Saturday, October 17, 2009

American Studies at DisneyWorld

To celebrate my father's return from Afghanistan my family went on a 4 day vacation to Disney World last weekend.

I had never been before and there were a few things I found there that surprised me.

Firstly, the Hall of Presidents. This attraction is meant to be a celebration of the American presidency and the men who have held that position. Since Disneyworld is a family theme park I wasn't surprised that the presentation avioded some serious issues, but I was surprised at what they chose to present.

Thomas Jefferson recieved no mention in the presentation while Andrew Jackson got extensive coverage, without mention of the Trail of Tears of course. Lincoln was presented as having run for the presidency on a platform of abolition of slavery. An interesting rewrite of history which I suppose was intended to lend a sense of morality to Lincoln's election.

Any dissatisfaction I had with the historical accuracy of the presentation was erased when, halfway the introduction of all of the presidents the Bill Clinton animatron checked his watch.

The next encounter I had which gave me pause as an American studies major was at Splash Mountain. The popular attraction tells the story of Brer Rabbit and Brers Bear and Fox. Brer Rabbit is an adaptation of Brother Rabbit the African American folktale in which he outsmarts Brother Fox and authority figures. Brer Bear is presented as a Sambo character, dumbly following Brer Fox's orders and twice making a fool of himself by being caught in his own traps.

I'm suprised that such a portrayal of slave era Black stereotypes recieved such a display in a major theme park like Disneyworld.

Disney's Carousel of Progress displays how technology has played a role in the American family. The American family of course being a white family with one daughter, one son, and a dog. The Carousel opened for the 1964 World's fair and tauts the benefits of scientific progress. Unlike the Pastoralism discussed by Leo Marx in Machine in the Garden Disney welcomes all new technology for the increase in quality of living it provides.

The last scene of the dislpay shows the family at Christmastime where the mother has just finished programming the family's kitchen appliances to respond to voice commands. In the scene the father unintentionally increases the temperature of the oven to 975 degrees, burning the turkey. So, while Disney himself was a technophile, there is a still a sense that we are not entirely in control of the technology we are creating, and while it makes our lives easier in some ways, in other ways it controls us.

Overall the trip was a lot of fun, and after seeing all of the crying, screaming children and the parents that thought it would be a good idea to bring them to Disneyworld I would recommend to anyone that they wait till their children are in their 20s before going for the first time to avoid a lot of tears and frustration.

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