Celebration Chronicles, Chapters 4+5

The beginning of chapter four brings up the exact same criticisms that I mentioned in the previous blog entry. I assumed (and apparently a lot of the media did as well) that the residents of Celebration were all escapists or “nostalgia hounds”, desperate to cling to a way of life that is for the most part relegated to the silver screen. But this chapter clears those accusations—kind of. I had forgotten about the state of the art school system and medical technology in Celebration, or the fact that a lot of the people who can actually afford a house in the town did not come into their wealth through wishing and dreaming, but through hard work. It’s easy to stereotype the Celebrationites because of the uniqueness of the situation. Disney built a town—not a subdivision or a gated community or a complex of vacation time-shares… A TOWN. And these are the people who decided to move there. When something as crazy as this happens, it’s easy to assume the people involved are also a bit crazy.

So, a lot of residents refute the idea that they’re clinging to some unobtainable past… Yet, it’s also true what one resident says on page 82: “Who would have come here without the Disney name? There’s not a businessman in his right mind who would move to a community with a thousand people in the middle of a swamp.” And there, the power of the Disney name shows through again. I don’t think that if some other company or developer decided to build a town exactly like Celebration (with pretty houses and good schools, etc…) that people would have been so eager to move there. But I think it may be true that in this instance, “Disney” is not so much synonymous with “nostalgia” as it is with “quality”.

***

I thought it was very interesting to read about how the physical design of the town was to encourage neighborly interactions. It sounds like some sort of social experiment. You almost expect there to be secret cameras hidden all over the place…

Which brings me to the hilarious rumours that began to circulate… It’s interesting, because in a town that encourages social interaction, of course part of that is gossip. It’s only natural that since the town is so unique, the rumours about it would be just as sensational. But these rumours also show that the Celebrationites are a lot more aware of their situation than the media (or I) assumed them to be. Their jokes about the Porch Police or the paid actors walking dogs by the lake, as well as the kids who pretend to be animatronics when tourists pass by all show that they’re very aware they are living in a town where appearances are everything, to the point of extremeness.  The curious tourists who visit come with certain expectations in mind; since the Disney Company has always been obsessed with a good image, they make sure that a good image is what the tourists see.

But Disney having their name on the town obviously comes with negative side effects as well. It means they have to take responsibility for both the good and bad things that happen in the town—and in this lawsuit-happy age, anything bad happening in Celebration could be cause for someone to want to take the company to court. I wonder if the company didn’t quite think it through while they were planning. Surely they must have known that running a town would not be the same as running a hotel or an amusement park attraction. This is a place where real people live their lives. And it’s not like something out of a storybook. Maybe the people of Celebration are more grounded than the company that brought them there.

Celebration Chronicles, chapters 1-3

I would not want to live in Celebration.

The descriptions of the town reminded me of a number of different things, all varying degrees of creepy. For a while now, my family has been considering a  move to South Carolina. One of the first places we looked for houses was Daniel Island, near Charleston, which is a very picturesque little town, with its perfect pastel houses and green golf courses, cute pizzerias and boutique shops along the main street.  We are not moving there. Additionally, the certain amount of  fakeness in the town (the building façades, the regulations on cars allowed to be owned by residents, etc…) calls to my mind some sort of film set from “The Music Man”, or the fake decorations in a lot of themed resorts, such as Universal’s Portofino in Orlando, or any of the Disney resorts. Lastly, topping the creepy scale, is that the town of Celebration reminds me of a “Twilight Zone” episode called “A Stop at Willoughby” where a man who is stressed and miserable in his daily routine of working for an angry boss and coming home to an angry wife dreams up a quaint turn-of-the-century town called Willoughby, where people all live simpler, honest lives. The twist of the episode, of course, is that while he thinks he’s getting off the train while it’s stopped at the idyllic Willoughby, he has in fact jumped while the train is still moving, and he dies.

Celebration just sounds… creepy.

