Monday, May 7, 2012

Are Theme Parks "Shallow"?

I recently saw an interesting Facebook post by one of my Disney friends. This particular friend (David) runs the blog Disneyology, which is linked to over there at the left (Favorite Internet Spots). He posted a quote from someone suggesting that theme parks are shallow representations of a much richer reality and that people who enjoy them are pathetic. Here's the exact quote:

“The overwhelming feeling that one carries away is sadness for the empty lives which accept such tawdry substitutes. On the riverboat, I heard a woman exclaim glowingly to her husband, “What imagination they have!” He nodded, and the pathetic gladness that illuminated his face as a papier-mâché crocodile sank beneath the muddy surface of the ditch was a grim indictment of the way of life for which this feeble sham represented escape and adventure.” - Julian Halevy.

So, my question would be, is this news? Newsflash! Disney Theme Parks Aren't REAL! Do visitors to Disney theme parks think they are? Somehow I don't think so. Does it make it less entertaining to ride on Expedition Everest because it's not the real Mt. Everest? Again, I don't think so.

The interesting discussion in the comments centered on whether this critique is a critique of all art, or simply a prejudiced attack on theme parks specifically. I saw comments where famous films and famous paintings were mentioned; that if Mr. Halevy was criticizing all these experiences, his argument would hold water better. That could be true. Perhaps a Disney theme park is not comparable to the Mona Lisa, but it is a matter of degree.

Because both things are works of art. Lots of things are works of art. We wandered around a suburban art fair last Sunday, and I saw plenty of things that showed imagination in varying degrees. Some I liked. Some I'd never consider hanging in my own house. Some, I could tell with a mere glance, were simply not my cup of tea. But does that make them "bad" or "shallow", or their artist "talentless"? No, it just means that I didn't like them.

The first thing I thought of when reading the quote was the Jungle Cruise (because of the dated-ness of its special effects, and because of the mention of the crocodile), but then I thought of EPCOT's World Showcase. I thought of the detail that goes into making these small reproductions of various countries. Does it make me willing to forego a European vacation, because I've walked through Disney versions of England, France and Italy? Not at all. But these reproductions are accessible and entertaining to us. Simple economics say that we are going to be able to experience Disney more often than tour the great European cities.

The second thing I thought was that the first sentence is quite condescending. To presume to know anything about the lives of that woman and her husband, to know if they "accept such tawdry substitutes", or simply cannot experience anything other than this, seems to me to be irritatingly condescending. What is "grim" about something that brings someone pleasure, however small and fleeting? I think that Disney parks aspire to a bit higher level of providing enjoyment than he seems to give them credit for. But that's a matter of opinion.

David's take on it seems to be that there is no reason that the two things cannot both be appreciated on their own levels, and that while theme parks shouldn't be substituted for real experiences, they CAN be enjoyed as well for what they are and for the artistic ability and effort that goes into their creation. Others seem to feel that, as a work of art (however "tawdry" it may be) Disney theme parks should be compared to other works of art, not to real experiences. I hope I'm stating those positions accurately. Perhaps David will blog about it himself.

This blog has over the years concerned itself with Disney movies, other types of animated film entertainment, with Disney theme parks and with other amusement parks, and with attractions in the Midwest and in a few other places where we've vacationed. It has never advocated stopping one's experience at the Disney park, even though they are the main focus of the blog. But I don't see how one precludes the other.


1 comment:

David Landon said...

There are those on the Internet who take great pleasure in ridiculing people for liking things. They do this to make themselves look superior for not liking that thing.

The funny thing is, these folks generally spend a lot of time on blogs and message boards devoted to the thing they claim not to like. Really, they're just trolling for attention and it's best to ignore them.