by Dean Wallraff



There is something profoundly creepy about the idea of living in a town "imagineered" by the Walt Disney company. Nostalgia for the bygone and partly mythical era of feel-good small-town middle America is what's selling this project. Politicians exploit this sentiment too, promising various draconian measures to return us to the Golden Age. Despite protests that Celebration is just a well designed new-urbanist town, not another Magic Kingdom, a lot of its appeal is in Disney's reputation for delivering wholesome feel-good family values in their products. With Disney, not only do the trains run on time, but they take you where there is no crime, poverty, or moral decay.
     There is an authoritarian streak in the Walt Disney company. Screenwriters jokingly refer to it as "Mauschwitz" and "Duckau." Visitors to Disneyland, mistakenly suspected of committing some infraction, have been held captive by plainclothes security guards for hours. "Cast members," dressed up as Daffy or Goofy or Mickey, must keep in costume and in character at all times when they are in public view, even when their health and safety are at risk, such as when, towards the end of a long shift on a hot afternoon in a heavy costume, one of them has vomited inside his Donald Duck head.
     It is part of the appeal of Celebration that Disney will, implicitly, do whatever it takes to deliver the archetypal small-town experience. Residents trust Disney's reputation for "quality" to provide solutions for urban problems that politicians can't fix. They prefer to cede control over certain aspects of their civic life in return for this "quality," and don't much care what measures Disney uses to achieve it, provided that the uglier aspects remain safely out of view behind the scenes.
     The Walt Disney company, for the most part, produces, in its movies and theme parks, well crafted pabulum. Their products are for children, but there seems to be a widespread taste among adults for childish entertainment and values. Celebration is a child's version of a city, carefully planned and crafted to deliver a safe and sanitized urban experience.
     The popularity of Celebration means that there is a substantial group who are so frustrated with the difficulties of modern life that they are glad to reduce the scope of their lives and experiences in order to shut out the problems. They're willing to give up some of their civic and aesthetic freedom and responsibilities in hopes that father (or Big Brother) Disney will take better care of them than they could of themselves. I hope this attitude does not become more prevalent, or we may one day see the Disney Youth wearing Mickey Mouse armbands as they goose-step through the streets of all our cities

Copyright © 2000 - 2008 by Dean Wallraff. All rights reserved.