While I love the façades at the Disney or Universal resorts, and it would be very cool to visit a film set, I don’t think I could handle living in such a place all the time. The fakeness of it all is unnerving. I wouldn’t feel free to live my life; I’d feel like I was supposed to act a certain way… constantly on display. The very word “façade” make me think that the town is hiding something ugly underneath the surface. Maybe it’s just the writer in me…

Celebration sounds like it is the closest we will ever come to making the world of the Disney films a reality. Past books that we’ve read this semester have criticized Disney for perpetuating unattainable ideals—a world where there is always a happy ending, true love conquers all, the bad guys always loses, etc… The town of Celebration seems to want to be that sort of place. And while I scoffed at the previous books, saying that I had more faith in people being able to tell the difference between the fantasy of a movie and real life, maybe I was wrong. The amount of people who gave everything up to move to this town is a testament to the lengths people will go to in search of a happy ending, following dreams. That by itself is as creepy as the town. If nothing else has made me wary of Disney’s power and control over their consumers, it is the fact that Celebration exists.

Modern Marvels: Disney World

Having just read the chapter in “Rethinking Disney” about situations where the Disney Company failed to take over and develop land in certain places, it’s interesting to watch this clip and see how fondly the narrator talks about Disney World. The archivist who was interviewed in this clip said that there was a lot of speculation at the time Disney was starting to plan the resort complex, as to who was buying so much land. From that, I take it that it was kept secret, at least in the early stages of the project. I wonder if it had been made public that it was Disney who was buying the land, there would have been more of an outcry from environmentalists and/or the residents of central Florida. The only thing the archivist said is that the price of the land would have gone up. There was no mention, at least in this small clip, as to whether there were any objections to the Disney Company completely tearing apart a huge area of natural swamp land.

 

Rethinking Disney, Chapter 9

As much as I love Disney, I found myself agreeing with the protesters in this chapter. The citizens of Seattle, Long Beach, and Haymarket who opposed Disney’s involvement in their cities all had excellent reasons to do so. I think it is a matter of  Disney helping to simply fix or renew a space, rather than taking it and transforming it into their own.

In the case of Seattle, I found myself wondering why city officials thought that Disney would be a good fit to redo the City Center in the first place. Seattle and Disney don’t really go hand in hand. The city’s population (especially in ’89, around the time the grunge movement was growing in popularity) and the people who visit or want to visit the city don’t strike me as particularly Disney-crazed.

Disney’s entire enterprise into architecture and urban planning just doesn’t seem to fit.  But, as an empire of sorts, I suppose it’s only right that they would attempt to continually conquer and colonize other part of the country, and even the world.

Disney’s failed attempts for build up Long Beach in California also makes me sigh with relief. To dominate the landscape with Port Disney, and transform the bay- possibly damaging the ecosystem- would have been going too far.

Besides- California already has Disneyland. They don’t need two theme parks/resort complexes in the same state.

The one exception to this, for me anyways, is Times Square in NYC. I love Times Square. It feels like the city to me—not like Disney. Their involvement may not have been minimal financial, but as far as branding and controlling the space, it is hardly there at all. I don’t even think that Disney Store is there anymore. But, Times Square is still a wonderful place. Disney didn’t seize it and turn it into Disneyland NYC, they just helped it get back on its feet.

The other examples in this chapter were much more aggressive take-overs of a space, as well as much larger (in terms of physical space being developed). And that, I think, is where the problem lies. I think if every Disney project succeeded, eventually they would have buildings and attractions in almost every major city. And over time, Disney would cease to be a special place. The rarity of Disney spaces makes them precious to us. If the whole world became Disney’s, it would just be life- boring and uneventful. Disney attractions would become no more special than movie theatres or shopping malls. So, I think it’s a very good thing that people continue to deny Disney the opportunity to develop their hometowns.

