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Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World

Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World

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This entertaining and playful book views Disney World as much more than the site of an ideal family vacation. Blending personal meditations, interviews, photographs, and cultural analysis, Inside the Mouse looks at Disney World’s architecture and design, its consumer practices, and its use of Disney characters and themes. This book takes the reader on an alternative ride through "the happiest place on earth" while asking "What makes this forty-three-square-mile theme park the quintessential embodiment of American leisure?"
Turning away from the programmed entertainment that Disney presents, the authors take a peek behind the scenes of everyday experience at Disney World. In their consideration of the park as both private corporate enterprise and public urban environment, the authors focus on questions concerning the production and consumption of leisure. Featuring over fifty photographs and interviews with workers that strip "cast members" of their cartoon costumes, this captivating work illustrates the high-pressure dynamics of the typical family vacation as well as a tour of Disney World that looks beyond the controlled facade of themed attractions.
As projects like EuroDisney and the proposed Disney America test the strength of the Disney cultural monolith, Inside the Mouse provides a timely assessment of the serious business of supplying pleasure in contemporary U.S. culture. Written for the general reader interested in the many worlds of Disney, this engrossing volume will also find fans among students and scholars of cultural studies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822316244
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 04/14/1995
Series: Post-Contemporary Interventions Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.08(w) x 9.24(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

The members of The Project on Disney are Jane Kuenz, Assistant Professor of English, University of Southern Maine; Karen Klugman, photographer and teacher at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Connecticut; Shelton Waldrep, Visiting Assistant Professor of English, University of Southern Maine; and Susan Willis, Associate Professor of English at Duke University.

Read an Excerpt

Inside the Mouse

Work and Play at Disney World

By Duke University Press

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9704-5


The Problem with Pleasure

Why are you so critical? Wasn't anything fun?" This was how one listener greeted our panel on Disney World. We, the coauthors of this book, were in New Orleans at a post–Mardi Gras American Studies conference. Together, we had assembled what Karen Klugman refers to as an "alternative ride" through Disney and we wanted to test our ideas on an audience as a way of gauging our book's reception. Many in the audience seemed to agree with our critical observations. Some academics said Disney just didn't appeal to them and they had no intention of ever visiting the park. One man said he was bored during his entire Disney stay; another said his trip was pleasant, but "everything was so contrived." Consensus was broken by one obviously upset woman who resented everything we had to say. Her question–put in a rather hostile manner–has preoccupied me* ever since. As a group, we have offered a number of panels at scholarly conferences and it seems there has always been someone in the audience who has raised the question of pleasure–either pointedly as did our inquisitor in New Orleans, or with consternation–as if the questioner felt she might have been duped into some sort of false enjoyment. During all our trial runs, I don't think any of us adequately answered this question. In canvassing adults as to why they go to Disney World, I tend to get positive, but uninteresting assessments: "It's fun," "It's safe," "It's easy," "It's clean." I suspect these responses betray a comfortable acceptance of Disney ideologies, which in turn reside in the pleasure of not having to confront the flip sides of Disney's patriotism, hygiene, and gender codes. To get a better handle on what's enjoyable about Disney World, I polled my children who, like most kids, know exactly what they like about the park and responded emphatically: "The rides," "Staying in a motel," "The characters," "No school."

The problem of whether or not Disney World is pleasurable begs the question of the larger cultural context. My own meditations on whether there is any pleasure in mass culture predate the Disney Project. They began one afternoon on a street corner in Claremont, California. I was jogging, but had gotten stuck at a four-way signal light where one traffic-clogged boulevard intersected with another. To my left was a grove of stunted, water-starved lemon trees soon to be bulldozed for yet another development, to my right was a strip mall, and in front of me loomed condo-city. I peered into the cars, saw drivers drumming their fingernails on the steering wheels, punching the radio scan button, fluffing their hair, or just sitting like zombies, and I asked out loud (although no one could hear) "What are you all doing here–where's the pleasure?" Surely it's not reducible to Southern California's commodity glut: the private health spas, the hair and nail salons, the frozen yogurt and doughnuts.

