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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Rat bashing

MargaretWV wondered in the comments of this post whether it is possible to go to Orlando and not visit Disney World, especially with children in tow.

Of course, it is possible to avoid it, and by that I mean it is physically possible to not cross the property lines, but it is absolutely impossible to avoid the onslaught of product exposure. It is omnipresent. Orlando = Disney. Would I recommend skipping it? No way, baby.

First, for the obvious reason that the kids will have fun. You might too.

Second, it is a marvel of micro-management.* Anyone who has ever run any kind of business will be awestruck at the level of control exerted, apparently effortlessly, by the powers that be. Anyone who has ever worked in any other kind of amusement park (I was employed by the Six Flags Corporation in their marketing and promotions departments for a number of years) and is familiar with the specific and often overwhelming chores involved in providing mass entertainment will be blown away by the effort. The administration is unfathomable: Park Operations (which includes admissions, guest relations, maintenance, landscaping, entertainment, human resources, security, first aid, and transportation, among other things), Merchandise, Food Service, Marketing, and that's not even considering their resorts and media holdings. Just the cross-promotional opportunities are uncountable. Imagine the files. The infrastructure alone is truly impressive, and Mickey is in the details. But Disney goes far beyond mere amusement park. Did you know Walt Disney World is exempt from county building ordinances? It is pretty hard after all, to pull a permit to build Cinderella's Castle, or Space Mountain, or Mt. Everest, so Disney opted, years ago, to create their own governmental entity, the Reedy Creek Improvement District. While technically they might still be answerable to the state, or at least maybe the federal government, and are not completely above the law, they do have the authority to create their own laws. They have their own fire and police departments, zoning, utilities, and taxing authorities.

* A friend, Food Service Supervisor at our park, once bragged that Disney had hired him as Food Service Manager. When pressed, he finally admitted the position was Manager of Ice Cream Novelties. In the Magic Kingdom. On Main Street. He was in charge of the Mickey pops.

Third, you will above all else, if you are the least bit cynical, enjoy scrutinizing your fellow park attendees. Knowing a number of family, friends, and acquaintances who spend every single vacation exclusively at Disney properties, I can say it is truly a cult-like phenomenon. Dave Hickey, in August's Vanity Fair article, "Welcome to Dreamsville," agrees:

If Lourdes were a theme park, the crowd would be like this, because all the pilgrims were doing their part and were on their best behavior. Adults wore Disney caps and T-shirts. They carried Disney bags. Little boys wore mouse ears, some, clearly, souvenirs of previous visits. Little girls came dressed as Princesses in sea-green taffeta and net. One little Princess even wore a hennin and wimple, fetchingly askew.

On observing the "pagan ritual in a Florida swamp," he writes:

I felt like Boy in one of those Tarzan movies, creeping into a torchlit cave full of spear-waving Africans chanting crazily at some Mesoamerican idol overseen by a wild-eyed swami in a turban.

Hickey also notes where the fantasy is beginning to fray, and I would have to agree. Approaching the front gates of the Magic Kingdom, in front of the statue of Mr, Disney and his best known creation, I had the distinct impression that Walt was spinning in his grave (not in a secret cryogenic lab somewhere.) Walt's vision and Eisner's are worlds apart.

Required reading for cynics, particularly those venturing to Orlando: Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World.

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