I wrote a book!

I’m a little late to my own party (such is the life of an adjunct teaching new curriculum during the summer), but remember that dissertation thingy I wrote? I made it into a book and it’s available for your purchasing pleasure!

walts utopiaHere are a few links where you can find it:

McFarland Books – This is the publisher

Amazon.com – This is one of my favorite online booksellers because of their convenience

Barnes and Noble – Because why not?

No public events are currently scheduled, but I’ll make sure I post something should they appear. I don’t necessarily have the resources to travel far and wide, but I’m open to any suggestions and invitations.

Here’s the blurb from the back:

The “Happiest Place on Earth” opened in 1955 during a trying time in American life–the Cold War. Disneyland was envisioned as a utopian resort where families could play together and escape the tension of the “real world.” Since its construction, the park has continually been updated to reflect changing American culture.

The park’s themed features are based on familiar Disney stories and American history and folklore. They reflect the hopes of a society trying to understand itself in the wake of World War II. This book takes a fresh look at the park, analyzing its cultural narrative by looking beyond consumerism and corporate marketing to how Disney helped America cope during the Cold War and beyond.

I did want to take a moment to comment on the writing process, since that’s what this blog has been mostly about for some time, right? I admire those people who can seemingly *just write a book.* With the academic research process being what it is, I’m amazed at people who seem to publish a new book every year or two. I started my dissertation in Fall 2010, and it only became book-worthy at the end of 2014, and that was with the benefit of taking a couple summers off from teaching. More interestingly, the final push to turn the dissertation into a book involved adding some new content. At the time I was writing this new content, most of my books were in storage, so I had to swim those waters with unfamiliar tools. But somehow I did it, and I gave my dissertation-child to the world.

So, here it is, dear public. The culmination of everything this blog has been about for the last 5 years. I have a few Next Projects in mind, all Disney myth related. I even have them outlined. Stay tuned, all two of you who still follow this blog. More to come!


Disneyland as Sacred Landscape

This month’s Myth Café prompt is to consider a sacred landscape either around us or that we have visited. The catch to the prompt is that it is supposed to be a natural landscape. Because if it were just any old landscape, then I could write about Disneyland and call it a day. I’ve been sitting on this question now for a few weeks, and realize that I need to tackle this prompt before the end of the month. So, here it is: Disneyland as Sacred Landscape.

The first question to the validity of this claim lies in the word “sacred,” which evokes a particular connotation in scholars depending on how they relate to sacred traditions. My inner post-modernist holds the opinion that there are some definitions (okay, many definitions) of terms that have gotten outmoded in the modern American world. “Sacred” is one of them. The traditional definition is specific: that to be “sacred” something has to have a divine/religious connotation, and that nothing outside of this connotation can be ascribed with “sacred” meaning. But there are some situations that manifest and are ascribed as “sacred” by the person holding the experience. This understanding of “sacred” is not a generic blanket term for all experiences, but is housed entirely in the individual experience.

Going a step further, there are certain experiences of the numinous that some people claim to have from non-religious modes of the “sacred.” This does not diminish the experience as something mis-guided, etc. Rather, it begs a redefinition of terms to acknowledge the individual experience.

Disneyland is one such place that evokes a sense of the sacred” in some people. You can see it in their eyes and in the reverence they hold for the place, drinking up all of its offerings, not just running from shop to attraction to shop to lunch (i.e., consuming the park). Sure, they are sometimes hard to find in a typical Disneyland visit, when everyone in the immediate vicinity is tired, hot, thirsty, and looking overall grumpy. It’s easy to claim that no one is happy in Disneyland, because so many children are crying and so many adults are yelling at each other or their kids. But for every 10 unhappy families, you can find a couple or two (perhaps they have kids) who are drinking the environment of Disneyland as though they were drinking from the Cup of Life. A churro becomes a sacrament. The fireworks becomes a display of the gods.

But there is nothing natural about Disneyland. In fact, almost the entire landscape is unnatural – either constructed or imported from regions beyond Southern California. I attempt to allude to the unnaturalness of Disneyland in this essay, while also arguing that it is through this unnaturalness that the experience is to be had:

Tamara Andrews suggests a new perspective of  nature mythology that is especially apropos to a discussion of psyche and nature as they play out at Disneyland: “Most people are familiar with the phenomenon of the mirage, an illusion that appears where images are displaced or distorted under specific atmospheric conditions. The mind’s eye takes over. Perhaps such vision is what is necessary to understand nature mythology from a modern perspective” (xiii). The Disney park is not itself an illusion, but that design of the park at play with the senses is. Through the efforts of the Imagineers, Disney’s design engineers, it sometimes appears as though magic really does happen, that birds can talk and sing, or that a little fairy dust can make one fly to Never Land. It is, thus, necessary to read Disneyland as a fairy tale, with all of its psychological implications, not just as an abomination of nature, as critics are wont to proclaim. Disneyland may embody capitalism, but the park is a playground for the imagination. It allows people to interact with the stories and characters they love, and thus embody the closest thing to a mythological canon American has to offer, á la fairy tales and the Western frontier.

The new directions that myth is taking appears to be pointing us toward the importance of the individual experience in conjunction with the collective. Discourse for the last 100 years (at least) has explored these as unique from each other, but really they work in symbiosis. What happens in the collective shapes the individual, who then contributes to the collective. So to write off something that a small percentage of the population holds, perhaps unconsciously, as sacred, is to overlook both the impact of that experience and what is has to suggest about the collective that such an experience could exist. On the collective level, Disneyland bespeaks to America’s consumerist behavior. On the individual level, Disneyland offers an outlet for domestic pilgrimage and ritual, celebrating not a god – one of the few sacred landscapes to do so – not even celebrating a mouse. Disneyland celebrates the American Dream, from Manifest Destiny to Innoventions. The American Dream, I suggest, is America’s religion. It’s the only common belief held by all of her citizens. Perhaps this Dream has gotten tarnished in the last few years, but only because the reality of our situation is falling very short of the Dream.

Going in a different direction, Disneyland once had an attraction that projected images of America in a 360-degree theater. It disappeared long before I first visited Disneyland, but this film was used in the 1950s at a World’s Fair to sell America to the rest of the world. The scenes used were landscape scenes from the Rockies, Mount Rushmore, and others. The emphasis was on the land not the people. Through this film (and it’s children and grandchildren, such as Soarin’), Disney reinforced a long-standing American mytheme that connects our identity with the land of the country or our region. Broadcast at Disneyland, this Circarama film was the ultimate meta-myth of American sacred tradition.

The End of Dissertation Summer, Or: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Just to recap: I took this summer off from teaching to make a significant dent to my dissertation. My goal was to complete 3 chapters by the end of summer vacation. I figure that after the 2 chapters of the proposal, 3 out of 7 chapters is a significant dent to the overall project. With one week to spare on my summer vacation, I have successfully completed 5 of 7 chapters. Or, seen this way, my dissertation is 5/7 completed. Or, even better, there are only 2 chapters left to write.