The problem of pleasure comes up and is dealt with throughout our book. It haunts Shelton Waldrep's concern with storytelling; it teasingly emerges from Karen Klugman's photos; it shapes Jane Kuenz's stories of people who use the park alternatively; and it hangs suspended in my accounts of peoples' vacations. My aim here is to interrogate pleasure more directly. As always I approach culture as a consumer, so my inquiry is guided by the perspective of a visitor to the park. Taking my cue from John Kasson's book on Coney Island, I'm most interested in the sorts of pleasure that users/consumers make. In Amusing the Millions, Kasson argues that the rides at Coney Island enabled visitors to subvert the structures and mechanisms of early twentieth century industry. Technology could be experienced as fun. Moreover, visitors to Coney Island could reap the pleasures of challenging social hierarchies. As Kasson puts it, this was the only place in the city where Anglo shop girls could rub shoulders and more with Italian immigrants. On both counts, Disney World is the antithesis of Coney Island. Its relatively homogenous population makes both risk and risqué social encounters unlikely. The fact that Disney World deploys some of the same technologies that facilitated the Gulf War is nowhere imprinted in the amusements as were the wheels, gears, and conveyors of industry rendered visible at Coney Island. Hence the subversive pleasure of bending arms into ploughshares, turning militarized technologies into fun, is not available at Disney World. The specifics of Kasson's observations can't be translated into Disney World; however, the notion of consumer participation in the production of pleasure is inseparable from amusement and can be the basis for deciphering what's affirming–possibly utopian–about a trip to Disney World.

"This ain't Disney World." This is how our cab driver introduced us to New Orleans at Mardi Gras. We had arrived a few days before our conference in order to take in the sights before getting down to business. Truer words were never spoken. The reek of urine nearly knocked me off my feet. And I had yet to discover the brisk trade in tits for beer and beads. My teenage daughter, who has no qualms about marching through a moshing pit, was so taken aback that she and her girlfriend spent most of Mardi Gras in the hotel bathroom dying their hair various shades of punk. My daughter's reaction enabled me to see how thoroughly our culture condemns carnival: the bawdy and rude revel of the appetites and its consequent waste and dissipation. In my experience the only thing that comes close to Mardi Gras is the North Carolina State Fair (and I suspect other state fairs do as well), although sexuality is less a feature than the carnival delights of greasy fried foods. Otherwise, ours is a proscribed and prescribed society that monitors consumption: no salt, no fat, no cholesterol, no calories, no sugar; and heaven forbid drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Fiber is clearly all that's left. No wonder many of my neighbors in the South flaunt their cholesterol and tobacco intake in the face of what they perceive as bourgeois or yuppie ideas about health and taste. Being in "bad taste" can be, as Pierre Bourdieu points out, an act of resistance. Bourdieu based this conclusion on his observations of the French working class and peasantry. I don't know if cassoulet represents the same level of defiance as fried pork rind, but I would argue that southern obesity (both black and white) can be partly attributed to the oppressive victimization of a society that makes junk food fun, sexy, and plentiful and partly to the individual's active resistance to a perceived bourgeois norm. What's clear in our culture is that the fast food industry intercedes where more carnivalesque indulgences might be invented, and makes available to the lower and underclass a ready supply of foods for defiance.

