Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Disney

I'm fortunate enough to be spending the better part of a week at Disney World in Florida, and I would like to offer a few reflections.

Many of my friends were aware of my reluctance to go on a trip to Disney. The trip was initiated by my family, as a 60th-birthday present for my mom. I would have needed a serious reason to say no. My reservations were fanned by stories of themed rides unloading into gift shops where over-stimulated children would grope for their favorite Disney characters at the expense of their trapped parents. It seemed to me that Disney was capitalism (or Americanism) at its worst.

My point of view hasn't really changed, but there are a few nuances to elaborate upon.

On our first day at the park, we headed for the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom is Disney's signature park, stamped with the classic Disney themes of cartoon animals, pirates, and princesses. Greeting us as we entered the park was an impressive stage show featuring all of the aforementioned characters. The children were encouraged to believe in their dreams: of becoming a pirate or a princess, or whatever else. These sentiments were challenged by the witch from Snow White who exclaimed, "No one believes in dreams anymore!" To which the crowd was encouraged to respond that they did, indeed, believe in dreams, to the chagrin of the evil witch. She retreated behind the force of this professed optomism.

The thing is, this is a really good thing. It is the best of what Disney stands for: a place where dreams are at least allowed to blossom unhindered by adult cynicism, or whatever else is impeding them. It is important for kids (and adults) to dream and to use their imagination to make the impossible possible.

This raises many questions about childhood and imagination and dreams. These questions are hard to itemize and prioritize. How do these issues relate to the largesse with which we Americans treat ourselves at places like Disney?

I believe that much of the problem lies with discipline. It isn't the thing itself that is the problem, so much as the application. Kids need dreams, but we don't need to go to such extremes to provide them. We, as Americans, need to temper our needs and make them fruitful. This is the essence of discipline, and even a liberal needs to learn it.

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