So did I happen to learn anything over the course of this summer write-a-thon? One of the biggest reveals to me is that I am, at my heart of hearts, a culture theorist with a particular affinity for popular culture (notably, film). By “culture theorist” I mean someone who looks at the symbiosis of all culture elements to understand the entire package, not just with a concentration on one particular element. Rather an ironic statement, given that I’m writing about Disneyland; however, in the course of writing about Disneyland, I make it a point to root everything into a cultural context. As a “culture theorist,” I recognize that the influences of culture shape the direction that the development of myths take. Myths don’t emerge in a vaccuum, believe it or not.

Which leads to another great revelation: I’m a post-modernist. I think I entered the project believing that I was a romantic rogue scholar, but I see now that I am firmly a post-modernist, albeit a “happy” post-modernist rather than a deconstructionist. This is, I think, a side-effect of culture studies branching off from anthropology and sociology to look less at “social theory” and more at “what actually is going on.” Very few successful post-modern culture theorists are romantic about whatever they write about. Reverential, perhaps, but not romantic in the true sense of the term. Maybe “phenomenologist" is a word to drop somewhere in here.

And, while I’m happy to be a book-thumping mythologist and an arm-chair psychologist, it’s time to get some new scholarship published that isn’t just reciting or repackaging the same old theories that have been tossed around for 100 years now. In other words, stop theorizing and start doing. I’m still working on my plan of action for this step.

The chapters I worked on were 3 chapters right in the middle of the beast, dealing with issues of the cultural shadow, waste land, and fairy tale, all three of which lead me in the same direction: the Cold War as a major turning point in America’s relationship to myth and culture. We are in a very unique point of time and everyone would like us to believe that it’s all going to Hell in a hand basket, but there are plenty of myths out there that can help us cope with the paradigm shift. Disneyland, I offer, is just one among many. it’s definitely among my favorites, but it is not the only one and we could argue whether or not it’s the best one. At a place like Disneyland, we can experience the full complete spectrum of modern post-Cold War American myth, which is probably why Disney parks rank among some of the world’s most popular theme parks. They speak to those, like me, who are visual, kinetic, visual-kinetic, and they speak on the metaphoric level.

Which also leads me to a couple of isms that have made a home in my dissertation: consumerism and globalism. Both are typically read as bad things, but both I support. Consumerism is at the very heart of what it means to be American, so the consumptive behaviors aren’t something worth criticizing. The problem of consumption is the point when it becomes a neurosis, which is where we are today. We’re addicted to consuming because we believe that our stuff defines who we are. But I don’t hold Disney at fault for that, because they are simply offering product. It’s still up to me and you to choose to consume it. Then there’s globalism, which is usually criticized as one culture exerting dominance onto another. A new type of globalism is emerging, and this is the one worthy of the term in my opinion, and this is a globalism where myths of different cultures are fused together. Equally. No dominance. And this is the direction I see the new myth taking.

So what is the next step? Dissertation Autumn begins in a week after I’ve taken a small relax and experienced the D23 Expo. By the end of Dissertation Autumn, I should be at the end of my dissertation, which also means that by the end of Dissertation Autumn, I should have a new theme for this website in the works.

Towards a New Mythology

When the sun has set over Disneyland, Anaheim, California, and the lights are turned down, one can see the expectation for something about to happen on the face of every person looking at Sleeping Beauty’s castle as the nightly, seasonal fireworks begin. The day has been long. Everyone is tired, children and adults alike. Many are grumpy because of the various annoyances and complications that are involved in securing the best possible vantage point for watching the show. Music plays, gunpowder explodes, and people are quickly caught in the spectacle of the twenty-minute show. Near the end, an old, yet somehow familiar, voice welcomes us, reminding us that Disneyland belongs to us and that this is where dreams and memories come alive.[1] Many children have never seen the old television shows and may not recognize the voice as belonging to Walt Disney, but they nonetheless recognize the shift in awe and respect when he speaks. It is as though God is talking, and those bursts of colors are divine, angelic figures. By the end of the show, the mythic experience that Disneyland has to offer is punctuated, secured, and cemented on the memory.

For the American, raised in a century founded upon the rugged individualism of pilgrims, Disneyland is one of the most genuine of mythic spaces. When we imported our myths from Europe, our founding parents emphasized the simplicity of life, the need for hard work, rooting ritual to the family living room. Local church congregations served more as a place for social gathering. The notion of the church as the ritualistic place was left in Europe. As the country grew, local myths and spaces cropped up, but not a single, unifying locale, brought together all things American until Disneyland.

For the younger generations of the modern USA, many of whom are now having their own children, this is the mythos we[2] have to work with. We do not question the validity of “God” or question the archetype, but, rather, question where the ecstatic feeling can be found. For some of us, that feeling is the most potent in popular culture, which is often discounted as “profane” art; however, these images are more potent and resonate more loudly to our imaginations in large part because they are the most familiar images of our childhoods. With everything else being constantly debunked, these are the only images that remain constant, which offers security, and a good place for projection the notion of religiosity, bring with it the God archetype.

In order to have a new mythology, we must first have a poet to express it. By the guidelines laid out by Roberts Avens in his book, The New Gnosis: Heidegger, Hillman and Angels, as inspired by Heidegger and Hillman, Walt Disney is such a poet: “A poet, in his capacity of the mediator (messenger) between sky and earth, between Gods and men, is continually bringing things into the open, showing them in their imaginal essence” (55). Further, “images acquire the characteristic of autonomy, self-referentiality, and simultaneity only when they are watched in a detached way…” (Avens 98). The imaginal space constructed by Walt Disney and his team of Imagineers is one full of images of fantasy constructed in an unnatural way. The unnaturalness detaches the images from the everyday experience while simultaneously drawing the Guests’ attentions to them, bringing them into the open, or conscious realm. These images are those of the American cultural unconscious that have become deeply rooted, in part, because of Disney’s films: images of beloved fairy tales, idealized images of the frontier or small town USA, or romanticized images of the future. Disneyland allows us to experience all of those images. When coupled with the thrill aspect of some of the rides, it brings about catharsis, and the anxieties and tensions of a world confused about its own mythologies are released by the drops and twists of roller coasters or in the story rides that insist that there is a better tomorrow on its way.

One counterpoint to the Disney qua new mythos assertion is stated by Avens: “We prefer to busy ourselves in asserting our identity against the world without realizing that this self-assertion, this search for identity, is nothing more glorious than a futile attempt to remain the same from moment to moment…” (19). Disneyland seems to control every aspect of the experience, so our poesis is limited to how we interact in this controlled environment. In truth, there is evidence all over the park where people attempt to assert their identity. One example of such can be seen in the queue for the Indiana Jones attraction. The first half of the queue is situated outside the attraction entrance, which is decorated to look like the jungle surrounding a ruined temple. All along this stretch of the queue, people have carved various messages, mostly their initials, into the trunks of the bamboo trees growing there. For some of these trees, this has resulted in entire patches of missing bark. Clearly, people are attempted to assert their identity and define their independence on the controlled aspect of the environment. Avens suggests that this is done only to remind ourselves that we are the same form moment to moment – but how can we actually be the same in light of a mythic experience?

