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.