Thursday, August 07, 2003

I may be an adult now, but Disney is still teaching me lessons. But they're not teaching me about dreams and believing you can achieve your goals or to stand in awe of the miraculous creation that is the world around me. In fact, Disney is teaching me something that is strangely anti-Disney: perfection is a double edged sword.

Disneyland may very well be the "happiest place on earth" but that is not something that happens naturally. Our world is not all happy. Disneyland is not at all natural. Painting with cartoon facades and quaint storefronts, antique cars and fluffy characters, families and candy and children, Walt creates a pretty convincing picture. Idyllic. Wonderous. Protected. Sure you run across the occassional youngster throwing a tantrum or a legitimately terrified toddler, but for the most part the surface of Disneyland is a world full of magnificent things to be discovered.

But Disney is serving people. Their armies of animatronic creatures are completely under control. But the park's 50,000 guests don't come with an instrument panel. These are 50,000 independent, free-thinking, partially selfish people who have been crammed into a confined space and who are being forced to compete. They're in competition for parking, rides, food, tables, restrooms, space to sit, spots on the parade route. Basically, all of the things that either they went to Disneyland for, or the things that are required of them by nature, are limited resources, and if they don't aggressively seek them out they won't be getting their 43 bucks worth. For a less thoughtful bunch than the park administrators, this could definitely a problem.

But the park administrators are smart. Smart enough to learn from experience anyway. So throughout the years they have been refining an elaborate system of rules. They have wrought a utilitarian utopia.

No cutting.
No food.
No drinks.
No loose items.
No pregnant women.
No sitting on the handrail.
No one under 42 inches.
No admittance after 8:30.
You can't stand here. Keep moving.
You can't stand here either. Keep moving.
You aren't scheduled to ride now. Come back later.
You're not with a handicapped family. Don't come back.

It's in the best interest of the group. Each person needs to be insulated from the tyranny of the other 49,999. They paid 43 bucks to get in too you know. But deviate, even a little, from the system and someone will let you know. Someone will put you back in line. It gets a little bit frightening. One may find himself hoping for a little chaos. One may find himself seeking out the tree with a few leaves breaking formation. The line for a ride that isn't being policed very thoroughly. The illegal post on the parade route.

I caught a glimpse of that chaos and it was in some of the park's own employees. It was as if they were beaten down by years (months? hours?) of enforcing the battery of rules that makes Disneyland so "happy." And some of them were wearing thin. They did not issue humble requests to violating visitors, they barked orders. Their tone was not one of polite respect but one born out of prolonged annoyance.

Now, all this may make me seem like an embittered theme park burnout (I was just at Magic Mountain),but that is definitely not the case. I had a great time (that's the power of good company I guess.) I just thought it was interesting to see fun and happiness so vigorously legislated. It seems strange to me. Foreign. Actually encountering some of the systems and rules took a little bit of the fun away for me.

It helps drive home a point for me. Perfection isn't all it's cracked up to be. It makes sense for Disney. After all, imperfection on the scale they work on could be costly. It's a business decision in their case. They're an entertainment company. They traffic in illusions. But trying to attain perfection, brilliant and maniacal perfection, in real life is insane. Especially if you're not making any money off it.


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