In a similar counterpoint, Avens describes how archetypal psychology “supplements this insight [that an image is not what one sees but the way in which one sees] by using the criterion of response: metaphorical and imaginative response to images is better than fanciful or literal because the former deepens and complicates the image instead of dissipating or eventually freezing it into an object that can be manipulated by ratio” (25). Disney and Disneyland have literalized images, and that cannot be denied. When hearing a fairy tale, many imagine the story using the same visualization as the Disney film, and are often surprised to find that the stories are not the same. How can literalized images how any mythic power? This generation is one raised on static, literalized images, and those are the ones transmitting the myths. The imagination is discouraged in all educational sectors from running free on the basis that an imaginative person cannot find a well-paying job. All that is made available are the images someone else thought up, but each person is allowed to do with those images – especially through the toy tie-ins – as he or she desires, even if that means rewriting the story. However, this play is restricted to playtime. Avens reminds us that “the mystery of play is akin to that highest and most absorbing play of which Heraclitus speaks, the play of aion, i.e., of the world as the dispensation of Being” (73). The need for Play emerges from a necessity, which forms an “essential component of the imaginal psyche itself” (Avens 79). This necessity, inherent in the images we play with, is tied to their essential nature. They emerge to fill an archetypal void created by suppressing play. But with enough suppression, literalized images are necessary to remind us how to play and dream.

It is an error of archetypal psychology to suggest that the only way to restore this stagnation is to return to old images in order to unlock the Truth of the Divine Being or Dasein.

Humans are unable to fully unlock this divinity, and it can only be understood through human images, or archetypes that point humanity in that direction. There are no rules as to how the archetypes manifest; Hillman suggests that the most potent archetypes in the West are those shaped by the Greek gods and goddesses. But, just like the Christian system both Hillman and Heidegger write against, this is outmoded and out of date. The archetypes need new faces in order to breathe new life – relying on the same faces that are 3000 years old is what lead us to the existential crisis of the twentieth century in the first place, and we would not be discussing the image of the archetypal God if the archetypes still had relevance.

Mickey Mouse and friends do not possess religiosity in the traditional sense, but they nonetheless fulfill the need for some sort of figure to be in their place. Archaeologists could dig up artifacts from this culture, thousands of years from now after our documents and records are long gone, and will encounter toys and figurines of Mickey Mouse, or even Barbie or Star Wars toys, and what will they think? The only logical conclusion is that there are objects of divinity and they were probably worshipped as some kind of god. It is for this reason that it is important to embrace new mythologies of all categories, since they are the ones that will be remembered.

Works cited

  • Avens, Roberts. The New Gnosis: Heidegger, Hillman, and Angels. Putnam: Spring Publications, 2003. Print.

[1] This refers to a recording played during the fireworks soundtrack of Walt Disney’s dedication of Disneyland in 1955: “To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. … Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

[2] I am being purposefully inclusive.

Psyche, Nature and the Magic Kingdom

There is nothing natural about Disneyland. In fact, I would say that it is one of the most unnatural places in the United States. From the second one drives onto the Resort or steps off the tram, one is inundated with images, music, and a highly controlled environment designed for the purpose of eliciting a good time. Granted, it can be observed that several people, especially parents and their children, look unhappy, but this is more due to exhaustion and sensory overload than actual unhappiness, which is not allowed by design. Disneyland is not simply a popular place for family vacations, but it is the one place, a kind of Mecca, for people to engage with the imaginal worlds of their childhood. In short, it is the hot spot for the projections of the American imagination. Of the five Disney parks, I will concentrate on only the park in Anaheim, California, because it is the one with which I am most familiar. What it is about the park that tickles our collective imagination is a vast topic, but I will explore it with concentration on a few key aspects of the park – those that relate to nature and the ecology of the psyche. In being such an unnatural environment, it becomes the most natural for psyche’s playground.

Tamara Andrews suggests a new perspective of  nature mythology that is especially apropos to a discussion of psyche and nature as they play out at Disneyland: “Most people are familiar with the phenomenon of the mirage, an illusion that appears where images are displaced or distorted under specific atmospheric conditions. The mind’s eye takes over. Perhaps such vision is what is necessary to understand nature mythology from a modern perspective” (xiii). The Disney park is not itself an illusion, but that design of the park at play with the senses is. Through the efforts of the Imagineers, Disney’s design engineers, it sometimes appears as though magic really does happen, that birds can talk and sing, or that a little fairy dust can make one fly to Never Land. It is, thus, necessary to read Disneyland as a fairy tale, with all of its psychological implications, not just as an abomination of nature, as critics are wont to proclaim. Disneyland may embody capitalism, but the park is a playground for the imagination. It allows people to interact with the stories and characters they love, and thus embody the closest thing to a mythological canon American has to offer, á la fairy tales and the Western frontier.

Walt Disney envisioned Disneyland while taking his young children to the park. The legendary story is that he wanted to create a place where the adults could share the activity with the children and have just as much fun. His thoughts on the subject “meandered along many paths before arriving at a park with the types of activities families could share in the location that we know today. His plans started out relatively small, but like all of Walt’s ideas, they grew and grew and grew…” (Imagineers 16). He set out to create an experience; one that he believed would never be finished as long as “there is imagination left in the world” (qtd. in Imagineers 20).

Perhaps one of the most essential aspects of Disneyland is that it allows a person to fully embody and be submerged into fantasy fairy tale such that the stories not only become a three-dimensional reality, but the Guest actually becomes a part of the story. This experience of embodiment is what David Abram claims as a missing element in modern American society (8-10). We have culturally become so removed from nature that our behaviors do not readily support any degree of return. We recognize the body as a well-oiled machine and technology as a means of enhancing that machine. As we become more and more reliant upon technology in the modern era, we value nature less and less. Similarly, fairy tale has been likewise distanced from us. As J.R.R. Tolkien describes it, fairy tale has been “relegated to the ‘nursery’ as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the play-room … adults do not want it, and do not mind if it is misused” (34). In a similar vein, depth psychologists, such as Marie-Louise von Franz, recognize that fairy tale is essential to connect with the collective unconscious, because it is the most fundamental manifestation of unconscious material, even over mythology. While the face of fairy tale has changed since von Franz began lecturing on it, bridging the gap between anonymous short story and epic-proportioned mythology, it nonetheless continues to bear the essential element Tolkien describes as the Faërie, a magical “other world” where animals talk, magicians roam, and the laws of natural science are ignored, which is precisely what Disneyland tries to achieve. If fairy tale is fundamental to the unconscious and nature is an essential part of the human experience, it stands to reason that by revisioning the natural experience, Disneyland is essentially feeding a myth-hungry unconscious.