Disney’s Mulan: A Dark Film Rife with Racism, Sexism, and Questionable Morals

For this assignment, I decided to watch and review the 1998 animated film “Mulan” and criticize the hell out of it. Let me preface this blog post by saying that this is one of my all time favorite Disney movies, so pretty much none of the following are really my beliefs. But it was fun to put on such a negative attitude while watching the movie.

First off, this film is certainly a lot darker than the average animated Disney flick. It opens with the murder of a nameless soldier and the invasion of China. The entire film is about war. Mulan is the only Disney princess with a body count. And Disney doesn’t shy away from the violence too much, either. When the soldiers come across the destroyed village in the mountains, there are no bodies or wounded civilians, but the houses are all in ruins, the sky is blood red, and Mulan finds a doll on the ground—hinting that everyone, even children, has died. And then the frame widens to reveal the rest of the carnage, and there are a few seconds in the shot of dead soldiers and horses as far as the eye can see. For Disney—that’s pretty dark stuff. Although no one is really shown dying on screen, there are several instances like the subtext with the doll, where viewers are meant to understand that someone is being killed. For instance, when the Huns capture two Imperial soldiers, the Hun leader, Shan Yu sends them away to tell their commanding officers that the Huns are coming. As the two soldiers flee, Shan Yu turns to an archer and asks, “How many men does it take to deliver a message?” The archer replies, “One.” And smirks as he shoots an arrow. I can see many smaller children getting upset over instances like this, especially if they weren’t prepared for it. And who would think to prepare a child for so much darkness before sitting down to watch a Disney movie?

Secondly, this is another Disney film that deals with other cultures—outside of the traditional European folk/fairytale that they are so comfortable with. And it has to be asked—how much of the Chinese culture portrayed in the film is authentic, and how much is Disney’s and America’s perception of Chinese culture?

The most stereotyped characters are the annoying council member Chi Fu, the Emperor himself, and the villain. In the case of Chi Fu, the character is drawn like a racist caricature, and his voice actor has one of the most pronounced and heavy accents. He is annoying and pompous, and most often used for comedic effect. Other characters make fun of him, and he is portrayed as less manly than any of the other soldiers. The Emperor, though certainly a “good guy”, often sounds like he is quoting from slips of paper inside fortune cookies, with his many wise, cryptic sayings.

The villainous Shan Yu, and the rest of the Huns, are dehumanized extensively. Shan Yu is grey-faced and yellow-eyed with long, pointed fingernails like claws, and pointed fang-like teeth. He is also very hulking and animal-like, with seemingly super-human strength, and his constant hanging from trees and the roofs, of buildings. But, it’s all right for Disney to villainize the Huns—they’re not really around as a people anymore!

All of these examples may not seem so bad on their own, except that they are contrasted against the rest of the characters, who, while still being Asian, are a much less over-the-top portrayal of their ethnicity. Mulan has paler skin than any of the other characters, as well as rounder eyes. The hunky male lead, Captain Li Shang has a square jaw and no trace of an Asian accent.

Thirdly, the biggest problem in the movie is the constant enforcing of both male and female stereotypes. While many cite “Mulan” as a feminist film, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The first song, “Honor To Us All”, has the following lyrics: “A girl can bring her family great honor in one way, by striking a good match, and this could be the day. Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast-paced. With good breeding and a tiny waist…” Mulan’s only worth is in how suitable she is for marriage and domestic life. And while she doesn’t necessarily fit in at home, or do well when she meets the matchmaker for assessment, it is still something she wants. The shame and sadness is clear on her face when she returns home after disgracing her family with the matchmaker.

Additionally, there are a number of other times in the movie where “girl” is used as an insult. When Mulan is found out as a woman, Chi Fu says, “I knew there was something wrong with you! A woman!” and later he says, “She’ll never be worth anything! She’s a woman!” When she is about to be executed for impersonating a soldier, at first her friends plead for her life, until Chi Fu reminds them that it is the law, at which point they stop trying to save her and merely watch sadly. And in the Imperial City, Mulan discovers that no one will listen to her warnings that the Huns are still alive because, as her sidekick Mushu puts it, “you’re a girl again”.  All of this points to the clear message that women are worth less than men. And if you would argue that Mulan proves her worth by becoming a soldier and saving her country, it must be remembered that she did it all, as a man and not as a woman.

