The Disney Case Study
“The Disney theme parks: home to the mouse, hyperreality and consumerism”
Introduction to Disney’s world
In many parts of our world today people dream a dream of magic and illusion, prosperity and happiness, which is essentially an American dream, exported by the wizards of branding, by companies like McDonald’s, Nike, Coca-Cola and especially The Walt Disney Company (WDC). Known for being ‘the inventor of modern branding’ (Klein, 2001: 149) and ‘modern synergy’ (ibid. 145), the Disney company ‘has managed to insinuate its characters, stories, and image as good, clean, fun enterprise into the consciousness of millions around the earth’ (Fjellman, 1992: 398).
The WDC today ‘boasts revenue of more than $25 billion from its operations in media networks, consumer products, studio entertainment, Internet, and parks and resorts, and employs 120,000 people worldwide’ (Weber, 2002). Furthermore, it can be seen as ‘the single most powerful and influential force in the globalization of Western culture’ (Ellwood, 2002). Having themed parks in California (Disneyland, Anaheim), Florida (Walt Disney World, Orlando), France (Disneyland and Disney Studios Paris), Japan (Tokyo Disney Resort), China (Hong Kong Disneyland scheduled to open in 2005), and as rumours suggest having plans for parks in Shanghai and Delhi (Weber, 2002), Disney spreads its ‘value-laden environments’ across the world. Thereby, it is ‘extending and expanding Classic Disney (or as Real (1973) puts it ‘the Disney universe’ or ‘Disney vision’ (Jackson, 1993: 10)) into a material or physical existence, as well as 'providing a strong dose of All-American ideology’ (Watson, 2001: 153). Since the theme parks ‘contribute significantly to Disney’s overall corporate goals, providing ongoing revenues and promotion for other parts of the corporate empire’ (ibid. 158) it is worthwhile to closer examine the parks which are viewed by many observers as ‘showcases for postmodernism’ (transparencynow.com, 2002a) and ‘panegyrics to capitalism’ (Bryman, 1995).
The theme parks – more real than reality?
The Disney theme parks have been subject of postmodernist writing in numerous occasions where ‘the Disney universe is often held up as the epitome of hyperreality, a space where representation itself has become more real than the reality it ostensibly depicts’ (McGuigan, 1999: 22). This notion is not as far-fetched as it might first appear: Bryman (1995: 171), for example, notes that ‘there can be a very real problem of distinguishing the real and the fake’ in Disney’s parks and Willis (1995: 185) observes that even ‘the entire natural world is subsumed by the primacy of the artificial’. In addition, Watson (2001: 168) notes that ‘the construction of impossible or unnatural landscapes which separate visitors from the “real world” is a distinct feature of the parks and part of their appeal to visitors’.
One of the first social critics who understood the way contemporary culture uses simulations and false appearances is Daniel Boorstin. He claims that America is living in an ‘age of contrivance’ (Boorstin, 1992: 250), in which illusions and fabrications have become a dominant force in society. Public life, he says, is filled with ‘pseudo-events’ (ibid. 9) – staged and scripted events that are a kind of counterfeit version of actual happenings. In writing about Disneyland he notes that ‘it is the example to end all examples’:
Here indeed Nature imitates Art. The visitor to Disneyland encounters not the two-dimensional comic strip or movie originals, but only their three-dimensional facsimiles.
In his “Travels in Hyperreality” Eco explores the imitations and replicas that are on display in America’s museums and tourist attractions. On his journey he searches for instances ‘where American imagination demands the real thing, and to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake (Eco, 1987: 8). His search inevitably leads him to Disneyland and Walt Disney World (WDW), the chief examples of ‘the Absolute Fake’ (ibid. 40) in which imitations do not merely reproduce reality, but try to improve on it. Eco observes: ‘Disneyland is more hyperreal than the wax museum, precisely because the latter still tries to make us believe that what we are seeing reproduces reality absolutely, whereas Disneyland makes it clear that within its magic enclosure it is a fantasy that is absolutely reproduced’ (ibid. 43). In comparison to Disney, he implies, reality can be disappointing:
When […] you go from the fake New Orleans of Disneyland to the real one, and from the wild river of Adventureland to a trip on the Mississippi, where the captain […] says it is possible to see alligators on the banks of the river, and then you don’t see any, you risk feeling homesick for Disneyland, where the wild animals don’t have to be coaxed. Disneyland tells us that technology can give us more reality than nature can.
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- ISBN (Book)
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- Institution / College
- University of Leeds – Culural Studies department
- 1 (A)
- Walt Disney Company Kulturimperialismus Globalisierung cultural imperialism globalization