Tag Archives: Disneyworld

The Book of Mormon and Disney are suspiciously similar.

We took our five-year-old granddaughter to Disneyworld. We enjoyed it. Our Princess Tiana room had headboards that sparkled when we pushed a button. When our plane got snowed out, the resort took us back at the Priceline rate, no extra charge. I missed the major snow storm while I was laying by a pool. I learned things. Good, good. I hope my granddaughter did not learn too much except that we really love her. But I learned a lot.

Hospitality and branding

Let’s be positive first. Disney knows hospitality. That is something to learn. If our church were as ready for visitors as they are, we would have more visitors at our meetings. The “cast members” are so well trained! — a little robotic as a result, but I am being positive. They gave my granddaughter an “It’s my birthday” pin to wear and fifty people must have noticed it! — get a corn dog and get special recognition from your waitperson! During the Mummerlike Festival of Fantasy parade, a dancer actually interrupted her routine to lean down and wish her happy birthday – it choked me up.

Disney connects people to their brand. That’s also something to learn. We met a family on the plane who were going to Disney for their daughter’s spring break (that is what she wanted to do). It was their thirtieth trip! In Downtown Disney (a shopping and eating village) there is a giant store devoted to Disney everything. People buy it and wear it. Witness the pink crocs with a Mickey Mouse logo lighting up when you see my blonde descendant. We should connect people to Jesus so effectively.

Ubiquitous, Mormon-like philosophy

elsa-frozen-wallpaper-hd
We visited princesses. Only one of us dressed as one.

Then there is that other stuff, like the entire insidious philosophy behind the place. There’s a LOT to learn there! For instance, the welcome show is a good example of getting a dose of philosophy right off the bat. We got to the entrance early because we desperately needed to go visit Elsa and get our autograph book signed. (For the uninitiated: yes, you heard right). We did not know there was a welcome show planned for the several thousand people waiting for the gates to open. The essence of the welcome show is: “Today is going to make a memory you never forget!” The hidden message for your grandchild is: “Life is like an autograph book filled with the memories of getting something you really want and like.  Those moments are what we work for, even what we live for. — You can make them today! It is up to you.”

We visited Tinker Bell, too. She is the most obvious example of the “dreams come true” mantra one hears all day at Disneyworld. I think Disney thinks they are a dream come true, so look no further. But the idea is: “If we just believe, our expectations will be met.” I think more people might believe this “positive” piece of theology from Tink than believe Jesus is their Savior. I would not be surprised if many people who believe Jesus saves them thinks he does it because they believe it. My daughter-in-law sent me a clip from the Book of Mormon when I was marveling at Orlando [listen to the theme song]. She reminded me of how prophetic that musical is. Mormonism has the same foundation as Disneyworld – stories of sorcery and fantasy turned into a theme park in Salt Lake City. They believe.

The loving parent needs to do some brain-unpacking if their child shows signs of thinking the Disney myth has a basis in reality, don’t they? There is a witch behind every bush at the park. Boys are pirates and girls are princesses. Pretending it is normal to exist inside a giant machine that makes everything magical is considered OK there. Saying “have a magical day” is something people do. Stealing the essence of cultures by stereotyping their character and then making a movie and a theme park ride out of them is considered nice.

The empire mentality, just for fun

Islam also scrubbed of its essence and commodified
Islam also scrubbed of its essence and commodified

Let’s spend a little more time on that last one. Disney is the crown jewel of an empire mentality. You don’t need to visit the far reaches of the empire to experience “otherness.” It is collected, like thoughts in a thought zoo, in the theme park. The theme is, “We have stolen your identity and reduced it to Aladdin or the Princess and the Frog, then we sell it back to you.” (Isn’t that magical!) They even melodify our epidemic of isolation and solve the problem by advising we live “free” in an ice palace we created with the special power we use to hide. Our faithpushers have caught on to this technique and have constructed their own megachurch theme parks. Disney pushes this tourist view of the world with an Animal Kingdom and Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) in which they reproduce the exotica of far away lands that are safely caged in Disneyesque surroundings.

Disneyworld is hugely philosophical. The most redundant teaching has to be: in a “world” full of stories, the end is always boy gets girl (or now, vice versa), never child meets God. The place is scrupulously scrubbed of Jesus. What does a child make of that?

What is a Christian who lives in a Disney world to do? I am a pilgrim moving through. I can taste the sweetness of a well-intentioned “cast member” without becoming one. But I will have to have some healthy dialogue about every piece of propaganda that gets into my house. Most of all, I will need to build an alternative that makes more sense than Disney as it incarnates the living God.

