A magical land of sales, branding, and products peddled by the apathetic, underpaid, and costumed
My husband and recently headed down to Palm Springs, CA. For him, it was yet another business trip. For me, I was looking forward to the short drive to Disneyland which we had planned to do after his business responsibilities were finished.
Yes, that’s right. I wanted to go Disneyland. Now, you may wonder what a 30-something year old with only her husband and no children in tow (or that existed, for that matter) wanted to do at Disneyland. Well, the reason is sentimental. The first time I ever heard the most genuine, child-like laughter was at Disneyland, and I just wanted to hear it once more.
It was years ago, when Al and I visited Disneyland together, under the pretense that neither of us had been here when we could control the experience we had. You know what I mean; the crazy family Disney trips where “fun” was so diffused among all the people involved that no one was really satisfied. Well, we were there to reclaim what we were sure existed there at the park, without the cranky, tired adults.
After a rather tumultuous day that really was too long (you may think all day at the fun park is awesome as a child, it’s just downright exhausting as an adult) and generally uncomfortable (crowds don’t bother you as much as a child either, apparently), we stood in line for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In case you are unaware, the ride is somewhat roller coaster-like but without any loop-de-loops that cause spontaneous loss of both equilibrium and lunch. We boarded the ride rather quickly, since it was the tail-end of the day, and the train began to hustle and jostle down the tracks. I was having fun, in a general sort of way, when I heard this wonderful, pure, child-like laughter ringing away beside me. My husband Al was utterly enjoying the experience in a way I couldn’t seem to myself. His joy was unabashed for those few minutes on the zooming train, and I was so taken by the sound of it that I forgot to pay attention to rest of the ride.
Since that day years ago, I knew I wanted to return to Disneyland and experience that unbridled joy with Al again. You see, I’m a serious sort of person. I actually have trouble experiencing fun because I am analytic and critical; a consequence of both my upbringing and my educational background which interferes with my ability to just enjoy something for enjoyment’s sake. Al, on the other hand, can and does. My intention to return to Disneyland was to hear the sound of his sweet, shameless laughter again.
Unfortunately, Disney had decided to change in the meantime. In a BIG way. Well, perhaps it had changed slowly and perhaps others didn’t notice like I did, but to us, it was a massive, uneasy change.
The park was practically busting at the seams with vendors, merchants, and stores. There was so much commercialization that Al and I had trouble navigating around the park, even though it was a Wednesday afternoon, school was in, and no holidays were in sight. Every street, thoroughfare, and pathway around the park was teeming with sales. It was so outlandish that Al and I had to take shelter in the “Tomorrowland” pizza restaurant to collect ourselves, modeled after the film Toy Story’s “Pizza Planet”.
As we munched on our slices of pizza, whose quality best matched the “Totino’s” variety but literally cost us nearly $30.00, we discussed how we couldn’t believe how saturated the park was with stores. Neither of us could remember it being so crowded with vendors and sales opportunities when we were there just a few years before. In fact, Al reminded me that it actually took us searching around for a store to purchase a souvenir the last time we visited the park.
This problem of the past had apparently been solved, ten times over.
By the time we left the pizza joint, we were both struggling to hang on to the reasons we had come to Disneyland in the first place. Over the past few years,
A theatrical show featuring the “Princesses”, our ready and willing role models for little girls, and in some cases, adults. (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Disney had become an immense conglomerate of a business, which now included ABC, Hyperion Books and brands such as Marvel and LucasArts. Everywhere we looked, images and references to Iron Man, the newer, child-centered Star Wars films and animations, and Thor reigned supreme in “Tomorrowland”, while “Disney Princess” had rather appropriated whatever resources were available in “Storybookland”. Older animations, such as Dumbo, Pinocchio, and The Sword in the Stone which apparently had limited brand appeal had given way to the plethora of princess-inspired junk that was offered at every single turn, nook, and cranny. Honestly, I don’t know how Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or the Davy Crockett Canoes have survived. Nearly every little girl at the park we spotted was swathed in some kind of Disney Princess gear. Oh, and the boys didn’t escape the masterwork of branding either. I know I saw at least one fully-costumed Iron Man child, and most of the others were decked out in t-shirts, hats or even backpacks covered in various promotions.
And, that was only the beginning.
Al and I charged away to get to the Big Thunder train ride. Earlier, I had explained to him just why I wanted to visit Disney again, so if nothing else, we both wanted to accomplish that much. We crossed the park into “Frontierland” where we were dumbfounded as we walked past a true-to-life “Mammy” standing in her long skirt and perpetual apron outside of the “Big Bayou” creole/Cajun restaurant, overlooking Tom Sawyer’s Island. Apparently, it isn’t just porn that remains the final bastion of overt racism, but Disneyland too.
We swung around a section of “Frontierland” heading for the train, noting how many new restaurants had seemed to literally “grow” up in the spaces between other buildings, like dispersed plants scraping a living out between two rocks. Both of us frowned as we walked on; neither of us could find the train. I couldn’t hear the roaring of its heavy, segmented body on the old, metallic tracks, and we couldn’t find them either. It wasn’t until we nearly circled around the train ride completely before we spotted the sign attached to a tall, makeshift wall:
“Big Thunder Mountain Railroad closed for maintenance (or something) until early 2014”.
I felt like I was suddenly in the movie Vacation.
Yeah. That was pretty much it for me. I couldn’t help but cry. I hadn’t even thought about checking to see if the one ride I wanted to re-experience with Al was even available before we came to the park. But, by then, the super-commercial joke was on me.
Both of us decided to leave. We hadn’t gone on a single ride but we DID have the lingering “joy” of two slices of $30.00 pizza and water, so cutting our losses was making more and more sense. We headed out through the main thoroughfare, jam-packed with shops and lingering, indecisive consumers with insistent children covered in Disney branding.
But, just like in Vacation, the fun wasn’t over yet.
As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice that we never seemed to actually exit the park. I couldn’t believe it, but as we left, we were quickly absorbed into a new abomination called “Downtown Disney”. Literally, it was an outdoor mall that had taken up residence directly outside of Disneyland, presumably because the shops out here were unable to infiltrate the park and instead, set up shop as close as possible.
After leaving the commerce-saturated park, Al and I were then forced to trudge our way through and entire outdoor mall, laden with shops that carried even more Disney products and brands, among other retailers. The whole ordeal was so insulting, I almost didn’t react to this sign I happened to see while we were escaping the mall:
…what did I expect, anyway?
What a disappointing trip.