Random neuron firing, lame philosophy, literary pontificating, movies, sex, clothes & other femme stuff

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

There and back again

Sorry for the paucity of posts. Last Wednesday night I booked a trip to Orlando with my son, Max, leaving the very next day. Surprisingly, I managed to get about the same prices as I would have, had I booked weeks in advance. The "hotel" (Wyndham Orlando "Resort"--a congeries of embellished motel buildings sprawling loosely around a couple of pools and a "conference center") had a dial-up port on the room phone, but i never used it, because they charged a silly amount for it, I didn't want to bother hunting down the Orlando local dial-up numbers, Max and I exhausted most of our trip peripatetically exhausting ourselves, and the time we did spend in the hotel consisted mostly of recuperation (at least on my part, and it's still not completed). So I passed four days ignorant of anything of life outside Universal Orlando except what I could glean from those headlines that happened to be visible above the fold of a passing USA Today.

I want to post more about what this theme park vacation set me thinking about, but I don't have the time now. One thing the vacation reminded me of, though, is that I gave a talk many years ago (1997) on an American Studies panel regarding things Disney. I looked over the text when I got back, and still agree with some of it. So despite the fact that it's absurdly short (breezy panel-talk-length with slides), screamingly out-of-date, and idiotically lacking the slightest reference to Universal Studios (which I hadn't yet visited), I figured I'd post it here.

A couple of non-Disney paragraphs from it:

The modern amusement park trades on the pure enjoyment of transportation technology for its own sake. At most parks, you disembark from one form of transportation only, after much waiting in line, to embark on another--monorail, train, boat, tram-- in the end having an experience not structurally very different from commuting. But this round of transfers is enlivened and commodified as an end in itself by its pleasurable context, its arrangement with our joy rather than our job in mind. And much of our pleasure takes the form of marveling at the sophisticated machinery required to bounce and fling us around with such secure precision. Every amusement park--and Disneyworld all the more so--serves, if nothing else, to testify to the ultimate rightness of technological progress.

But even more pleasure, I think, comes from our relishing the infantilized position in which these rides put us. Where else before, but in the arms of some early caregiver, have we voluntarily experienced, let alone taken pleasure in, such swinging and tossing, such frightening encounters with gravity, all with the absolute certainty that the caregiver maintains total control of the safety of the experience? Amusement parks commodify what Russel B. Nye calls "riskless risk." They sell the illusion of being in grave danger--along with the guarantee that it is only an illusion. The guarantee is every bit as important as the illusion, and the one could not be sold, or at least not mass-marketed, without the other. The park designers underscore our infantilization through their strategic deployment of intricately varied lighting, overlapping auditory effects, and other teeming design devices (not least being the dependably multifarious swarm of customers themselves) to ensure that our perceptual field is always busy to the limits of comprehension. Only infants, or psychedelic-drug users, ordinarily have the experience of receiving far too many perceptions at once to make coherent sense of--yet something like this state of sensory overload becomes the norm for the typical amusement-park customer.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Listed on BlogShares