The enforcing of gender roles applies for men as well in this movie, though not to the same degree. The song “Be A Man”, while undeniably catchy, seems to suggest both that all men and only men should be “swift as a coursing river, [have] all the force of a great typhoon, …the strength of a raging fire, and [be] mysterious as the dark side of the moon”. Mulan embracing these ideas and becoming the best soldier in the camp only shows that she “became a man” in order to do so.

Finally, it could be argued that the film promotes the idea that the ends justify the means. Mulan “ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived her commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese Army, destroyed the Emperor’s palace…”  BUT she also saved them all, so that makes it okay. Plus, she was “true to her heart” in doing all of it.  Imagine if she hadn’t saved China. She would have had to suffer some pretty serious consequences! The overall message of the film seems to be that it’s alright to defy your parents, lie to your superiors, etc… as long as it is all for a good cause, and as long as you’re being true to what you believe to be right, which is certainly not a good message for children to be left with.

Rethinking Disney Part IV

Part IV of “Rethinking Disney” has two chapters- one about Winnie the Pooh, and one about The Animal Kingdom theme park in Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Neither of these chapters grabbed my attention. (I’ve never been into Winnie the Pooh, as a child or now, and I’ve never set foot in the Animal Kingdom section of Disney World.) Still, I thought that the notion of Disney taking something and making it wholly theirs was interesting.

Not being a fan of Pooh Bear, I was surprised to learn that the franchise was so big. I had no idea that he was the company’s highest grossing character. In typical pessimistic fashion though,  the chapter’s author Aaron Taylor bemoans the fact that Disney seems to be trying very hard to make Pooh completely theirs, and are shutting out E.H. Shepard’s original artwork. By having a “Classic Pooh” line, that does seem like exactly what they’re doing—making artwork that is similar to Shepard’s drawings, but is “superior” in some way.

On one hand, I think Disney has every right to do what they want with the “Pooh” franchise. They own the copyright. If they wanted (and if Pooh wasn’t loved so much by consumers and audience members) they could rework everything in some crazy, drastic way, and make it into a science-fiction action film. They would never do that, though. But as long as they own the rights, they can do whatever they want with the characters.

On the other hand, though, as an artist and writer myself, I know I would be very upset if one of my creations was bastardized by some large corporation I’d sold the rights to. I completely sympathize with Shepard’s heirs for denouncing one of the films. And when the Classic Pooh line looks so similar to Shepard’s own work, it makes complete sense to be angry.

But Taylor makes it very clear: “Who owns Winnie the Pooh? The answer inevitably remains ‘Disney’” (191). I don’t necessarily agree with Disney. Their paranoid and aggressive control of all things under their trademark has often confused me. But yes. Pooh is theirs. They company has been very successful in taking it and appropriating it to fit under the Disney logo. And by having a Classic Pooh line, they succeed in making every aspect of the franchise appear to be theirs. I’m certain many people have mistaken Shepard’s drawings for a Classic Pooh illustration. And that’s the “magic of Disney”: they’re like the Borg from “Star Trek”, taking over and infiltrating until something is entirely their own.

           

The second chapter about The Animal Kingdom also made some interesting points. Mostly, I thought it was interesting how the Imagineers thought that the actual safari was too “theme-park like”, and so in designing The Animal Kingdom, they had to go above and beyond the reality, because the reality wasn’t enough. And like it says, visitors to the park won’t know the difference, because very few of them have been to Africa or Asia. What they know is Discovery Channel, and the park looks just like that.

