The Right Coast

April 14, 2004
The horror. The horror.
By Tom Smith

WARNING: Lovers of things Disney are likely to find this post offensive. Read at your own risk.

Well, another trip to Disneyland is over and none of my children were abducted by a pedophile. I count that a success. By family tradition, every year the rents and the kids go to Disneyland, unless Dad can come up with an adequate excuse. One year, a bad back. Another year, some sort of pressing work thing. Another year, just could not face it. But other than that, every year, up we go to the land of the Mouse, the happiest hell on earth. To be completely honest, this year we went to "California Adventure", the companion theme park joined to Disneyland at the hip. And for the first two hours or so, I even, well, not exactly enjoyed it, but experienced an absence of fear and detestation that was welcome. I even said to Jeanne, "I will say this for California Adventure. It's less loathsome than Disneyland." "That's the spirit," she said.

Especially as I get older, I find my taste for vulgar entertainment increasing. I rather enjoyed taking the boys to Hellboy day before yesterday, at least the first hour or so. A Nazi wizard in a secret SS project opens a portal to another universe and inadvertantly brings through (before the GI Joes shut him down) a little demon, who grows up into . . . Hellboy. How could you not like a story that begins like that? But even with my deteriorating tastes, I cannot get my arms around the Magic Kingdom.

It's not the overpowering artificiality of the place. It's kind of dazzling to be in Southern California in a theme park that is recreating as history stuff that is only fifty years old in a way that is faker than the original, even when the original was pretty fake or at least plastic to begin with. Nostalgia for a past that isn't even past yet, or just barely. In Europe the move effortlessly through their own history. In America, we create a fake history, charge a family three hundred dollars to look at it, and then drive back into California more confused than before. Wacky stuff too, like the Bug's Life place that takes as a theme how cute agricultural pests are. How weird is that? You walk among buildings that are upended food crates. There is a fake farmers market and even a fruit stand where, if you look carefully, you can even find a piece of fruit to buy. But the potato chips are much more prominently displayed. Maybe they should try Agricultural Labor Land, where everyone could pick lettuce or oranges for an hour in the sun and have people yell at them. It might beat waiting in line. Then there were the Chinese New Year dancers prancing around with their paper dragon, not one of whom was Asian, unless there are white skinned, red haired Chinese I haven't heard about. I'm not trying to be PC. They probably can't hire real Asians without violating some law. But it sure makes the dance look a little stupid. There were more Asians in the audience, including some from Asia, than there were in the recreation of China in the act. Weird.

What I hate is the crowds and that the experience is really about waiting in lines. I hate lines. The line of people walking from the parking lot, the line to get tickets, the line to get in, the lines to go on a ride. It feels like the Soviet Union as reimagined by some crazed circus junkie. By afternoon, the lines were up to an hour and a half long at most rides and the so called fast track was taking reservations for six in the evening. So we went to an impressive reproduction of a forest service camp and played can you guess where your kids are for an hour. They had a little rock climbing wall there and my spirits lifted momentarily. But then I saw it wasn't really climbing at all, but just a little fake traverse for kids. Fake climbing. Seven year old William, a little spider on the climbing wall I have built in the garage, did it. It was touching to watch him glide over it--then announce it was "pathetic". "Too easy" Patrick concurred. In my desperation, I almost asked the fake ranger if I could give it a go, but I would have been the only person over 12 and I didn't want to be called "camper." I will say this. The fake ranger station was more solidly built and with better materials than any USFS facility I have seen, and I've seen a few. To make it realistic, Disney would have had to make it shoddier than it was. How odd to see the imitation being higher in quality than the original, except for the location, of course. It was a forest camp without a real forest. If Disney did Gulag land, the gruel would be oatmeal and not bad.

The kids had fun, though, and obviously that is why we do it. Or if "we" means Dads who hate Disney, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, then we do it to prove to our wives that we are capable of being unselfilsh at least for a few hours at a time and to watch our kids have fun. I'll try to remember William, moving effortlessly across the rock, instead of the noise and the heat.