Thursday, March 21, 2013

I've just returned from 4 days in Orlando in the belly of the Disney Beast.  Monica, who grew up in California, has an affection for Disneyland and its Florida sistren.  She spared me the details, but she got some sort of a deal on a full package, and was taking the boys to Orlando for four days during their spring break.  Being of a more cynical bent when it comes to the Disney empire, I was meant to be excused, but when Jose had to return to Mexico unexpectedly, I was suddenly on my way south.  (Monica not only preyed on my frugality - the tickets were after all paid for and would go to waste - but I was promised some birdwatching and allotted a small quota of anthropological critique.)

I once tried to describe the magic of the Taj Mahal as the perfection of an aesthetic.  I don't think Disneyworld is quite perfected yet,  but if totalitarian capitalism is an aesthetic they are achieving something near.  30,000 acres of central Florida is given over to the Republic of Disney - the half dozen theme parks, two dozen themed resort hotels, (Polynesia! Wild West! Boardwalk Beach!), the shopping centers, golf courses, the vast parking lots, and the sprawling utilitarian infrastructure that is tucked away behind pines, palmetto and cypress.

I was teasing Nico that what Walt Disney meant by "magic" - was the control of human beings.  After all, he built a media empire based on the manipulation of fundamental myths and narratives, and harnessed it to a tidy, aspirational story of technophilic Enlightenment-lite.  He built in Orlando a landscape of human control: a geography of buses, monorails, ferry boats, cattle-shute queues, ramps, tracked rides and smiling employees waving the human currents into their proper sluices and eddies. He established a rigid caste system - employees are called "cast members"(!) - between those who are paid to be there, and those who pay to be there, with everyone assigned their costumes and roles.  

And with this he created a vast filtration system where every year 50 million "guests" and their money cascade in, and 50 million people without their money pour back out.

But you have to respect the level of detail and creativity and expertise that goes into this filter, this perfection of consumerism.  Our hotel (safari themed, with elands and cranes and wild asses grazing and disputing outside the balcony) was beautiful in its aesthetics and efficient in its design.  Monica and the boys (and me, I admit) thoroughly enjoyed most of the thrill rides and some of the shows.  We were encompassed in themes and "lands".  The food was very good and when it wasn't, it was always delivered with showmanship and flair.  And so we were passed happily through the filter.  And Wednesday night we passed back out of Disneyworld to return to the tawdry regular world of half-assed capitalism -- which is too clumsy and importunate and indifferent to hide its empty promises.