Each land is designed to accomplish a specific atmosphere that conveys the stories in an environment closely related to their themes. Disney’s vision was that each Guest could step into another time or place during their visit to the park. He charged the Imagineers with creating each of these lands to each be an imaginal microcosm. Guests are supposed to be unaware of the other lands while being fully focused on the one they are in, while also not feeling too cramped, crowded, and, ideally, overwhelmed by the experience. Looking at each of the lands, we can place them into three categories:

  • Imaginary Ecosystem: Adventureland
  • American Mythos: Main Street USA, Frontierland, and New Orleans Square
  • Imaginary Times: Fantasyland and Tomorrowland

I am overlooking two lands, Critter Country and Mickey’s Toon Town, because they are designed more as merchandising tie-ins to Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse, and hold little genuine psychological connection with Guests beyond getting to meet one’s favorite character.

Imaginary Ecosystem

“Adventureland re-creates the eras and locales of great adventure stories. To Walt, it was a ‘wonder land of nature’s own design.’ Here you’ll navigate the tropical rivers of the world, explore Indian temple ruins, and climb into the tree canopy in the deepest jungles of Africa. Adventureland is for the young at heart and brave of spirit.” (Imagineers 33)

The rides in Adventureland were inspired by a series of adventure-themed films produced by Disney during the 1950s, and they represent a conscious opposition to what Theodore Roszak calls “urban-industrialism,” or “the willful withdrawal of our species from the natural habitat in which it evolved” (307). Assuming that archaeological theories are true, and humans evolved in the African savannah, then Adventureland takes us back to that environment, protected by a large landscaping budget from the horrors of global warming. The major point of criticism on this point is that hardly anything in Adventureland is, in fact, real. All of the animals are audio-animatronic, or computer-controlled robots that can mimic actions and mannerisms of humans and animals, because that would ensure the same performance for every Guest. Many of the plants are imported, but are balanced with domestic Southern California foliage, rooting the experience into familiarity, some of which are completely artificial and designed to look real. None of the stone is real, and can never erode. To fully embrace Adventureland, and this is also true of the entire park, one has to look at it through an aesthetic eye: look “at the whole appreciatively, historically, synthetically … as a spectator watches a drama” (Royce qtd. in Roszak 133). Overlooking the unnaturalness, we see in Adventureland a jungle microcosm not found elsewhere in the United States, at the heart of which stands a Disneydendron semperflorens grandis,[1]an anima mundi, one of several throughout the park that connect the park’s environment with the “soul of the sky” (Cobb 124).

American Mythos

“Civilized man … is in danger of losing all contact with the world of instinct – a danger that is still further increased by his living an urban existence in what seems to be a purely manmade environment. This loss of instinct is largely responsible for the pathological condition of contemporary culture.” (Jung qtd. in Sabini 15)

This is precisely what the three lands of the American mythos attempt to remedy. By recreating the frontiers of the American psyche, these three lands remove us from our urban existence and transport us into the psyche. That all three lands are manmade is a testament to how far American culture has evolved from the environments at the foundation of the culture’s collective unconscious in that we have to consciously reconstruct them because the environment no longer exists.

  • Main Street USA – “Main Street, U.S.A., takes you back to a turn-of-the-century small town modeled on Walt’s own memories from his boyhood. It’s a world at the dawn of the age of electricity, but still firmly rooted in a simpler time. Anything can be accomplished, and soon will be. It’s a time and place of boundless possibilities.” (Imagineers 23)

This land is designed to reflect an idealized image of Small Town, USA, modeled on Disney’s childhood home in Marceline, Missouri. This area is forever locked in that transition between a pioneer town and a more industrialized city, and is the first all Guests pass through upon entering the park.

Main Street USA is Walt’s equivalent to Jung’s Bollengen Tower. He built it to reflect something he remembered fondly from his childhood, much like Jung and his building blocks. That he had to build an entire street, excluding the rest of the park, reflects Walt’s and America’s drive for grandiosity that emerged after World War II and has become the mythic stereotype of the 1950s, one that entitles all families to own a house, have at least one car, abundant toys at Christmas, and everyone could get an education. At least, that was the projected ideal, and far from the actuality. This degree of grandiosity emerges as the unconscious works to offset the conscious prospective realities. As the world was recovering from the war and the Great Depression, it became more important for the collective unconscious to compensate for all of the hardships experienced during those events. Disneyland was built during this collective compensation, opening in the summer of 1955.

  • Frontierland – “Frontierland celebrates the American pioneer spirit. It has always been the perfect embodiment of the wonder of – and quest to discover – the unknown, whether it be by land, water, or rail. It’s also a time of endless summers and lazy rivers. Stay awhile, and you’ll see why so many folks choose to call Frontierland ‘home.’” (Imagineers 45)

Frontierland harkens to a mythologized time in American history – the movement west. It glorifies mining towns and the Romantic view of an America only slightly touched by technology and unaffected by the Civil War and tensions with Native Americans and Mexico. The land is in response to the popular culture of the 1940s-1970s of Westerns on television, weekend games of Cowboys and Indians, and the idolization of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. The search for gold and other ores taint the otherwise unbroken expansiveness of the Western frontier. By projecting its ideal onto empty terrain, the American psyche sees possibility for development of itself through the development of the land, to the point of a “negative interiorization of nature” to the point that nature “becomes sublated in soul, the space of interiority opened up through the application of domination of itself” (Barreto 269). Furthermore, the mines are images of going into the depths of the Earth and extracting pieces of her soul for our own benefit. It is important to note that the human body possesses as “irrevocable kinship to nature” (Barreto 262), and it can be alluded that by mining the earth, we are desperately trying to mine ourselves, and this is more the reason why glorification in Disneyland of the frontier serves as a reminder of the buried treasure within the psyche.

  • New Orleans Square – “New Orleans Square is a captivating ode to the charms of the Crescent City. Here we set sail for parts unknown – on the open seas or in the hereafter. Sit for a spell and sip a sweet, minty cooler as you watch the world go by. The sights and sounds of this remarkable place leave an indelible impression.” (Imagineers 57)

New Orleans Square imagines a more gothic side of the American mythos – the collective shadow as projected onto the port city, New Orleans, Louisiana. Since nature encompasses all archetypes (Sabini 14), then it also encompasses negative archetypes, including the shadow. New Orleans is a good setting for this because the port city brought together traders from the Mississippi, the Caribbean, and Mexico. It has never had a reputation for being a “clean” city. The primary attractions of New Orleans Square feature pirates and Grim-Grinning Ghosts, Disneyfied so as to not frighten younger Guests. Nonetheless, these reflect America’s shadow. The greed and conquest of pirates are a driving force behind capitalism and globalization, and the ghosts represent the fear of death and quest for immortality. The fear of death reflects a psyche “trapped in the desolation of an infinity where it finds no consolation, no remorse, no response to its need for warmth, love, and acceptance” (Roszak 58). The attractions in New Orleans Square place the desolate, trapped psyche into a warmer context, especially when done in conjunction to Fantasyland, which, through its immersion into fairy tale, satisfies psyche’s need for pure imaginal experiences.

