However, I did have some thoughts while walking about Disney’s Animal Kingdom this afternoon – how could a Pop Culture Gangster not after all? – and wanted to share them before they snuck out of my poor tired little brain.
It has been about 10 years or so since I’ve been to Disney, and since then I’ve been fortunate enough to travel many places and have a great number of experiences: from dancing in a New Orleans parade, to attending a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica; from walking the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles to strolling along the streets of Vancouver. Whether I’ve traveled for work or business, I’ve sought out authentically local experiences, from food and drink to culture and pastimes.
When you go to Disney, they try very hard – and succeed mostly – to give you a taste of a different world. It may be weird mix of Dinosaurs and Americana as is the case in Dinoland in the Animal Kingdom, or the very cool Tibetan/Asian vibe that the area around the Everest ride has. That was probably my favorite part of the park – I thought they did a great job with the decor and extras, as well as with the smells of the food and little touches in the waiting lines that gave you a taste of the country that you’re supposed to feel like you’re in. Not that I’ve ever been there, so I guess more appropriately, it feels like what I think it is supposed to feel like.
Which brings me to my main observation: Disney is incredibly good at creating remarkably realistic imaginary tableaux that make you feel like you’re elsewhere, but when you turn around from that, you’ll still surrounded by vendors selling Coca-Cola and McDonald’s fries, ice cream carts and souvenir stores every ten feet. It is a delicate line that they tread: educational vs. fun, experiential vs. simply being an amusement park. I think it is that attention to detail and Disney’s unique ability to take the harsh Nepal terrain and make it family-friendly that drives so many to their parks.
However, like anyone else who looks at these things with a critical eye – and Disney certainly has their fair share of critics and analysts – one hopes that it doesn’t REPLACE the real experience, or that it forces the real thing to become more Disneyesque to meet the false expectations set by the fake thing.
I’m not going to give you any big insight here, partially because it is 1:00 A.M. and I’m pretty friggin tired. But because I haven’t quite figured it out. Tomorrow is Epcot and its pavilion of 13 countries. Maybe that will help me pin it down. I know that it isn’t a complaint, but it is something that makes me want to experience the real thing; to see a trading post in Nepal, to see a 60’s-style roadside Dinosaur exhibit or eat Chinese food in China. It makes me appreciate how realistic they make the Disney experience but yearn for the real thing. Maybe I’ll be able to answer why by the end of the week.