Preservationists, what do you think of Walt Disney World (or Land, if that’s your part of country)? I know preservationists who absolutely love Disney and I know some who cannot stand it. So it’s probably irrelevant to the profession, however, too often the “Mickey Mouse-ing” of history is used as a negative connotation; i.e.: meaning something is too perfect or too fake or too clean or just not an accurate depiction of history.
But, I wonder what it is about Disney World/Land that people do not like? I was just there with my in-laws and yes, it’s hot in July (of course it’s currently hot everywhere, including Vermont) and Disney World is it own place – its own world, if you will. However, if you consider the history of Walt Disney, the man, and Walt Disney, the theme parks, it has the purest of intentions to be a joyful place for parents and children and all ages alike. The biography of Walt Disney is inspiring and a true American story. As an adult, it is interesting to understand the context of the Disney’s history and how the man and the theme parks correlate. Upholding Disney’s legacy seems to be an important mission of the Walt Disney company. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) you can visit a gallery/museum of Walt’s life and watch a short film about him. I’d bet that a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco would be fascinating. Certainly, the life of Walt Disney affected the entire world.
Why mention Disney on Preservation in Pink (other than for the tens of photos I took of Mr. Stilts, the little flamingo, throughout the parks)? Mostly, I don’t think it’s fair to call something that we find too perfect to be “Mickey Mouse history.” Do people go to Disney expecting to learn about history? Disney World does not represent everything about American culture or American history. It is perfect in Disney because it is an escape from reality. It is living in a world of imagination for a day or a week or however long you visit. It’s like walking into a land of nostalgia. And as we all know, nostalgia is always pretty and always perfect and just the type of place we’d like to stay for a while. The depth of detail throughout the entire park and on all of the rides and attractions is astounding. To me, that is what is so great about Disney. The “imagineers” think of everything and everywhere you look, everything is done for a reason. (Of course marketing plays a large role and Disney is good at it.)
My point? Let’s take “Mickey Mouse” out of the conversation when talking about historical accuracy. After all, the buildings in the Magic Kingdom of Disney World are constructed on forced perspective, where the upper stories are all smaller than the story below it. The buildings are creating a nostalgic illusion. Mickey Mouse and Disney World are completely different from a history museum or a reconstruction. The former aims for a land of pretend and imagination whereas the latter aims for telling an accurate story. Do you see what I mean? What do you think?
More pictures of Mr. Stilts in Disney will be on the blog next week. Stay tuned!