Over the years, Disney World has cleaned up its food act. During my first research trip some four years ago, I remember overdosing on french fries. Now many healthy choices, such as yogurt and fresh fruit, are available at restaurants singled out by a tiny apple in the guide brochure. While french fries may be scarce, references to the sexual dimensions of carnival are nonexistent at Disney. There are certainly no devils with hugely packed crotches, like the ones Derek Walcott recalls from the carnivals of his West Indian childhood. In the "Overture" to his play Dream on Monkey Mountain, Walcott describes being kept on a balcony above the tumultuous crowd by his middle-class parents who didn't want their child mixing with the bawdy street elements. In New Orleans I saw many middle-class families with children along the parade routes, some up in trees for a better view or a better chance for some beads, others in chairs mounted atop makeshift ladders. I wondered if children from New Orleans pester their parents for trips to Disney World or if any of the folks who drove great distances to get to Mardi Gras would also drive great distances to get to Disney World. Clearly, the drunkenly reeling and lewdly gesturing crowd in the French Quarter was as antithetical to the folks at Disney World as aliens to Earthlings. The bastion of family values long before the Bush campaign made much of the slogan, Disney World is systematicaily elaborated to eliminate carnival. To be sure there are parades–probably a dozen a day–each one a highly orchestrated spectacle played to an audience that docilely accepts crowd control. "No climbing in trees." "Cross the street only where indicated." "People in front must be seated." It goes without saying that no one is expected to get swept up with the marchers as kids might have done in some bygone era of small town circus parades. Disney World may well represent the culmination of the centuries' long campaign of suppression waged against carnival, which aimed first to marginalize it and later to exterminate it or render it harmlessly touristic. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White date the suppression of carnival with the nineteenth-century rise of the bourgeois class.

It is in this context that I find the Disney characters remarkable. In the midst of Disney's rational and controlled environment, the characters are patently grotesque. Mickey and his crew may not have packed crotches, but they certainly have big heads. Something more is going on here than the propensity for the infantile that Stephen Jay Gould remarked in his account of Mickey's backward development from the skinny ratlike adult figure of the thirties to his present balloonlike baby face. Many parents with young children have told me that they feel they have to put off their first trip to Disney World until they think their kids can handle the big heads. I'm sure I'm not the only visitor to Disney World who has seen young children running away from the characters, tearful and screaming. Other children stand in awe, unwilling to approach even for the sake of the photo that Dad or Mom is urging or for the possibility of an autographed trophy. Then, too, there are children so taken by the characters that they mob them, fling themselves smack into Donald's tummy and topple him over, duck feet and all.

Youngsters aren't the only ones who recognize the power of the grotesque. My fifteen-year-old daughter, who otherwise impresses me with her cultural judgment, is not at all embarrassed to admit that what she most likes about Disney World are the characters: "And there should be more of them. I didn't see nearly enough the last time I was there." I always take my informants' testimony seriously, but until I read Stallybrass and White I didn't understand the attraction of the grotesque. Besides charting the historical suppression of carnival, Stallybrass and White read Freud's account of his hysterical patients and develop the thesis that during the course of suppressing the carnivalesque, the bourgeois subject fell victim to the reemergence of carnival in the ritualized symptoms of the hysteric. As they put it,

The demonization and the exclusion of the carnivalesque has to be related to the victorious emergence of specifically bourgeois practices and languages which reinflected and incorporated this material [as] negative. In one way or another Freud's patients can be seen as enacting desperate ritual fragments salvaged from a festive tradition, the self-exclusion from which had been one of the identifying features of their social class. The language of bourgeois neurosis both disavows and appropriates the domain of calendrical festive practices.

Disney World, the quintessential enactment of the hysterical bourgeois subject, programatically prescribes prudery as a disavowal of anything having to do with carnival, all the while appropriating its excluded "other" in the grotesquery of a carnivalesque Mickey. I assume that where repression is the most enforced, the eruption of carnival must solicit the greatest fascination. Recently I've been curious about the way children, roughly six to ten years old, painstakingly teach themselves to belch on demand. It's a great trick for the school cafeteria and even more audacious when employed in the classroom. It may be that children, whose socialization means learning to control the body in repressive ways, are more attuned than adults to eruptions of carnival, and can thus better spot it when it happens (even when it wears a big head).

