Disneyland is to imagination as pornography is to sex

I spent the last two days in Disneyland, and to my surprise, I didn’t even feel like I was in another world. I thought I would take lots of photos of pinkification and gender-stereotyped-marketing, come back and post them on my blog, and you’d all be shocked and appalled. But I didn’t see much in Disneyland that I don’t see every single time I go to Target or Safeway or turn on my TV.

Disneyland’s “magic” has completely infiltrated our everyday life. In Disneyland, wherever we went, everyone called my daughter “Princess” and handed her free stickers of girls in poofy dresses just like they do here when we visit her doctor’s office.

The significant difference that I kept noticing between Disneyland and San Francisco is that various signs and people kept telling me to have a magical time, that this was a place for my imagination to run free.

Yet, as I strapped myself into my eighteenth car or rocket or clam shell, it occurred to me there are few times in my life that I am encouraged to be this thoughtless. I sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride while I am handed the same fantasies, images, and narratives repeatedly. That’s when I realized that the passivity and homogeneity that Disneyland perpetuates in my mind and body, with all of its highly controlled thrills, is as deadening to actual imagination as pornography is to sex. Too much exposure (and we all have way too much exposure) messes with our brains and puts humans in danger of losing the ability to be stimulated by the real thing.

One of my favorite books ever is called Can Love Last: The Fate of Romance Over Time. Author Stephen Mitchell proposes that contrary to popular belief, romance doesn’t fade naturally in long term relationships. We kill it. And we kill it because it’s terrifying to lust for and depend on the same person. The more you need your partner, the more courage is required to risk perpetually experiencing the roller coaster highs and lows that come with being desperately attracted to him. Mitchell argues that instead of committing to that dangerous ride, for a lifetime, no less, we flatten our romantic partners into something more stable.

Here’s what Mitchell writes about pornography:

Rather than being a measure and consequence of the power of naturally occurring sexual desire, pornography is a measure of the extent to which people tend to prefer controlling desire through contrivance rather than being surprised by desire that spontaneously arises. Do not underestimate the power of contrivance. If I desire you, a real person, and if I long for not just sexual contact but a romantic response, I may be in big trouble. In fact, there is no way to escape big trouble! Because what I want from you makes me dependent upon you, makes me hostage to your feeling towards me, I naturally want some control over my fate. What I want is for you to love me, to find me attractive and exciting, precisely when I want you…This is what makes the contrivance of pornography so useful. Pornography operates on the “what if?” principle. What if I found myself desiring someone, and what if it happened to be this very person in this picture? on this videotape? on this computer screen? Guess what? I can have him or her. A close cousin of the oldest profession, prostitution, pornography offers the wonderful combination of stimulation in the context of simulation–risk-free desire. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. You can’t miss.

Porn is often considered exciting, daring, risky, or imaginative, but it’s just the opposite: a safe roller coaster instead of a real one.

Disneyland, of course, operates on that very principle. Controlled thrills– “stimulation in the context of simulation”– manufactured, repetitive images that don’t inspire individual creativity but paralyze real imagination. Disneyland is like porn for kids.

11 thoughts on “Disneyland is to imagination as pornography is to sex

  1. Disney to pornography this is a great analogy! Both can be a giddy little thrill when enjoyed in moderation. When one is over exposed to either, more and more is needed to achieve the same thrill.

  2. I thought this was a very fitting analogy and I agree! I also think (and I may be wrong) that you are not so much shaming/bashing Disneyland through this article as challenging Disney. Reminds me of Halloween season and the lengths people will go through to create an incredible haunted house experience that will scare the life out of you! Disney needs to think outside of the box like that and REALLY access the imagination. Good for you for calling them out!

  3. Wow, lots of haters here! I understand completely what you’re saying — every parent knows that children reenact the narratives they are exposed to, from the movies they watch to the dynamics they see shared by their parents. Disney is such a mega-super-mammoth-titan of the “imagination” where everything is so packaged, boxed, and sold, it’s not about inspiration or creativity anymore but about staid narratives that coax children into consuming the same plot for years and years. The author of this article kept it short, but she could have chosen to include references to the huge body of contemporary scholarship that supports this.

    Additionally, the author did not once liken Disneyland staff to the devil. That whole reaction was overblown and in it’s exaggeration, moot.

    Great article! Thanks for writing it. I went to Disneyland as a tyke and all I remember was being dead miserable in the heat and long lines. Also that I wanted to buy everything but my parents couldn’t afford the overpriced crap on sale there. Not exactly magical nostalgia.

    • Thank you Liz and yes, the staff was doing their job. I wish the bigwigs of Disney gave better orders, I wish Disney used its power and influence to make change.

      Margot

  4. The point in my view isn’t about politeness or the intent of the workers – which we all assume would be kind and trying to make the experience fun experience and entertaining. What I got out of the post is that we have to stop inundating our daughters and sons everywhere!! with messages that what being a girl is about poofy skirts and being rescued by a prince and looking “pretty”….etc. And that — culturally, focusing on passive entertainment and constantly and everywhere isn’t good for our kids – the research bears that out as well. I appreciate the post and the metaphor. Thank you!

  5. Porn of Kids – excellent headline and nice blog tactic. This will drive more people to read your articles due to shock value. Even better is to use a “Top 10” in the headline. Like “Top 10 reasons why Disney is Porn for Kids.” This is a Fox News tactic that get lots of hits, it’s good marketing. And perfect fit as Disney is the best in the business at marketing.

    As for the Disney experience, do people “turn off” or are they inspired? I suppose it depends on the person and how creative they really are in the first place. Just like porn. You can just watch, act it out your self, build on the idea or even create something of your own.

  6. I work at The Magic Kingdom in Florida. Here’s a recent photo:

    http://www.godandscience.org/images/devil.jpg

    I hand out stickers, call little girls “princess”, blow bubbles, give people directions, and wish people happy birthday among other diabolical acts.

    OH NO! Heaven forbid we be friendly and provide great guest service! Heaven forbid we bend over backwards, often going above and beyond the call of duty, to make sure the guests, who are often very rude, have a good experience.

    And the stickers… THEY ARE THE DEVIL’S WORK!!! How dare those cast members be nice to your daughters! There’s obviously some big evil conspiracy behind the sticker-giving. They’re out to indoctrinate your children I tell you!

    In all seriousness:

    My question is, why did you even go and spend $85 a person plus meals, gas, and hotel if you knew you were going to hate it? Just so you could post on a blog about how evil Disneyland is?

    That’s a freaking expensive blog post.

    • hi disney cast member,

      I love the photo! all the disney workers were nice and tried hard.

      I went because a friend of my daughter’s went and so my daughter desperately wanted to go and because I was curious.

      MM

      • Thank you for utterly wasting my time with this ridiculous article. People like you give feminism a really bad name. Disneyland is a fantasy theme park with incredible customer service and experiences you cant get anywhere else in the world. Its an amazing place that inspires creativity, yet, I can just picture you sitting there, grouchy faced, trying desperately to come up with reasons to hate it. Your pornography comparison is ridiculous, and could be made with almost anything (Cartoons are like pornography! Movies are like pornography! Books are like pornography! Halloween is like pornography! etc.)

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