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Screen-delivered consumerism saps resistance

emperors-new-clothesIt is a rare talent to be able to sell nothing. I have always admired the weavers in the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Emperor’s New Clothes because they had the talent. Selling nothing might be the most-valued talent in U.S. society today. Our industries for manufacturing tangible goods may have all moved to Mexico or China, but we are still #1 in making things that don’t really exist. I know this for sure because I was just in Orlando. The Disney Corporation (#66 in the Forbes 500) must be the best at selling things that don’t and probably shouldn’t exist. If Disney decided to sell us new clothes that were invisible, we could get them with mouse ears and see them parading on their umteen TV channels; we would be invited to parade them ourselves in their five theme parks.

Our taste for nothingness is fed by the powers who seek to control us. The Bible is frank about this fact:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

We know that these powers are “nothings.” But, like the emperor, we have a taste for nothing. We tend to believe that if we eat enough of it, we will get something. The powers use that faith to lobotomize our resistance.

Screen time pacifies

We were in a bungalow at one of the resorts surrounding Disneyworld (and they mean “world!”). On our TV I think the first ten channels were Disney channels, the next seven belonged to their daughter company ESPN. Priorities. TV is one of the ways the corporatocracy eases us into compliance and herds us down their vision of main street USA.

Disney symbolism
Disney symbolism

There is not an agreement on how much media children are consuming, but the NIH and Nielsen seem to agree that young children watch up to 4 hours of TV a day. When you add on other screen time, they are spending 5-7 hours locked into the machine. My grandchildren just got turned on to old Donald Duck cartoons on the Disney bus from the airport; they are probably watching them on YouTube right now. Teenagers spend close to 45 hours a week in front of the screen. The fact that the content they consume is controlled by an elite group of corporations is horrifying enough. But the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent that teaches the next generation to comply. They don’t even think about whether to resist; they are zoned out on the screen. As evidence, note that private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards.

Screen time is a dream come true for an authoritarian society. For one thing, those with the most money own most of what people see. But more, fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; and TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities. Maybe most of all, regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, moving them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video game is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.

We need to keep an ear open to the call of the scripture, which demands that we not cave in to the relentless pressure of the world to conform to what is passing away, to its illusions of reality. When we resist,

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16).

The screens deliver the invisible goods.

The fundamentalist religion Marx named the “opium of the people” was long ago superseded by fundamentalist consumerism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. George Bush was famously accused of telling the country to “go shopping” after 9/11. Maybe he did not exactly say that, but he did tell us to go to Disneyworld: He said, “Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” Getting back to normal means consuming and doing more of it.

A belief in consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulation, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulation, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form alternatives. Belief in consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult to ever get a taste for solidarity.

The TV delivers the messages that create the consumer society, along with, forWall-E instance, an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. It helps create the prisoners of tomorrow — the few who get out of line (after watching Wall-E, no doubt), who will be eagerly received by the prison-industrial complex. Can we stop the process represented by the Pennsylvania judges who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated?

My hope is that our message, and even more compelling, our demonstration of the message being lived out, will give the Holy Spirit many opportunities to expose how powers of the world are naked. There are seeds of resistance everywhere. They need to be watered. Without Jesus, many small acts of wisdom may do quite a bit to procure freedom and dignity. With their proper connection to eternity, they can offer transformation. Our mindset needs to match what Paul reveals:

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 4:1-7).

We are not slaves to the spiritual forces of the world. In Christ, we are children of God who should act accordingly. In Paul’s language, we are all as good as adopted sons in a Roman household, men or women, slave or free, Jew or Gentile. We should exercise our dignity.

My negative view of society was echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844 when he observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.” That was why he was a reformer. I hope to be more than that kind of realist. My hope is in the spiritual reality made incarnate in Jesus Christ. The fact that the powers that rule us are fallen and need redemption is a basic reason why I am a Jesus follower. The society, coming at us through all screens that have nothing more to promote than the economy, gives us Disney and its “magical” embrace, gives us Harry Potter escapism, gives our children these “entry drugs” for the vacuous Game of Thrones. But God has come in the Son, born under those very forces that seek to subjugate us, that we might receive our true selves in relationship with God and no longer be slaves, but the heirs of reality.

One final thanks to Bruce E. Levine published in alternet.org