Stallybrass and White also give a clue for interpreting the significance of Orlando when they mention that the seaside was suited to the development of the carnivalesque because it "combined the ... medicinal virtues of the spa resorts with tourism and the fairground." Like its precursor, Anaheim, Orlando is not a seaside town; but more so than its sister park, Disney World capitalizes on the aura of a resort environment. Where Disneyland is girdled with tacky motels and fast food restaurants, Disney World, as Shelton Waldrep points out, has successfuUy separated itself from Orlando–and its feeder interstate–and has developed an internal network of "resort" hotels, each themed to represent the sorts of places most promoted by the tourist industry: generally southern and particularly Caribbean. There are no Nordic resorts nor any accommodations that would remind the visitor of winter. Moreover, the landscape is set to bloom year round, a strategy not wasted on me. There's nothing like seeing bougainvillea and hibiscus in December.

The importance of sunshine should not be overlooked in determining the sources of Disney pleasure. As Carey McWilliams observed in describing the economic development of Los Angeles, sunshine facilitates certain types of economies, which in turn give a region a particular spatial organization. In Los Angeles, it's the infrastructure of sprawl occasioned by the largely outdoor origins of both the aircraft and movie industries. Orlando, the amusement capital of the world, inherits this tradition. Regions defined by open-air industries also give rise to an ambience of openness, whether or not it has any grounds in political reality. What's most peculiar about both Southern California and North Central Florida is the populist conservatism that predominates and seems at odds with the utopian fantasies attached to both places. Bill Pomerance, who organized the cartoonists who struck Disney, put it in a nutshell when he commented to me, "Well, you know what they used to say about L.A.: 'Everything blooms in the sun.'" He was referring to the curious array of political and social tendencies that have found fertile ground in L.A., but his remark captures the utopian connotations associated with a land where the sun holds sway and seasonal variation is minimal.

Disney World, where "the fun always shines," makes an advertising campaign out of a real utopian longing. But, in doing so, it doesn't cancel the longing. Drawn by the promise of a sun-filled vacation, great numbers of visitors to the park yearn to experience the sort of plenitude that the sun represents. Many Marxist critics have argued for the existence of repressed utopian content in the objects of mass culture. What's compelling about mass culture is its figuration (oftentimes unconsciously apprehended by the audience) of capitalism's antithesis: that is, a society governed by reciprocity and structured on communal relationships. The utopian fantasy that haunts both sunshine states is as fundamentally social as it is meteorological. Indeed it connects with the primal world of the carnival calendar and gives expression to the renewal of hope and energy that the return of the sun meant to agrarian economies. Disney World will surely never mount a springtime fertility rite, but its attraction taps a deep-seeded, perhaps unconscious, longing for the possibility of renewal that an older world celebrated with carnival. Of course, the power of carnival derives from the yin and yang fluctuation between a time of fasting and a time of indulgence, winter and spring. The horrifying threat of perpetual carnival is something only Disney's workers experience. Luckily, the time constraints of the visitor's vacation enable him or her a more manageable dose of plenitude. Safe within the bounds of a five-day vacation, many children are tempted to imagine how they might prolong their Disney experience. I've talked with a number who know exactly where to hide so as to stay in the park after closing. This fantasy has a number of liberating and subversive meanings sewn into it, not the least of which is the desire to stretch time, to live in Never-Never Land.

My son's ambitions are more modest. When I asked him what he likes about Disney World, he responded: "Staying in a motel." And then, more emphatically: "No school." Simple pleasures whose utopian content also resides in the social. Cade may not be aware of Disney's regard for decorative detail in the creation of the themed resorts, but he certainly appreciates the resort environment and the use of the motel room. Children like motels because they're not home. If anything, the motel signifies a restructuring of the relationships that dehne the child's life at home. All the family's repressed libidinal concerns that need never be confronted in homes where family members sleep in separate bedrooms come tantalizingly (or disturbingly) to the surface as Mom, Dad, and the kids discuss who's sleeping with whom in the motel's two double beds. Some families resort to a democratic rotation system that has family members changing their sleeping assignments every night of their vacation so that none of the overdetermined sexual arrangements between siblings or parents and children ever takes precedence.


