Last night we read “The Happiest Place on Earth: Disney’s America and the Commodification of Religion,” (Mazur and Koda). It argues that for many Americans, salvation is a commodity. Disney is competing with religion by offering the same products: “mythologies, symbols, rituals, and notions of community by which consumers organize their lives.” Disney provides lessons of morality through kid’s movies. They then sell toy versions of characters that symbolize the mythologies from the movies. But what I find the most fascinating is the ritual of visiting Disneyland. The article refers to pilgrimage to Disneyland as the American equivalent of making Hajj to the mecca of popular culture.
Growing up in Southern California, and less than an hour away from Disneyland, I have made this sacred Pilgrimage countless times. I even applied to work as a Disney Princess one summer. Disneyland is flawless in appearance and impeccably groomed. Everything seems effortlessly perfect. Disneyland goes to great lengths to keep up this appearance, and they do so by keeping the sacred separate from the profane. Everything happens behind the scenes, and what you see is all a performance of the ultimate fantasy. All the employees are always “in character” and always smiling. There are restrictions about the make-up, hairstyles, piercings and tattoos that employees can have. When Disneyland first opened, there were even these same types of restrictions for the patrons. When my step-dad was a teenager he was denied entry because he had long hair. You would think he would hate Disneyland for it, but he still loves the place and enjoys it just as much as us kids. Thats how powerful Disneyland is as a sacred space.
Disney is so powerful in popular culture is because they have successfully commodified the religious experience and marketed the sacred. Disney isn’t just movies, theme parks, and toy stores. It has its own cruise line and even its own wedding package including destination weddings at the parks, wedding dresses, and honeymoon trips. I would never get married at Disneyland personally, but I am completely obsessed with the place and and fully committed to the religion that is Disney.