evacuate & flush
My Pilgrimage To Walt Disneyland
When I was ten years old I went to Disneyland for the first time in my life. I thought at the time it was a grand vacation, now I realize that my journey was a pilgrimage. Indeed, I believe that a trip to Disneyland has taken on an almost religious aspect for many Americans. Perhaps because of a brilliant marketing strategy or perhaps because of a need to belong millions of people across the country come to the Magic Kingdom every year to take part in something uniquely American. For first timers it is their induction into the mass societal culture of the United States.Going to Disneyland was a chance to meet my maker. I was a product of billions of hours in front of the TV watching Mickey and friends in their endless charades. I was a product of Mickey merchandising that included T-shirts, watches, and pillow cases. I was a product of my fellows who had gone to the holy place and come back with Mickey ears as a testament to their faith. It is no wonder that I wanted to go to Disneyland and take part in the shared experience of a nation.
Disneyland is a strange place. A self-ascribed fantasy land, it is a bizarre mixture of intimate chaotic energy and impersonal assembly line precision that combine to form only one thing - mass fun. People are churned out by the thousands through carefully constructed rides, all screaming together in mindless joy while not even knowing who the people are before or after them.
It is fitting that what I remember of my first visit to Disneyland is only sound and fury amidst a fairy-tale landscape. Like an impressionistic painting that from a distance is understood and appreciated but upon closer inspection is found meaningless, my memory of that trip is a pleasant one but specific events taken separately fail to capture the essence of my experience.
I remember white towers shimmering in the California sun and impossibly clean cobble stone boulevards bustling with activity. Methodically, I went through each sector of the magic kingdom - fantasy land, frontier land, adventure land, and future world - and did all that they had to offer. I conquered my fear of roller coasters early and took on Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and the Matterhorn. I went on a boat ride on the Amazon River and watched mermaids play in Atlantis from the safety of a submarine. By the end of the day I had walked through a haunted house, watched pirates fight in the Caribbean, had animated puppets tell me "it's a small world after all," and been spun around in a giant tea cup. When night came I was exhausted but dreamily content, like a preacher who had just led an all day revival or a civil rights activist after marching on Washington. I had experienced all that was Disneyland. In the end, with half lidded eyes, I watched a parade of lights go by while feathery fireworks noisily lit up the sky before I was whisked away to bed.
What made me feel in later years that this journey was a pilgrimage for me was the sense of completeness and satisfaction I felt that day. It's not just childhood nostalgia or the personal joy I received that makes me believe this, it's more. Going to Disneyland, experiencing it, and loving every minute of it connected me with the faceless crowds that were with me that day, to those who had been there before, and to those that would go in the future. Like it or not, Disneyland is a symbol of America. While Disneyland may not be the bastion of purity, wholesomeness, and magic that it portrays itself as (rather it is commercialistic, profit driven, and escapist), it still delivers what the people want - a place of fun and magic free from the evils of modern life. Artificial though it may be, Disneyland offers an experience that is very real and in so doing creates a special bond with the public that lets people relate with one another. To divorce oneself from this is to be a little different from everybody else and not a part of the masses that offer comfort and security in group psychology. Going to Disneyland made me an American, a right of passage that only it could bestow.