Saturday, March 10, 2012

Don't Drink the Koolaid: The Consuming Cult of Disney

The focus we have put on simplicity this year made our recent trip to Disney World a breeze on one hand, and extremely difficult on another. 

Easy: Getting ready. Because I have pared down our wardrobes to a little above what we need, it was a snap to get all the laundry done before we left. I had a small choice of clean clothes to pack and no old laundry waiting at home. The only big thing to do was clean out the fridge and freeze the leftovers which carried us through this weekend. I've never been less stressed preparing for a trip.

Hard: Reconciling my faith and my simple living ethos with the Disney worldview. It can't be done. From before you get on the shuttle at the airport until after you leave, the Disney experience is one long sales pitch. It has blatant and unapologetic aspects, it is also so subtle as to be subliminal if you aren't aware of it. It's brilliant, really. Each morning in the Magic Kingdom starts with a parade celebrating the fact that you are at Disney World to make memories. Evening winds up with a firework-lit medley about how your wishes can come true if you believe. Every moment in between is jam packed with well-designed messages about how Disney is your dream come true, the best place have great vacations for generations to come, how you are truly special when you are there. Each advertisement has an unspoken negative attached: Childhood is incomplete without this pilgrimage, your life is unfulfilling, you deserve more than you are getting anywhere else. They charge you quite a lot for the privilege of receiving these missives, and it seemed like every family there was soaking it in with the ardor of true believers. 
Ideas have consequences, dear friends. Celebrating each day is a great thing, but let us celebrate each day because it is a miracle of creation, and an opportunity for Redemption. No theme park or cartoon character is enough. "Belief" or "faith" is destructive unless it is placed in something or someone worthwhile, active, and powerful. That person is not me. It is my Savior, Jesus Christ. Fulfillment is found not in a vacation experience, but in relationship with Him.
As to all the rest, it seems better for our bank account and for our children that we budget the money we might spend on Disney vacations for charity, for savings, and for real theater and musical experiences, real trips to far away lands, real adventures. Theme parks can be fun, but I don't want them as a lifestyle standard for my children. That's not where I want to make our best memories.

For me this is about more than cute cartoons, more than park attractions. The billions of dollars Disney has spent in advertising over the years has been very effective. Is it creating our culture or simply mirroring it? On average we are spiritually lost creatures, nostalgic for we-know-not-what, deeply indebted, and wishful. I object to being manipulated into that mindset. In full recognition that this stance will be inexplicable or even offensive to many, I believe that to grow healthy children I can no more allow them to be bombarded with ideas that lead to these behaviors than nourish them on a steady diet of cotton candy.


Were there some lovely moments? Absolutely. I am grim because I feel this is important, not because it was an awful experience. Even so, our family will not be returning to any Disney theme park.


Maggie Konstanski said...

Whenever you want to take the girls on adventure in a far away land, count me in! I think we should plan an adventure for October, but perhaps somewhere closer to home!

Your blog lifts my spirits, as do your convictions!

Innerworld said...

I find this blog interesting. I am fro another generation, when I was 12 years old I was fascinated with Disney as a person, I read everything I could about Disney and even watched the construction of Disneyland in L.A. About 10 years later a friend of mine told me that it was known in the arts community that Disney had used his mescaline experiences to develop his characters. That didn't surprise me as many artists use drugs, but what interested me was that he had such powerful financial investment in such a short period. Back in the 50s and 60s it was not easy for artists to find backers for even small projects. My daughter was born in 87 and when she was 2 years old I felt compelled to take her to Disneyland, 2 years later it was Disneyworld and finally at age 9 it was EuroDisney in Paris. It was the last trip that revealed much to me. The marketing machine is beyond anything that most of us deal with in everyday life. It is my understanding that the world underneath the site of Disney is a maze of office, board rooms and training facilities. The team is trained in the same way military or sports teams are programed an conditioned, it is an army with one goal, to Win. But what force is behind this, its not just a typical American corporation. The French are very anti-American and yet even they buy into this stuff at EuroDisney.

lydia said...

Thanks for your insight @Innerworld! I would totally believe it. Every moment is designed. So do you still like Disney, or is it a turn-off for you?


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