When I read the description of the Pocahontas and her Forest Friends show, I kept wondering what would happen if one of the live animals used decided not to cooperate. As trained as they are, sometimes animals just don’t want to behave. They might be feeling sick, or something in the audience might be scaring them, or any other number of things might go wrong. I wonder if the actress/handler playing Pocahontas has things prepared in case something unscripted happens. In many ways, Disney is all about predictability. You know something Disney is going to be safe for kids, as well as high quality. But anything with animals is extremely unpredictable.

But, again, like with Pooh, Disney is making “The Animal Kingdom” their own. The fake villages and wilderness scenes, the contrived “plots” of all the rides…. This is not the real world, the real Africa, the real Asia… this is Disney’s world. And while you can’t copyright a continent, a village, or an animal, all of these become Disney’s within the park walls. Unlike with “Pooh” though, I don’t mind it so much here. Disney does market itself to children predominantly, and it is safer, cheaper, and more convenient to take your children to Orlando for a week than to the actual jungle. I think it’s just all in good fun. Perhaps the park even inspires some people to want to save up for a trip to the real places, and educate themselves further about certain issues. I don’t think the park has to be entirely a replacement or improvement on the real savanna or jungle. Many people treat it that way, but it can also be a gateway to more learning and exploring outside of the park.

The Mouse That Roared, Chapter 3… Feminists Annoy Me.

In chapter three of “The Mouse That Roared”, on page 103, it says, “Texts shape their own interpretations, but also form a mutually constitutive relationship with the political, economic, and cultural contexts in which they are read.” While I agree with this statement completely, I also feel like many of the arguments against Disney presented in this chapter are exaggerated and futile. If you go looking for subtext, you’re going to find it, even if it isn’t really there. And even if it is there, is there any way to be certain that the creators intended for that to be the received message?

The arguments regarding gender stereotyping in Disney films are nothing new. And I have to say it— feminists annoy me. A lot. The complaints stated in this chapter that Mulan, despite being portrayed as a strong, independent female, still has to have a man at the end, ignore the fact that she doesn’t seek him out. She leaves Shang behind and returns to her family. He comes to her. Similarly, the argument is brought up that Mulan achieves everything by “donning the guise of masculinity” and becoming “one of the boys”. Apparently this is bad, because she isn’t out saving China looking like a woman. Yet you have to remember—this is feudalist China. Are the same people who are criticizing “Pocahontas” for straying so far from historical truths also saying that Mulan should have strolled into the army camp in a skirt and makeup? So many of the arguments presented in this chapter (and the rest of this book), while valid at first glance, just seem like grasping at straws.

The statement that Disney’s portrayal of women enforces the idea that “a child born female can only realize a gendered incarnation of adulthood and is destined to fulfill her selfhood by becoming the appendage, if not the property, of a man” (108) leaves out the other side of the argument. I really have to ask: What is so wrong with finding happiness in a man?! The feminists who seem determined to pick apart every detail of Disney’s princess films always seem to forget: the princess choose their fate. While it’s certainly not realistic that so many of them fall in love with their princes at first sight, in the context of the film (which is fantasy, and not real life), these young women are in love, and they choose to spend the rest of their lives with a man they love, who loves them in return.

The criticisms against Disney regarding race seem both equally as far-fetched as the feminist ones, but also kind of ring true. Being a middle-class white girl, though, I don’t feel as comfortable making my own judgments. However, some of the “problems” that critics find in “Aladdin” do seem like nitpicking to me. For instance, “the use of nonsensical scrawl as a substitute for written Arabic language” seems more like laziness than racism to me. I will grant that other parts of the film, such as the lines from the opening song “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face…” is a tad racist.

Finally, it seems to me that the main problem that the authors have with Disney is the company’s use of synergy. Every time a film was praised in this chapter, the film’s disgrace was that there was still a large amount of marketing and merchandising that came along with it. I got some news for ya, Henry A. Giroux and Grace Pollock: we live in a commercialized world. This is a consumer-based society. Get over it. I’ve said it before, but I will say it again: Where is the fault in making money? Disney is a business. A good business makes money. That’s all they’re doing.