Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TEAM RODENT by Carl Hiaasen

I was on Amazon.com a few days ago, and since I've purchased some Disney books from them recently, and have a few others on my wish list, the recommendations the site has for me sometimes includes books on subject Disney. This last time, for some reason, a few of the books recommended appeared to be critiques of Disney of some sort, and I was interested.

One of the recommendations was for TEAM RODENT by Carl Hiaasen, who I've not read before. His work is one of the holes in my experience with fiction reading. I keep meaning to correct that, because by all accounts he's very witty and funny.

He's also a resident of Florida (he lives in the Keys, or at least he did when this book was written in 1998). And as such, he's had quite a lot of experience with Disney and their dealings with the Florida government. He obviously is not a fan of Disney, and the subtitle of his book is "How Disney Devours the World". I didn't want to buy the book from Amazon, but fortunately, my library had a copy, and I checked it out.

I read it in about an hour. It's only 83 pages, and it's not like it's small print or anything, so it wasn't much of a feat to do this. Also, as I suspected, Hiaasen is an entertaining writer, quite good at his craft. It is funny and thought provoking even while being critical.

Hiaasen seems to have a major problem with a few parts of the Disney story. First is the way they strong armed (his characterization basically, not mine) into accepting Disney as a government entity in Florida, with the Reedy Creek Improvement District. I don't know, though - if I could get the same sort of power, wouldn't I want it? I guess that's the point - no other corporation could have gotten the same types of power, the same lack of oversight. He tells a story about some kids goofing around on Disney property, being chased off the property at high speed by a security officer with flashing red lights, and crashing about 1 mile off the property with fatal results. The family of the passenger (who died) sued, and Disney was, as usual, very close mouthed about the involvement of their security forces in the incident. The security officer says she never left Disney property with their vehicle, and the accident happened a mile off the property, but I suppose that if you had someone chasing you at high speeds, you might keep going for a mile or two before you were sure you'd lost them. The suit apparently went nowhere.

This sort of story really seems to frost Hiaasen. But I think it's the sort of thing that can definitely have two sides. Disney really did NOT do anything wrong technically, though chasing a couple of kids who hadn't really caused any harm might be questionable judgement on the part of the security officer. And when did it become okay for kids to avoid authority figures? Especially kids who are tresspassing in the first place (or so it appears)?

Another of Hiaasen's peeves with Disney is their determination to make over everything to their own value system and sense of esthetics. That's okay, too. He doesn't have to like it. Just like we Disney fans should be clear on the fact that the world isn't a Disney fantasy, and should make sure that reality is part of our kids' cultural upbringing, not just homogenized versions of that reality. But Disney is, after all, out to make a buck. A lot of bucks, actually...and if they're selling something that people want to (and the key word there is "want") buy, why should we begrudge them that?

In the end, it seemed to me to be a fairly mild diatribe from a talented writer who just doesn't quite "get" Disney, nor does he want to. He makes some points, but in the end, mostly I found myself saying, "So?" Disney fans (myself included) pick it for the entertainment value of a vacation, for the entertainment value of a family film, for the enjoyment we get from their products and their synthetic world. Sure, things can go wrong, and sometimes they do. But basically we go for the emotion, the feelings we experience when we go.

My next book appears to be more critical, longer, harder to read. It's a title called THE MOUSE THAT ROARED by Henry Giroux. We'll see how that one plays out.


George Taylor said...

I have Hiaasen's book but I have not cracked the pages yet. I have read a few of his other works and he is funny and critical of Disney. One of his books looks, Native Tongue, looks at a Central FLA theme park called "The Amazing Kingdom." It is obvious that Hiaasen does have a bone against Disney.

Scott said...

Just finished Native Tongue and enjoyed it quite a lot. He isn't very positive about Disney but he does sort of offer them backhanded compliments along the way, if just in comparison to the sleaze that abounds at The Amazing Kingdom. He isn't overtly negative about them either, but I suppose his Amazing Kingdom theme park is a metaphor of sorts for what Disney did to the land they bought/owned. Golf courses, draining swamps, and causing the surrounding areas to become overly developed. It was a good story, though. They do comment about "Orlando" when the ex-governor goes up that way. Another veiled swat at Disney...