On Febuary 20, birthday of my oldest daughter, we went to Disneyland. For my children the first time in their life. Every day, 9.30 pm, we heard the fireworks from where we live in Irvine (yes, past tense, because the economic downturn has caused Disneyland to temporarily abondon this feature), so we figured it was time for us to experience the ``happiest place on earth''.
Our first attraction was absolutely wonderful: the all new ``it's a small world after all''. The Netherlands had a display the same size as all of Africa which was of course nice (for us...). But let's not be cynical here, this attraction has a message with educational value, the puppets are simply beautiful and you leave the place with a positive feeling: the world is a benign, beautiful place.
Next on our list was "Thunder Mountain". This was a bit scarier, and my youngest daughter (7) asked me why everyone was raising their arms and screaming all the time. She concluded it must be because they want to show off that they are not afraid. She assured me that she was definitely afraid. All in all not much harm here.
But then it was time for "Priates of Caribbean". It came very highly recommended by one of the Disneyland employees and even the Pirates outside assured me that it was allright for small kids. They were debating the steepness of the drops the boat was making during the ride. However, that turned out to be beside the point. A brief excerpt:
-> A skeleton speared against a rock with a sword in his (her ?) chest.
-> Pirates selling a line of women to other pirates as their new brides (an euphemism for Pirates raping women).
-> Pirates drinking lots of alcohol (perhaps also drugs?).
-> Pirates burning down an entire village (in modern terms: a bombing raid).
-> Pirates torturing a man by submerging him in a waterwell (somehow the word Abu-Ghraib came to mind).
Now keep in mind, the pirates are the good guys here. This is not a realistic display of the aweful pirate terror of the old days. These are role models for our children. How appropriate do you think it would be if we would have a similar Disneyland attraction about the holocaust, or the genocide in Rwanda. If you think about this for a minute or two you quickly realize how bizarre this form of entertainment really is. To us, but certainly to children.
Somewhat shocked through this experience we went for Fantasy land and entered the "Snow White" ride. It can't get much more innocent than that you would tink. To my horror, it too consisted of scary witches and, yes, another corpse. Now we are talking a ride for the very smallest children. Is this really "the happiest place on earth"? Why this obsession with fear? In fact, almost all Disney movies are packed with fear. Why are we showing movies where the mother of main character (Bambi) gets brutally killed? What does this do to our kids?
I believe epic battles between good and evil have an enormous archetypical appeal to us. I am a huge fan of starwars myself. The symbolism can be found an all major religions in the form of the dualism God and Devil, Heaven and Hell, etc. That's allright, but not for the very young. As a society we are disgusted with pictures of nudity. Indeed, I have not seen a single naked breast in Disneyland. Yet, breasts will not shock young children, they grow up with it, its completely natural to them. Breasts are good: they are symbols of motherhood, protection, kindness. However, violence, skeletons, weapons, torture and fear are not natural to children. These things transmit the message that the world is an evil place. How twisted is our society really?
Let's end on a postive note. I am teaching an introduction to artificial intelligence class and for the first time I came face to face with Asimo on that Disneyland trip. Asimo is simply amazing. One constantly has the feeling that there is a little person inside that suit. And everytime you realize that this is not the case, it gets a little scary (a good kind of scary this time). What if Asimo decided not to listen to the boss, somewhat like a dog with big teeth. Asimo, walks, talks, runs and walks chairs, all very gracefully. It's truly amazing, a peek into the future. My youngest child is now Asimo fan. I am happy Asimo won over "Pirates of Caribbean" after all.