Imaginary Times

The Universe “has been reaching forward toward finer orders of complexity, toward realms so subtle and complex that they can be fabricated only out of the delicate dynamics of the human imagination. … It embodies the full potentiality of all that has gone before, realizing it, expressing it. It occupies the frontier of the cosmos.” (Roszak 185)

Fantasyland and Tomorrowland reflect time out of time. Fantasyland is not tied to any particular era, but the façades suggest imaginary pre-industrial European villages that have become the iconic settings for fairy tales: an imaginary past. Tomorrowland, conversely, imagines the technology of the future.

  • Fantasyland – “Fantasyland is a gateway to the world of make-believe. Faraway kingdoms and adventures in imaginary realms lie around every corner. You can live out your daydreams and look into the windows of your childhood. It’s a place where you can dream like a child no matter your age.” (Imagineers 78)

This land is most designed with children in mind and has more attractions than any other land. Visiting Fantasyland is about having an experience, rather than just a thrill. This experience helps people feel happiness and is identified with the essential experience that makes us human. The land offers a stronger flow experience, to use Csikezentmihaly’s phrase, creating an exceptional moment in life in which what Guests feel, wish and think are in harmony. One can do a literary analysis of each of the rides, breaking them down into their fundamental elements, but this would detract from the experience of the land. This experience is indicative of the life-world described by David Abram as “the world of our immediately lived experience, as we live it, prior to all our thoughts about it” (40). Guests do not necessarily pay detailed attention to the details of the rides – there is a lot to take in during a short period – but they all recognize that an experience nonetheless occurs. Because of the nature of Disneyland, Guests are permitted the inability to coherently describe the attraction. This is especially strong in the Fantasyland dark rides, which are gentle rides (i.e. not roller coasters) that transport the Guest in a ride-themed car through the story. There are five of these rides in Fantasyland: Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Alice in Wonderland. All but Pinocchio have been open since the early days of the park.

Focusing on Peter Pan’s Flight, by way of example, the car is a pirate ship suspended from a track in the ceiling meant to stimulate flight. The ride starts when Peter Pan is taking Wendy Darling and her brothers to Never Land. The first couple rooms show London getting progressively smaller. Then, in Never Land, the ride takes us through Peter’s adventures: rescuing Tigerlilly from the cave and battling Captain Hook. The Guest is given a simulation of what the Darling children experienced in the story, and from this build their own phenomenological experience derived from the sensory stimulation of the entire ride – a total subjective experience that keeps Guests coming back to ride it again.

  • Tomorrowland – “Tomorrowland is your glimpse into the Future. Or at least the Future as we’d like to believe it will turn out to be. Catch a passing rocket ship to the next galaxy over or grab a bite to eat with your favorite alien friends. It’s your best chance to have tomorrow’s fun … today!” (Imagineers 109)

Tomorrowland has always showcased possible technologies of the future, and is constantly updated to reflect technological trends. One of the lasting trends is the possibilities of Outer Space, the new frontier now that the West has, essentially, been fully claimed. One possible future in store of us shows more reliance on machines than not. Carl Jung prophesied that modern, Western civilization will either destroy itself or be destroyed by its over-reliance on machines (Sabini 11). Indeed, Glen Slater supports this claim in his article, “Cyborgian Drift: Resistance is Not Futile,” in which he describes the growing (and problematic) trend of the West’s gradual overreliance on machines, and how this further and further removes us from nature. It would seem from both of these that there is little positive about machinery. Walt Disney, like Carl Jung, was a visionary, but one who embraced technology rather than feared it. He envisioned Tomorrowland to be at the top of attraction technology, including advances in three-dimensional video incorporated with ride-vehicles, the first indoor roller coaster, which stimulates flying through Outer Space, and the first fully-operational monorail. The park shows the positive use of technology for the purposes of having a powerful experience.

In his Disney-published series of young adult novels, Kingdom Keepers, Ridley Pearson describes what happens when one spends too much time in one aspect of the psyche qua magic: If one believes in something strong enough, then it can come to life through fantasy and fairy tale, and sometimes in reality. In those fairy tales Disney brings to life, what happens to the evil characters after the protagonists live happily ever after? Pearson speculates that they roman the park after hours, and calls them Overtakers. The Overtakers threaten to engulf the park in their dark magic. The shadow side of Disney’s magic. This demonstrates that for every positive thing, there must be some negative aspect, and the two must be kept in balance otherwise the outcome will not be good. In the situation of psyche and nature, the fear is that we, as a society, have already crossed a sort of tipping point that has severed us from nature. Global warming, cyborgs, urban communities. In Disneyland, one can escape from these issues and spend some time in psyche’s playground. In order to create this experience, Walt Disney fabricated an environment completely removed from pure nature, but one built to satisfy the needs of the entire country. If Jung built his Bollengen Tower to return to his conception of nature, then it can be argued that Walt built the Bollengen Tower of the entire American collective unconscious in Sleeping Beauty Castle and the park as a whole.

Works Cited

  • Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. Print.
  • Andrews, Tamra. A Dictionary of Nature Myths. Oxford: Oxford U P, 1998. Print.
  • Barreto, Marco Heleno. "On the Death of Nature." Spring, A Journal of Archetype and Culture 75 (2006): 257-273. Print.
  • Birnbaum, Stephen, ed. Birnbaum’s Disneyland Resort: Expert Advice from the Inside Source. New York: Disney Editions, 2005. Print.
  • Cobb, Noel. "The Soul of the Sky." Spring, A Journal of Archetype and Culture 75 (2006): 121-138. Print.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland: An Imagineer’s-Eye Tour. New York: Disney Editions, 2008. Print.
  • Pearson, Ridley. The Kingdom Keepers. New York: Disney Editions, 2005. Print.
  • Roszak, Theodore. The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Phanes P, 2001. Print.
  • Sabini, Meredith, ed. The Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology, and Modern Life. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002. Print.
  • Slater, Glen. "Cyborgian Drift: Resistance is Not Futile." Spring, A Journal of Archetype and Culture 75 (2006): 171-195. Print.
  • Strodder, Chris. The Disneyland Encyclopedia: The Unofficial, Unauthorized, and Unprecedented History of Every Land, Attraction, restaurant, Shop, and Event in the Original Magic Kingdom. Santa Monica: Santa Monica P, 2008. Print.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. "On Fairy-Stories." The Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballantine, 1996. 3-84. Print.
  • von Franz, Marie-Louise. The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston: Shambhala, 1996. Print.

[1] A “large, ever-blooming Disney tree” (Birnbaum 65).

Disneyland: The Imagination’s Playground

Just a little background: I am a child of post-modern popular culture. I could identify Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald and similar animated, branded characters before I could recognize the religious and political iconic images of my family and country. I am one of many such youths. Corporations have received criticism for programming entire generations to “worship” their logos, but these same logos have molded and shaped how these generations look at the world and, similarly, defined their mythos. This is a large centralizing factor as to why I staunchly defend Disneyland as a sacred “Mecca of the Mouse.” In no other single place, except the other Disney theme parks, is Disney’s pop culture mythology collected into a single bundle of energetic surroundings.

