling in real America, in its delights and drawbacks. You park outside, queue up inside, and are totally abandoned at the exit. In this imaginary world the only phantasmagoria is in the inherent warmth and affection of the crowd, and in that aufficiently excessive number of gadgets used there to specifically maintain the multitudinous affect. The contrast with the absolute solitude of the parking lot – a veritable concentration camp – is total. Or rather: inside, a whole range of gadgets magnetize the crowd into direct flows; outside, solitude is directed onto a single gadget: the automobile. By an extraordinary coincidence (one that undoubtedly belongs to the peculiar enchantment of this universe), this deep-frozen infantile world happens to have been conceived and realized by a man who is himself now cryogenized; Walt Disney, who awaits his resurrection at minus 180 degrees centigrade.

…this deep-frozen infantile world happens to have been conceived and realized by a man who is himself now cryogenized; Walt Disney, who awaits his resurrection at minus 180 degrees centigrade.

The objective profile of the United States, then, may be traced throughout Disneyland, even down to the morphology of individuals and the crowd. All its values are exalted here, in miniature and comic-strip form. Embalmed and pactfied. Whence the possibility of an ideological analysis of Disneyland (L. Marin does it well in Utopies, jeux d’espaces): digest of the American way of life, panegyric to American values, idealized transposition of a contradictory reality. To be sure. But this conceals something else, and that “ideological” blanket exactly serves to cover over a third-order simulation: Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral).

Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.

The Disneyland imaginary is neither true nor false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It’s meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the “real” world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real childishness.

Moreover, Disneyland is not the only one. Enchanted Village, Magic Mountain, Marine World: Los Angeles is encircled by these “imaginary stations” which feed reality, reality-energy, to a town whose mystery is precisely that it is nothing more than a network of endless, unreal circulation: a town of fabulous proportions, but without space or dimensions. As much as electrical and nuclear power stations, as much as film studios, this town, which is nothing more than an immense script and a perpetual motion picture, needs this old imaginary made up of childhood signals and faked phantasms for its sympathetic nervous system.

5 Replies to “Baudrillard and Disneyland”

  1. Too bad Disney wasn’t actually frozen. I gotta be honest, Baudrillard just rubs me the wrong way. I don’t know why, but my brain has the same fight-or-flight response to his writing that it does to watching the O’Riley Factor.

  2. This has a further SoCal connection–Mark Poster, the editor of the collection this is taken from, is a professor at UC Irvine.

  3. However, I should admit that I derive some kind of pleasure from getting all riled up by his work. Same with O’Riley, I guess. Stupid brain!

Comments are closed.