Excerpted from Inside the Mouse by Duke University Press. Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


The Problem with Pleasure,
Reality Revisited,
The Family Vacation,
Narrative Snapshot I: The Lucky Break,
Narrative Snapshot 2: The Whole World in a Shopping Bag,
Narrative Snapshot III: The Simulated Trip,
Narrative Snapshot IV: The Happy Family,
It's a Small World After All,
Story Time,
Under the Influence,
Working at the Rat,
Team Disney,
Shiny Happy People,
The Alternative Ride,
Public Use/Private State,
Monuments to Walt,
Selected Bibliography,
Theme Parks in General and Disney World in Particular,
Selected Readings in Cultural Studies,
Members of the Project on Disney,

Customer Reviews

Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Atomicmutant on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I completely agree with what Biblioadonis says about this book. However, I found it to be a good read, if only to chuckle at the self-imposed cultural isolation of the academics who wrote and assembled this collection. This isn't a bad approach to take with regards to Disney, but this work is painfully based on a priori attitudes that don't serve cultural analysis well.Throughout the book, the authors repeat a number of negative myths about Walt Disney and Disney World as though they are gospel truth. It is really hard to take them seriously given the inability to do some basic research and fact checking. As a simple example, I think it's repeated a handful of times that Walt is frozen somewhere. When will that myth go away?Some things they declare are flat out ludicrous. Epcot is a symbolic necropolis for Walt? Okey dokey, if that sort of statement gets you invited to the right cocktail parties, then good for you.I did enjoy the photographs, which are wry and interesting. Less effective is an essay pointing out that the photographs are wry and interesting. Enough with the smug back-patting, folks, let your work speak for itself.There are nuggets here and there, and some insights, but it is painfully strained for the most part. If you have a thick skin, and enjoy all things Disney, I wouldn't say "stay away", but look for it in a bargain bin somewhere, take it in the right spirit, and enjoy what you can from it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seems more like a vehicle for self-immolation than offering any real insight into Disney. Who thinks an avowed Marxist would like Disney? The park is the physical manifestation of everything a Marxist hates. The result is predictable and narcissistic; Disney becomes the canvas for the different authors to tell us about themselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I made a character app on the prolouge book in case you wanted to use it.
StreetStrip03 More than 1 year ago
This book seems like one persons account of a botched trip. This book had NO points of interest at all. I found myself flipping chapters like one person flips pages TRYING to find SOMETHING worth reading. I would rather shave off all of my body hair only to replace it with glass shards than to read one more word of this book. I never could figure out what this book was trying to accomplish. This book promised to be an insiders guide to backstage Disney, however it seemed more like jumbled trash can filings of college thesis' from a number of retarded donkeys who were forced to eat thalidomide as children while playing with iron rods at a power company before their parents tried to put the kids flaming carcasses out with a logging chain.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I wanted to hear some loser¿s personal vacation memoirs I¿d ask a neighbor to watch his vacation video, but when I shell out $18.95, I would have liked it to actually tell me something other than ¿blah blah blah I went to Disney once and my husband didn¿t want to spend $40 on a pare of shorts for our daughter¿ If writing books is this easy, every Disney vacation-er must be an author every time they send a post card!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Disney World is fascinating on many levels and I hoped to find out some 'back stage' information about how it functions. There was some of that in this book but I had to pick through the socio-babble: '(Hal) Foster distinguishes this nostalgic postmodern reaction from what he terms 'poststructuralist postmodernism,' which is 'profoundly antihumanist' and, one could say, antirealist.' I'm not saying this book is not valuable, just don't be taken in by the back cover, which describes it as 'entertaining' and 'playful'.