Walking through Disneyland is like walking in an alternate reality, akin to the kind sought after through self-medication and mind-altering substances. Sure, plenty of people walk (or run) around the park looking tired, frazzled, possibly unhappy, if not angry. Sure, children cry and whine. Those are the people of a different mythos, who get lost in the actuality of the park and not the imaginative potentiality. The Disney experience can be overwhelming: all aspects of the park are meant to manipulate the senses.

The trek from the parking structure to the front gates is a type of pilgrimage, the call to adventure for each and every hero who is brought to a specific location to start their adventure. Among the first exposures to the park are the shops in Downtown Disney: the possible souvenirs one may take home, the smells of potential meals and treats, and the music roots a person into the Disney experience. From there, it is a foot walk to the ticket gates, through which one enters a liminal space. There is a large garden with flowers arranged in the head of Mickey Mouse, which is thematically decorated to coincide with the park theme of the season. For example, for the 2009 season Mickey is adorned in a flower birthday hat because of the “Celebrate Today” theme.

The threshold crossing, through which all attendees must pass, says “Here you leave the world of today and enter into the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and Fantasy.” Walt Disney envisioned the park to not only be a place for both children and adults, but also a place of magic, make-believe, and happiness. To accomplish this, he hired a team of Imagineers, “imaginative engineers” and masterminds responsible for all aspects of the design of the park, to outfit the park such that attendees were cut off from the outside world. All that happens within Disney walls are Disney-related and completely engineered to be Disney-only. Unhappiness really is not an option.

Disneyland does not have a hidden narrative per se, but it does have the agenda for exciting the imagination. Outwardly, Disneyland is all about commercialism, capitalism, and the bottom-line. Attendees are encouraged to interact with the products they are consuming in order to fully engage with the Disney magic despite already being totally immersed. This embodied experience has the power to incite a general awe among those who attend.

The Imagineers describe the park as “the physical embodiment of all that our company’s mythologies represent to kids of all ages” (6). The park is an embodied experience. Viewers’ imaginations are awakened by the “Disneyized” myths and fairytales, and the park allows them to participate and interact with those myths from getting the autograph of a beloved character to going on a ride through the story. Walt Disney capitalized on a collective need for fairy tales for children and adults. These tales are cited by Marie-Louise von Franz as those closest to the collective unconscious. Disney brings these tales to life by concretizing the stories in timeless and cultureless images. For example, Mickey Mouse is essentially an animated actor, but it is his animatedness that makes him otherworldly and mythic and able to transcend the boundaries of culture. He is an image of the imagination, and becomes idolized in the Mickey-related merchandise park visitors can bring home to continue the experience. In effect, these souvenirs are cognitively no different from religions icons and relics one can purchase inside any major church gift shop.

One criticism would be that there is a problem to the lack of mythologizing Disneyland allows. Being such a controlled environment, there is little flexibility for the imagination to supplement Disney canon. One reason for this limitation is that Walt Disney was an eternal puer and his childlike energies limit the psychic potential within his work. But it is erroneous to think of it negatively. “Prefabricated myths,” as I have come to describe them, give us the pieces and define the experience, placing the images in the mind’s eye, but these form a fundamental core of modern mythology. A prefabricated myth is better than no myth. Another perspective is to consider Walt Disney as the figurehead, the seer, and Disneyland is how one is able to understand his symbolic narrative. In some ways, Walt Disney has been fully mythologized and nearly deified. He is the magical father, the senex, who has defined our imaginations.

Studying myth and depth psychology enhances the magic behind Disneyland. It gives a language to the overwhelming connection one may feel when visiting the park and helps the attendee filter through the barrage of sensory exploits, and this invites repeat visits. Instead of being a “family vacation,” the visit is now an “embodied experience”; or, rather than a “consumerist capitol,” it is a “mythic pilgrimage site.” Critics are quick to point out that the park is either overwhelmingly linked to consumerism and devouring false idols, or to observe that attendees are not exactly happy to be there. In the case of the first, it is essential to observe that Disneyland draws upon all of the standard techniques of establishing a sacred space, so absolute, filed with the same images and icons necessary to “worship.” I doubt any visitor would consider Walt Disney the same as a god, but he was the storyteller linked to the collective unconscious fulfilling the hunger of the people so far removed from organic stories that satisfy their hunger. As to the second charge of everyone appearing unhappy, these are often the ones suffering more from poor planning than anything else. For many, especially young children, the park needs to be taken in small doses. Otherwise, they are overwhelmed by the awesomeness of its grandeur.

To best appreciate the power of Disneyland, it helps to recall that Joseph Campbell links the mythmakers with the artists and poets who are able to understand the symbolic language of myth and the psyche. They are the ones who take this subject matter and make it more palatable for the average person. Not everyone is able to appreciate myth on a deeper level than as passive observers. Prefabricated mythologies, such as Disneyland, give the average people an outlet into these mythic elements, something that Carl Jung cites as essential for overall psychic health. It is falsely idealistic to assume that everyone can be a poet, a shaman, or a mythmaker. Not only are the demands of everyday life too stringent, but those muscles may have long since atrophied. This is not a bad thing, especially not when outlets, such as Disneyland, are available for some release.

Perhaps the tragedy lies in the fact that recent generations, including and possibly beginning with my own, are subjected to a lifestyle curriculum that discourages any sort of imagination. For this reason, pop culture images carry the roles that the myths and stories once did. In most cases of these images, one can only engage or embody the experience at home, limited by the economics associated with acquiring the toys. Disneyland is not only one big toy – and one focused on bring within most family’s economic means – but it is also the dollhouse, play-place, and imaginal backyard all in one.

Works cited

  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland: An Imagineer’s-Eye Tour. New York: Disney Editions, 2008. Print.

The Moon in Mythology

(This post is a response to Randy’s July Myth Café prompt.)

When I was younger than I am now, I worked with a bunch of ladies that always celebrated the full moon by drinking red wine and hanging out illegally in the public park after dark. I went along once, and we were asked to leave by the police, and one of the ladies lost her keys in the dark. It was kind of fun, really. So, this was followed by an exploration on the relationship between women and the moon: modern women menstruate in accordance to the lunar cycle; ancient matriarchal societies (so they say) operated under some semblance of a lunar calendar; the moon represents fertility (it gets fat, then it’s not, like pregnancy); the moon is linked with snakes (who shed their skins) and thus represents rebirth; and etc. so on and so forth. In truth, I’ve never really considered my personal relationship to the moon. Being more of a morning person than a night owl, I tend to ignore moon cycles, until there are noticeable changes in some around the time of the full moon.

