I was sweating in the queue for Space Mountain one scorching afternoon when the paranoid anarchist in me declared: “Walt Disney was a megalomaniacal prophet of capitalism. The Disney Empire is his Church. Disneyland is an Imperialistic Mecca. The tourists around you are Worshipper-Pilgrims at the shrine of the Fatted Mouse.” I restrained the sigh rising in my chest. You shouldn’t be paranoid in Disneyland. It’s the Happiest Place on Earth. It was a hot day. My brain was over-heated and over-worked.
Now, perhaps my fuming paranoiac did overstate things, but as I glanced around at the serpentine queue of exhausted people milling back and forth, I couldn’t help but mull over my reasons for being there. And as I contemplated that, a question fluttered into my mind like Tinker Bell with bad news: “Is Disneyland a kind of boot camp for the people of Southern California?”
As I say, it was hot that day.
Maybe childhood euphoria over our cartoon Magic Kingdom (and assorted motifs and minions) disguises that we are being indoctrinated in the two activities we spend our adult lives performing in SoCal: waiting in line and spending ridiculous amounts of money. Queueing for Moon Orbiter hot dogs becomes waiting for breakfast burritos at Del Taco. Autopia becomes the 405 at rush hour.
But then I finally made it to the air-conditioned interior of Space Mountain, and things didn’t seem so dire anymore. Funny how AC makes everything seem okay.
And then there was the ride. Five minutes long?
By the time it was over, with the post-orgasmic glow of leaving the tunnel and reentering the real world… Well, I had a new theory.
Disneyland was a Freudian summer camp, as you enter tunnels to experience Magic and leave them in post-coital depression, hungry for another ride but having to run through hoops to get more and more and more…
I spun around, and I suddenly realized that all the ride entrances looked like big vaginas swallowing phalluses of trains and bumper cars. The Matterhorn was a big penis swelling up from the surrounding park. Sleeping Beauty’s castle (ha! check out that gate guarding the entrance) was a metaphor for male prison-like domination of women. And could it be that the Evil Queen hiding in the window was actually the male’s mother-memory haunting him? Yeah, I had this place grokked, man! I was wandering around Disneyland in a psychosexual trance, deconstructing all the characters, the rides, the cartoons, everything!
Somewhere along the way, it started to rain.
So I hunted for a dry spot over by the video arcade in Tomorrowland and found a bunch of picnic tables under a roof. And there I found a strange sight.
Mickey, Minnie, Aladdin, Jasmine, and the Genie were telling stories to a group of soaking wet, enraptured kids. The story was “Mickey and the Beanstalk.” The kids were laughing, supplying events when prompted, absolutely loving it. Even the parents had these kind of precious, wry grins on their faces.
So I puked.
Sorry, not really. Just a mental upchuck. Metaphorical vomit.
I turned and left the glow of story time behind, made my way across the park to the Pirates of the Caribbean, queued for only a half-hour thanks to the rain, then got on and had a marvelous time.
And by the end of the ride, I had a new theory. The secret to Disneyland wasn’t sociopolitical, nor psychosexual. It wasn’t just willing suspension of disbelief, either. It’s more than that. It’s a willing suspension of reality itself.
Which isn’t so bad.
Disney had become a sort of Marley’s Ghost for all the bourgeois Scrooges wandering around SoCal.
While sipping Dole Pineapple Juice, you could experience American Chintz Past in the Enchanted Tiki Room with Jose the Parrot and company.
You could drink in the wonders of American Chintz Present while munching a Moon Orbiter in the Tomorrowland food court and listening to fresh-faced, well-groomed, and undoubtedly well-behaved youngsters smiling broadly as they play “Proud Mary” on synthesizers.
And of course there is Chintz to Come with Star Tours.
Aside from making money, Disney was best at gleaning the chaff of American culture, diluting it further, and importing it with teenage smiles and short hair. But maybe the Disney empire was actually Walt’s colossal joke, a way of satirizing and teasing America and its culture. Or what if his master plan was to imagineer a sort of “War of the Worlds” farce in three dimensions, fooling everybody into believing in what America supposedly stands for? What if Disney is a religion, and Disneyland is the Vatican, Disney Retail Stores missionary churches…?
The problem is, I want to believe. I want to believe that ours is a Small World and to solve all our problems we just have to force children to sing an insidious song over and over.
I want to believe that Imagination can save us from Evil.
I also want to believe that there’s a place my kids can visit, learn about American and the World, have fun, and let loose their imaginations. And I do believe. Honest!
Well, no I don’t. But I wish I did.
The Happiest Place on Earth is in Anaheim. That’s a comforting thought. Now if they could just lower ticket prices, maybe everybody could be happier. Even me.
How’s that for wishful thinking?