Today’s Deathstination: Disneyland
Location: Anaheim, CA
Dispatches from the most magical place on earth!
I had never been to Disneyland before this past weekend. Sadly my mother and father were clearly deficient in their job as first world parents. My father tried to remedy the horrid years of magical neglect this weekend while my parents were in town for a conference.
I don’t take issue with death in Disney movies, per se (Bambi’s mother, anyone?). Sure, they could stand to be a little less aggressively lighthearted, a little more focused on the raw, unfettered macabre like the German fairytales that inspired them. For example, I heard recently that the original fairytales ended not with “they lived happily ever after” but “they lived happily ever after until they died.” We should all be so lucky.
There is something a little disturbing about the way fiction and reality are blurred. For example, you got your real seagulls then you got your fake animatronic singing seagulls but they’re hanging out together so you’re like, “dear god man, what is REAL?!”
The second issue is Disneyland’s history of pushing any hint of death to the side. In 2003, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster derailed, injuring ten people and killing a 22 year old when one of the cars landed on him. Even as this happened, the park was not closed and the park patrons were not told what was going on.
Here is a good quote from a messageboard:
“…to the people that think the park should have closed or they should have been notified… do you want to explain to your 6 year old that a man lost his life on your child’s favorite ride, or try to explain death to your child because you were forced to at “The Happiest Place On Earth”? I don’t think so.”
Oh good, as long as no one is made to talk to their children about death. Or acknowledge the life and death of someone on your property.
We didn’t actually go on Thunder Mountain (although that would totally have been appropriate thanotourism) because my father is a bit… how you say… delicate on theme park rides. I can call my dad out on how he pukes on anything rougher than the teacup ride because he doesn’t use the internet. He has no idea what it means that I’m making YouTube videos. He calls it “playing on my computer.” Touche, dad.
We did, however, go on It’s a Small World. Ok. Speaking of mortality fears. Has anyone else been on this crazed decadent acid trip of a ride? You get in a little boat and are transported through room after room of singing ethnic stereotypes with puppets spinning around and descending from the ceiling with flashing lights. They already had their Christmas version of the ride up, so the music was a “Jingle Bells” and “It’s a Small World” megamix of repetitive terror. My dad said it reminded him of the time he was playing in a high school football game and blew out his knee. They gave him heavy painkillers at the hospital and he thought that the hippos in tutus on the walls of the children’s ward where coming down to attack him.
After It’s a Small World we boarded the putput train that takes you around the perimeter of the park. At one point you go into a tunnel that inexplicably transports you to the primeval Grand Canyon, where there are dinosaurs and a large bone piles. I was not expecting large bone piles on my train ride, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Is it creepy that I didn’t want a picture with Jack Skellington, I just wanted a picture of other people’s children with Jack Skellington? Probably.
At the end of the day I still hadn’t really found my angle for the deathstination. The park was well maintained, everyone super efficient, no chinks in the armor. Our last ride of the day was the Indiana Jones Adventure. First of all, the descent into the Temple to even get on the ride is like 10 minutes of downward labyrinth. Finally, as we were at the very bottom of the temple, held in the pig pen gates ready to get on the next car, all the lights come on and a voice over the loudspeaker says there has been an error, to stay where we are. This goes on for about 20 minutes.
This was a strange, claustraphobic experience. I’m sure it was even worse for the people trapped in the car in the bowels of the ride. You got the sense of danger as the same announcement repeated again and again and Disney workers dressed in khakis and adventure goggles moved about in hushed tones. Eventually they hearded us all back up the temple into the daylight, where it had begun to rain.
The experience at the end of the day can be compared to the public’s rabid desire to witness the fall of popular Disney stars (Britney and Lindsay I’m looking at you). When something is built up as perfection, we are always seeking a way to watch it break down, to decay. We don’t really want to see Disneyland as a magical impenetrable fantasy world where there is only life and hope and dreams. There is something to be said for rides that break and pouring rain. Like our lives and bodies, perfection only comes in fleeting moments, punctured by death and decay.