On the Aesthetics of Disneyland
by Lucas Fink
I love Disneyland. I have assembled here a loosely cohesive array of hot-takes on the hallowed theme park, in an attempt to convince myself I can be the next Baudrillard. Here they are.
Fake rust eats away at the fake walls of fake airplane hangars in the area surrounding the legendary Soarin’ Over California, a ride so steeped in nostalgia that the actual ride itself - a raised row of seats floating before a massive rounded IMAX-style screen that convincingly renders the many wonders of our state - ceases to be the primary source of our enjoyment. No longer are my veins filled with giddy, infantile excitement upon seeing the spires of the Cinderella castle towering below my feet at the ride’s conclusion as I turn to my mom and exclaim “That’s Disneyland! That’s where we are now!”. Instead, my veins are filled with a far more potent strain of that excitement, an excitement distilled and intensified by the magic of memory.
Disneyland runs on nostalgia. When they brought back the Electric Light Parade, they used the classic synth ear-worm in the commercials promoting it, and only for a few seconds at the tail end of the ad. This is nostalgia weaponized. The selective, restrained usage of the parade theme, other than being proof that these masterminds know just how powerful that weapon is, is designed to merely arouse those memories gently, to pluck them delicately from your subconscious and let your own romanticization of your childhood do the rest. These people are loath to assail their audience with too much tasteless pandering, as they know the Disneyland brand retains that which sets it apart: prestige. Cleanliness. Professionalism. Whatever you care to call it, something about Disney feels high-brow. You go to Disneyland because you know you will be well taken care of and that everything you see and eat and do has been refined to the point of utter perfection by boardrooms upon boardrooms of “Imagineers” infinitely more gifted creatively and intellectually than yourself.
Disneyland and its neighboring park, California Adventure, feature several themed areas, each boasting ridiculously impressive levels of detail. Again, this is why we go there. Yet this attention to minutiae does not stop at the terracotta roofing of Buena Vista Street or the creole townhouses of New Orleans Square. Fake rust eats away at the fake walls of fake airplane hangars in the area surrounding the legendary Soarin’ Over California. FAKE RUST. Imperfections are deliberately constructed in a park whose entire reputation is predicated on its perceived perfection. Fake rust at Soarin’ Over California was joined by leaky piping, flickering lights, and dank basements in a decrepit hotel at the Tower of Terror. Disneyland allows its visitors to engage with decay and danger safely. We know it’s not actual rust that has appeared as a consequence of the passage of time and neglect; we rest assured knowing that “the outside world” is far away, out in the sprawling suburban hellscape of the greater Los Angeles area. The approximations of reality Disneyland offers don’t exist to be “convincing” or “authentic”; they function as reminders of the world from which Disneyland offers you sanctuary. They are reminders of the park’s infinite beneficence. Look at the imperfections and horrors from which we shield you! Be thankful that we offer respite in the imaginary and shelter from the “desert of the real”.
These imperfections also illustrate the extent to which the forces of capital have appropriated and monetized the appearance of wear and dispossession, both of which are states that people and buildings alike reliably come to occupy under late capitalism. One might justifiably have a difficult time seeing how presenting reminders of the failings of the current socio-economic state of affairs could actually serve to perpetuate that state of affairs. Basically, things that are outside of/exist in opposition to the established order (radical social movements, reminders of the system’s failings like abandoned lots, decay, and rust, etc...) are absorbed by the established order. In the process, they are neutered, so to speak, or stripped of their power to force the established order to yield meaningfully, whether that power may involve reminding the alienated masses of the negative externalities of the market system or expanding tolerance to minorities who have been exploited by the established order. Whatever the case may be, the thing that could be perceived as a threat to the system is rendered “safe”, is defanged, is sapped of political or social potence.
All the preceding, which just amounts to a clumsy attempt to imitate cultural theorists much smarter than myself, doesn’t mean that I don’t thoroughly enjoy myself whenever I go to Disneyland. I love it. I revel in the opportunity to experience it, the aura, the atmosphere, the waves and radiation.
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