Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fright in Disneyland

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.


  1. Someone once challenged me to think of a Disney movie in which the hero has two healthy, happy parents at the end. It's really hard. Even in movies like The Little Mermaid, in which no specific harm befalls the parents, the father is a widower.

  2. That has been a while since the last post and I am happy a new one is here.

    However, I am a little bit surprised by all this anti-pirate criticism(I thought they were Dutch in the first place:p).

    Firstly, keep in mind that for the average American, a pirate is something like a Jedi - totally fictional. If I am not mistaken Anakin Skywalker cuts off his son's hand - and this REALLY shocked me when I watched the movie (I was 9).

    Secondly, the reward function whose parameters are optimised by Disneyland, is profit. They want to attract a broader audience than 10 year old kids and that's why there is so much violence. If a child discovers violence at 14, because for instance their parents have been hiding it, they consider violence a sign of being old and cool. Exactly as it happens with sex.

    To sum up, children do NOT take example from what they see. They take example of their parents! I believe that a relaxed attitude with a clear opinion against all forms of violence is what they need. I am afraid keeping violence (sex, alcohol, drugs...) away from their eyes is the worst thing we can do.

  3. Yeah a lot of fear and violence in disney movies, but it wasn't disney
    who invented the fear and violence of many fairy tails they retold.
    Good or bad it is there in all traditional legends, tales and myths
    from the greeks to the german brothers grimm. Children killing their
    fathers, father eating their children, stephmother humiliating their
    stephdaughters, wtches etc. May be Anderson is a bit of an exeption. I
    really don't know if it is bad, but I justturn it off when my children
    give signs of fear. A hearing a story however is something different
    from seeing a movie. Take for instance snowwhite in the forest. That
    is kind of overdone. But everything in Disney movies is overdone, also
    the positive, the sweet bird scene with cinderelly making a bed
    Anyway there is still hope. Watch fantasia 2000, a fantastic disney
    movie without overdone negative or positive emotions. Amazing

  4. I agree with Noula that parents are big examples for kids. Children learn by imitating.
    However I also believe that the images and sounds they use in Disneyland are too overwhelming and scary for kids (I am not talking about teenagers).

    They have a big impact on the kids own fantasy world.
    It is totally different than reading fairy tales or even the bible to kids. They also contain a lot of cruelty. Kids listen to those stories and build there own images. Sometimes they like to act it out in a play or you see it back in a drawing. It's much more real life for them than all the images which are given in Disneyland.
    I believe that the Disney movies and most of the attractions at Disneyland have a negative influence on kids, especially the young ones. They are simply not ready for cruel images. They live in a world with fairies and gnomes, not one with skeletons.

  5. Thanks for all your comments. My main response to Noula would be that (as Hans and Marga mentioned as well) stories are different from movies and Disneyland attractions. And more importantly, there is a certain age that is appropriate for certain images. I believe seeing Starwars at the age of 9 years is very young, so seeing a hand being cut off could definitely be shocking. Imagine this: I believe you would not find it appropriate to show fornicating people to a 7 year old. Why is it then OK to show them images of torture (as is done in Pirates of the Car.). Sexual intercourse is at least natural and pleasurable while torture is hopefully not.

  6. Point taken:-).

    BTW, there is no bad publicity - I have never been to Disneyland and now I am really curious:-)

  7. lamest thing i have ever read. stay away from places like disneyland -you sully them.
    i just went yesterday and it was awesome as always.
    i'm amazed you are a scientist -but they do say geeks usually lack common sense.