There was this one occasion, which trumps all moon events I’ve encountered so far. We were driving in Arizona late at night, leaving Phoenix on our way to Tucson, and there was a lit up building on the horizon. It was so huge that I thought it either was a stadium or one of those inflatable-looking football practice fields. As we got closer to where this building should be, I had the realization that it was actually the moon rising over the Arizona desert. It was one of those moments when you can’t take a good picture with your cell phone, but you really wish you had been able to take the picture…

…and it wasn’t a Space Station, thankfully.

So, to write this post, I decided to set out to find a moon myth. Now, you say “moon myth,” and I say… “Tomorrowland!” but that’s the space I seem to permanently live in these days. A series on the “Tomorrowland” segment of the Disneyland television show in 1956(?) explored what our first voyage to the moon would look like, complete with recreations of a space flight and lunar landing. Of course, they got a few things wrong, such as what the moon would actually look like, but it is nonetheless fascinating to watch (this series is captured on the Tomorrowland collection of the Walt Disney Treasures DVDs). I can only imagine what it was like to watch the lunar landing on television. This event is one of the most crucial in modern American history, because a) it gave us a real view of what the globe really looks like and b) it vastly altered our relationship to our cultural myths. Following 1969, science fiction stories exploded and Westerns started fading into the sunset. This isn’t a happy accident. Thanks to the footage of the “earth rise,” our little blue planet seemed small compared to the vast expanse of outer space, a new frontier to be conquered, civilized, tamed. Sure, there is science fiction dating back to the 1800s (I recommend here that you go to YouTube and pull up La Voyage dans la Lune right now to look at an early example of a science fiction film, one you will recognize even if you haven’t already seen it), but the realm of the fantastic (science fiction or otherwise) became a mythic proving ground after World War II). How interesting then, on the eve of the end of the NASA program, that we have not made it back to the moon. Are we giving up on the outer space wasteland or are we choosing to adhere to the science fiction fantasy of the “inner reaches of outer space?”

But the moon is nonetheless an orb in the sky, whether we actually go back to it or not. I took the challenge to find a moon myth that is not tied to American popular culture. Of course, I drifted immediately to warewolves, but I can’t discuss those without discussing Twilight, and I’d rather not go there right now. This leaves the need to look a little further into the past. Looking at Greece, Egypt, etc., is too easy. And then I remembered that there is a moon myth in the Humanities textbook I use to teach, Gloria Fiero’s The Humanistic Tradition. The story is Native American – credit is given to the Northwest Coast – and it’s called “Raven and the Moon”:

One day Raven learnt that an old fisherman, living alone with his daughter on an island far to the north, had a box containing a bright light called the moon. He felt that he must get hold of this wonderful thing, so he changed himself into a leaf growing on a bush near to the old fisherman’s home. When the fisherman’s daughter came to pick berries from the wild fruit patch, she pulled at the twig on which the leaf stood and it fell down and entered into her body. In time a child was born, a dark-complexioned boy with a long, hooked nose, almost like a bird’s bill. As soon as the child could crawl, he began to cry for the moon. He would knock at the box and keep calling, “Moon, moon, shining moon.” At first nobody paid any attention, but as the child became more vocal and knocked harder at the box, the old fisherman said to his daughter, “Well, perhaps we should give the boy the ball of light to play with.” The girl opened the box and took out another box, and then another, from inside that. All the boxes were beautifully painted and carved, and inside the tenth there was a net of nettle thread. She loosened this and opened the lid of the innermost box. Suddenly light filled the lodge, and they saw the moon inside the box; bright, round like a ball, shining white. The mother threw it towards her baby son and he caught and held it so firmly they thought he was content. But after a few days he began to fuss and cry again. His grandfather felt sorry for him and asked the mother to explain what the child was trying to say. So his mother listened very carefully and explained that he wanted to look out at the sky and see the stars in the dark sky, but that the roof board over the smoke hole prevented him from doing so. So the old man said, “Open the smoke hole.” No sooner had she opened the hole than the child changed himself back into the Raven. With the moon in his bill he flew off. After a moment he landed on a mountain top and then threw the moon into the sky where it remains, still circling in the heavens where Raven threw it. (Chapter 18, copied from the e-book)

Ravens are night creatures, and birds that I tend to associate either with Edgar Allan Poe or with The Crow. The raven is often the counter to a white bird, such as a dove. How interesting that this raven should want to play with the moon as if it were a ball, and to do so, he had to become human. Divine pregnancies are very interesting in myths. They just happen, and sometimes in the most creative ways possible – being poked with a stick. Freud would have fun with that one.

As I was formatting this passage, I was reminded of another story from the same textbook, this one coming from the Vishnu Purana (Hindu):

… [Krishna], observing the clear sky, bright with the autumnal moon, and the air perfumed with the fragrance of the wild water-lily, in whose buds the clusteringbees were murmuring their songs, felt inclined to join with the milkmaids [Gopis] in sport….

Then Madhava [Krishna], coming amongst them, conciliated some with soft speeches, some with gentle looks; and some he took by the hand: and the illustrious deity sported with them in the stations of the dance. As each of the milkmaids, however, attempted to keep in one place, close to the side of Krishna, the circle of the dance could not be constructed; and he, therefore, took each by the hand, and when their eyelids were shut by the effects of such touch, the circle was formed.

Then proceeded the dance, to the music of their clashing bracelets, and songs that celebrated, in suitable strain, the charms of the autumnal season. Krishna sang of  the moon of autumn—a mine of gentle radiance; but the nymphs repeated the praises of Krishna alone. At times, one of them, wearied by the revolving dance, threw her arms, ornamented with tinkling bracelets, round the neck of the destroyer of Madhu [Krishna]; another, skilled in the art of singing his praises, embraced him. The drops of perspiration from the arms of Hari [Krishna] were like fertilizing rain, which produced a crop of down upon the temples of the milkmaids. Krishna sang the strain that was appropriate to the dance. The milkmaids repeatedly exclaimed “Bravo, Krishna!” to his song. When leading, they followed him; when returning they encountered him; and whether he went forwards or backwards, they ever attended on his steps. Whilst frolicking thus, they considered every instant without him a myriad of years; and prohibited (in vain) by husbands, fathers, brothers, they went forth at night to sport with Krishna, the object of their affection.

Thus, the illimitable being, the benevolent remover of all imperfections, assumed the character of a youth among the females of the herdsmen of [the district of] Vraja; pervading their natures and that of their lords by his own essence, all-diffusive like the wind. For even as the elements of ether, fire, earth, water, and air are comprehended in all creatures, so also is he everywhere present, and in all … (Chapter 14, copied from the e-book)

The celebration of the moon is thus a festive occasion, and there certainly is a Greek version of this story somewhere replacing Krishna with Dionysos. Which leads me to wonder what it is about the “autumn” moon that is so inviting of celebration? Dancing and singing of the autumn moon leads me to think about Halloween, but perhaps that is another post for another occasion.

