Disney World markets itself with the (arguably brilliant) slogan “The happiest place on Earth.” While walking around the bright and clean streets of The Magic Kingdom, smelling the $8 elephant ears and listening to the cheerful and familiar music playing through PA speakers, one would be tempted to agree. Why is it that Disney World manages to be so goddamn happy all the time? What separates it from the dreary and unpleasant realities of our day to day lives?
In his essay entitled Mickey Mouse History, Mike Wallace provides an answer, sort of. Wallace points to the fact that, in order for Disney World to instill in its visitors a sense of enjoyable nostalgia about past times, imagineers must first whitewash the past. Gone from the rustic streets are the impoverished and the ill living without medicine, gone are the enslaved Africans, gone is almost any negative imagery at all (besides, as Wallace points out, the comical Disney villains present on various rides). What’s more, the imagineers truly believe that this sanitization of bygone eras actually captures more accurately the essence of those times.
You know, because Americans are inherently good – they occasionally just make silly mistakes like slaughtering and enslaving millions of people. Right?
Disney will never be able to present a comprehensive history of any topic, ever, because of its refusal to depict unhappy or unsavory events whatsoever. And that’s fine, because it doesn’t really pretend to be a historical site, nor does it pretend to be a place of education. And when you consider its status as a vacation spot for families (specifically familes with young children) you really can’t blaim them. Young children don’t want to feel that they’re being manipulated into learning when they set out to have fun (a truth that is exemplified in the attached image), and few people of any age would likely consider being taught about the horrific realities of America’s past as “fun” or “relaxing.” Disney World is only able to manufacture it’s “happiness only” zone through shutting out unhappiness in all forms, and because so many parts of human existence are unhappy, the “happiest place on Earth” feels distinctively artificial. When one exits Disney World after a trip to return to the “real world,” there’s almost a level of culture shock involved. Disney World is not a place people go to experience human history, it’s a place people go to get a taste of something that the world has never known: total peace, love, and happiness.