Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Post-Modern Disney

This is my new luggage tag that I bought in the bookstore at JFK on our way to Disney World. It is from Paperchase's Happy Noodle collection and it is fracking cute. If you do not think it is Super Kawaii, I will fight you. :D

So anyway, as I discussed last week, I went to Disney World in Orlando for three days, including two days for traveling from upstate New York to Florida. While I was there, we went first to the Magical Kingdom, and then to Hollywood Studios and Epcot Center. As I mentioned previously, I was less than enthused about spending my spring vacation at Disney World. Having since returned from there, I still feel that I would have enjoyed it more if I was a kid.

But it was still an interesting experience. Jean Baudrillard, famous for his theories on simulacra, once described the Disney amusement parks as the most real places on earth. While they present mock-ups of Main Street USA, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and various foreign countries (Epcot), they never pretend to be anything other than what they are: amusement parks. I kept thinking back to this idea as I passed through all the attractions. On the one hand, certain areas of Disney World, such as Main Street and the Epcot international exhibits, really do feel real. Until you realize that the illusion is too perfect - everything is painted, pruned, and maintained to an impossible degree, and the "character" of the place being simulated (i.e. the Old World charm of Paris and Italy, the quaint nostalgic feel of Main Street) feels too self-aware.

One of my favorite rides was the Twilight Zone Terror Tower in Hollywood Studios. Not for the ride itself, but for the set-up! An abandoned California hotel built in the 1918! (Cue that Eagles song.) The attention to landscaping, architecture, and interior decorating was so meticulous it felt like a movie set. It was everything an American horror/gothic setting could want - which is precisely the point. It's a space built on images and tropes from the collective cultural imagination, and it knows that. It never claims to be anything other than pure fantasy.

(Click here for some great photos of Hollywood Studios.)

The Muppet 3-D film was adorable and hilarious. I've always loved how the Muppets manage to appeal to both kids and adults alike.

The International Pavilions at Epcot were another high point. Although they aimed for authenticity (they were even staffed from people from each specific country), I couldn't help but to feel that they were operating, in part, on the same principle. Only in this case, it was seemed like the pavilions were partially constructed by American perceptions of other nations. The French gift shop, for example, was full of Eiffel Tower kitsch and Norway was mostly selling ski gear. But Morocco (the only pavilion actually sponsored by the country it represents) had this excellent lamb wrap that came with real couscous. I'm not a big meat eater but would definitely like to have more lamb in the future.

(I don't quite understand why Epcot has an American pavilion. Aren't we already in America?)

China had a film presented in CircleVision 360 that did a great job showcasing the natural beauty and ancient culture. But why oh why did they feel the need to mention Tienanmen Square? I understand that there's more to Tienanmen Square than GUY QUASHED BY TANK and EXECUTIONS GALORE - and that there's also a whole lot more to China than that - but seriously, WTF were they thinking? China's gift shop was totally awesome, though, and full of the neatest stuff imaginable. Japan was my other favorite gift shop. It was a great blend of traditional Japan and the contemporary anime stuff everyone loves.

But it was in Mexico that I purchased my hand-carved, hand-painted howling coyote from the Indians of Oaxaca. I love coyotes. It goes with my hand-carved wooden jaguar head covered with hundreds of tiny beads that I bought in Mexico City years ago. (I also got a little statue carved out of obsidian representing my birth month of October.)

Now would I go back to Disney World? Not anytime soon. There's only so much kiddie stuff I can take and I would really prefer to actually visit another country instead of a staged imitation. But overall, I got more out of the trip than I expected. Seeing Baudrillard's theories played out in real life was pretty cool. Added another layer to everything.


Anonymous said...

It almost sounds like *gasp* you had a good time! Except I'm still waiting for a picture of you in mouse ears.

E. L. Fay said...

I did NO such thing!

There are quite a few pictures of me in various places at Epcot, though. I'll have to post those as soon as my dad figures out how to get them off his camera.

Emily said...

Hahaha, oh man - anyone who goes to Disney World and writes a post about it referencing Jean Baudrillard is a kindred spirit of mine. Now you'll feel like actual London/Paris/Morocco is so fake when you go! :-D

I agree, though - I can really get into that creepy, manufactured-authenticity vibe. I feel like the next level is an amusement park of old amusement parks. You know, amusement parks like they used to be back in the 50s (the "golden age" of amusement parks, perhaps?). Except they would be replicas, of course. Replicas of replicas of a bygone world.

E. L. Fay said...

I feel like the next level is an amusement park of old amusement parks. You know, amusement parks like they used to be back in the 50s (the "golden age" of amusement parks, perhaps?). Except they would be replicas, of course. Replicas of replicas of a bygone world.

My head just exploded.

Jessica said...

ah how can you not be sucked in, its like being in a perfect bubble for a few days ;)

Diane said...

I loved your luggage cute. It has been over 15 years since I've been to Disney/Epcot etc. Another life, another husband...LOL

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