In Search of the Genuine Phoney

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IT SEEMS a very long time ago that we went to Florida. Land of flowers. And Disney. A long time ago since I had to wrestle with the concept of reality. Isn't that one of the bizarre effects that Disney has on us? Forces an anxious double take on artifice in life. Begs the question, what is real? What is illusion? Which is better? Does it matter? Making cheesy, bathtub philosophers out of us all.

In an article in the Independent on Sunday of 11/2/2001, Andrew Gumbel wrote of Disney as a triumph of corporate image making over any serious engagement with reality. 'A theme park by definition is not about reality. It is about mediated reality in which signature features are copied and the rest simply discarded.' He had just returned from a visit to the new Disney in California. Reactions were fresh and raw.

We went to Disneyworld in January and spent three days trying to come to terms with that mediated reality. When we returned, I remember how many emotions there were jostling for position; reflections beginning their drift down into the memorial sediment.

The whole question of Disney is altogether vexed. At one level it should be trite, fake, overpriced, exploitative but on another it is ring-fenced pleasure, pure self-indulgence, sensory sweetness, innocent fun. Is it a quality of the place or something that cheating memory invests it with, finding meaning where there is none? Could it be on some primitive level, like a return to Eden. These enormous, discrete pleasure gardens, where admission is restricted and the Disney brand of Paradise is not to everyone's taste, could they yet be a paradigm for what has been lost? The mysterious Eden we all wish we could find.

A disapproving and somewhat puritanical part of us insists on measuring the Disney sensation against notions of purity, naturalness and spontaneity; the unadorned and unostentatious freedom of reality. From such a righteous angle, it took God seven days to create the world but it takes only a quarter of that for a miserable sinner, disengaged from the exigencies of life, to have a complete world experience at EPCOT!

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