The Myth(s) of Tangaroa

In honor of the first birthday of my kitten, I thought it would be interesting to explore the myths of his namesake. One would think that – for a mythologist – this would be an easy task. Apparently, my myth collections gloss over Polynesian mythology. In these collections, Tangaroa is reduced to a player in the creation or the trickster’s (Maui) father. Not really anything telling about who he is. What he does, however, is clear: he is the God of the Sea. So I had to turn to the web.

Rather than begin at the beginning, I’ll start with the birth of Tangaroa. His parents are Rangi (Father Sky) and Papa (Mother Earth), and Tangaroa was one of many of their children. Rangi and Papa emerged from the darkness of the void, but before they fully knew what do do with light, their children remained in darkness while they enjoyed the light. The children contemplated how to bring about night and day, so they too could have some light. While Tumatuenga, the god of war, suggested killing their parents, Tane (or Tane Mahuta), the god of the forest, suggested separating them. They all did what they could to separate their parents, but ultimately Tane succeeded why pushing Rangi away from Papa.

Rangi was so distraught that he cried and cried, forming the oceans. Tawhiri, the storm god, chose to join his father in the sky. He was opposed to the entire venture of separating their parents in the first place, so from above, he lashed down on Tane’s forest until they were all uprooted. Tawhiri then turned his wrath on Tangaroa, who avoided him by plunging into the depths of the ocean. Tangaroa’s own children, however, were confused by his sudden departure. Some of them, the fish, followed him to the seas; the others, lizards and reptiles, stayed among the rocks and trees. Noticing this, Tangaroa became very angry, and it is said that he (as the sea) is slowly eating the land to erode it in the hopes of one day being reunited with his lost family. To further enhance his conflict with Tane, one of his favorite tricks is to take wood from Tane’s forest and build sinking canoes.

Some versions of the Tangaroa stories give Tangaroa credit creating the cosmos and humans. In these stories, Tangaroa is the creator and hatches from the cosmic egg. After he hatches, he begins creating the world. He uses half of the egg shell to create the sky, and laid the other half below to create the ground. Noticing that he had no other tools to create with, he cut his own flesh to create soil, uses his backbone to create mountains, and his inner organs to make the clouds. All parts of his body were used in the creation. Once the world was created, he then started to create life. All of the other gods were within him, so he called the forth. Along with Tu, the craftsman god, Tangaroa makes trees and animals. They then create Til and Hina, the first humans, and convince them to procreate. “Tangaroa saw that everything he had created had a shell, just as he had had one in the beginning. They sky was the shell that contained the sun, the moon, and the stars. The Earth too was a shell; it was an enormous container for all the rocks, rivers, and lakes, and for all the plants that grew on the surface and the animals that walked on it. Even human beings had their shells; the wombs of women were the shells from which new life was born” (Hooper 338).

The myth that actually inspired the kitten’s name comes from Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room (the Maori connection was just a happy accident).

If you get to the Tiki Room early enough, there is an audio-animatronic preshow among the figures outside. Here, the gods surrounds a spring, and in the moments just before letting us into the Tiki Room, while we’re calmly enjoying our Dole Whip, they all introduce themselves. Tangaroa, in a James Earl Jones-esque voice, says, “I AM Tangaroa, father of all gods and goddesses. Here in this land of enchantment, I appear before you as a mighty tree. Stand back! Oh Mystic Powers, hear my call! From my limbs, let new life fall!” And birds and plants fall from his limbs to the chiming of bells.

Suffice it to say, my Kitten embodies both the creator and the sea.

And for some levity. I guess this is from one of this online quiz thingies:




Myths & Legends: Stories Gods Heroes Monsters by Philip Hooper and Philip Wilkinson, retrieved from Google Books

The Relevance of Disneyland

Yesterday, I found myself ready to write again. I’ve been grading grading and grading for a month. It was the first major assignment, which usually takes the longest to grade. So I thought I’d work on the nagging question: how is a study of Disneyland relevant to the Mythological Studies conversation?

I initially can come up with two such reasons. First, the work of Walt Disney and Disney Corp helped cement popular culture (and its various modalities) as the primary transmitter of American myth. I’m not sure I really have to argue that point too much, but there are plenty of sources that back this up (for example: Douglas Brode’s From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created Counterculture). Second, Disneyland is a place onto which significance has been inscribed. As an immigrant culture, we have programmed our cultural psyche to lean towards a new relationship to place because we left all of our sacred places in the Old World. There have been various influxes of place significance, but our relationship to place was severely altered by the expansion West – in which place was a wide open blank slate – and the expansion upward with the growth of the Metropolis. The two came together in the 1950s with the rise of the mobile culture and the need for tourist locales, constantly at battle with each other to try to “one-up” the competition. Disneyland is one such place.

My exploration leaves me with a major missing link: Is Disneyland as relevant today as it was in 1955? 1965? Even 1970? Living in Texas and far removed from my Disney Dolly (who constantly recharges my love of Disneyland), I notice that more people in my vicinity venture to Disney World. Indeed, much of my research starts with “Disneyland was cool and it was innovative” and ends with “but it was really more of a practice for Disney World and EPCOT.” I’m intentionally not writing about Disney World because I’ve never been there, and it seems irresponsible to write about a place one has never visited.

So what is it about 2010 Disneyland that makes it so attractive? What is it about the place of Disneyland that yields a mythological experience? I’ve had said experience, but I can’t find the words to describe it. Of course, some would say that’s the point of a mythological experience: it is beyond words.


Disneyland and dissertating

October 1 is right around the corner. That means hardly anything for you, except maybe a paycheck and a season change, but for me, October 1 marks the beginning of the most difficult project I have ever endeavored: the Dissertation. While I’m confident that my dissertation-writing process won’t be nearly as painful as the fabled stereotypical experience, I am nonetheless intimidated by the process. The original reason this blog exists was to have a place to document RoundTable business for my Joseph Campbell Foundation RoundTable. I’m in the process of passing that hat to someone else, leaving me with a blog with a paid domain name without an otherwise specific purpose. I thought I would attempt to blog about the process with some sort of daily (or at least weekly) check-in, and maybe someone out there in Cyberland will read it, making the process a little less lonely.

My dissertation topic is fun—Disneyland and American myth. While that could be a huge endeavor, there’s no way possible to make Disneyland not fun. Sure, there are many out there who don’t care for it. To those people, I offer a Mickey Mouse Balloon and a lolly. The real challenge is writing about American myth. It’s easy to identify the stories in the culture that comprise the mythos, but to get at the real heart of the mythic symbolism—now that’s a challenge and a half. I’m not sure Americans as a whole are even aware what their myths. I don’t mean Paul Bunyan and George Washington’s Cherry Tree, but, rather, the archetypal images behind those stories.

Where does Disneyland come in? Since 1955, Disneyland has served as both a sort of museum of these cultural myths AND creates – imagineers – how we perceive/interpret/understand/relate to these myths. While each land in the park captures the essence of each myth, we now define these myths by the Disney version. I don’t suggest that that’s a bad thing. I happen to like the Disney version a lot. But it has caused an interesting tension in our culture between Disneyphiles and Disneyphobics.