As we walked through the facades on either side of us, my friend Doug shouldered his head back and coolly took in the view. Our pace was fractional, it being off season, and only a few people wandered across our path. “Man”, he said with a whistle following, “It’s sad to see how far man will go to build a monument to himself.”
I had moments like those when I worked at Walt Disney World. Moments when it all seemed false and maybe even prideful. Moments when it seemed like mankind was desperately trying to feed itself an illusion and a lifeless corporation held out its palm to collect a fee from those addicted to distracting themselves. There were moments when it seemed that the illusion was a consumable item imprinted into the consciousness of the world of a company that streamlined its stories into marketable forms. They were moments of a broken world poking through a grand show, like noticing a makeup line 2 hours into a great stage production.
They were just moments, though. Moments in a long period of time like a note in a beautiful concerto. Walt Disney World is all of those things above at times but, from my time there, I learned it is something better in much greater proportion. Where Doug saw vanity, my friend Chris saw Disney World as a wonderful place where the creativity God gave man was on display. There are those who are looking to substitute Disney for good parenting but there are more parents who are using Disney to join in exploring childhood with their kids. There are certainly some who want distraction from the crappy world they live in but many, many others experience Walt Disney World because they want to embrace the positives they see in the people around them. These aren’t thrill junkies, after all you can go to much better parks for thrill rides, these are people who want to experience stories.
Disney has at times and still does market a consumable philosophy of life (nearly all consumerism does, fyi) but the massive percentage of what they do has nothing to do with maximizing profits. If that were so, they wouldn’t care about doorknobs on the streets being authentic or providing poorly frequented street entertainment at high cost (such as acapella singers in the American Pavilion) or building water conserving pipes into Spaceship Earth to collect rain or growing a lot of the food in the Land pavilion that is eaten in the quick service locations there. I could literally go on and on. Disney cares little about streamlining profit at the cost of providing a truly great experience. That to me tells me that it cares far more about the experience its providing than the bottom line. It believes in the message.
It makes sense why that is if you think about it because no one works at Disney for the money. There are 60,000 plus employees at Walt Disney World alone and those people do what they do because they love people, not money, and they want to pass on joy and hope for a living. One of the most frequent questions I got at Walt Disney World was “Why are all you guys so happy all of the time? It’s so weird!” First, I hope being happy isn’t weird, but second, trust me, cast members aren’t happy all of the time. There are plenty of times when it is just a job. There are times when an employee high 5’s a kid and then runs backstage to lather on the antibacterial soap. However, I found that most cast members like their job because they are placed in a spot where they get to do good to people all day. These are the people – the people on the ground – that control the message no matter what corporate bullet points say. No shadowy Disney corporate panel could change this.
I can attest that the Disney corporation is not controlling, despite the hype. I was given ridiculous freedom to help people in whatever way I saw fit – far more than any job I’ve ever had. This is the biggest difference between Walt Disney World and other corporations when it comes to service –it is not mere talk, it diligently empowers the little guy. If it didn’t, people who want to be happy wouldn’t dedicate their life to working there. Randy Moore actually edited Escape From Tomorrow in South Korea because he was supposedly so afraid of Disney evil corporate types finding out (side note to Randy: if you are trying to hide something Disney, east Asia is probably not the best spot). To this day there has yet to be a peep from the supposedly over litigious company.
It seems like a lot of the issue of people thinking Disney is evil comes from people who think that they see something that others don’t. Randy Moore, the film maker, was bothered when a woman told her kids to behave because Walt Disney World truly was magic to her. What bothered him was that she supposedly “believed” in the magic. He seems to be missing the point that she acknowledged that life isn’t to be that way all of the time. From talking with thousands of people from all over the world let me snuff a myth out: people are very aware it’s a show. They are aware that it is streamlined to limit some of the harshness of reality. They know Disney is an ideal. They like that. They like the belief that we can be better than we are. It certainly gives our past and our future a facelift concerning the purity that existed in them but not in a propagandic way. There is a knowing minimizing of the ill motives to pull out the pure ones. It is a dedicated focus on the good intended and that stems from a faith in humanity. This criticism that a mass of people are being bamboozled by a sophisticated corporate spell shows that the people criticizing have the opposite of that. They don’t have faith in humanity. My advice to the critics: talk to the actual people going there without a predefined motive. You’ll find they’re pretty smart en masse and a hopeful bunch at that. How is there change for the good without visualization and hope in humanity?
In my day, I’ve run into a lot of people who have tried to convince me that Disney is anti-Christian. From working there, I don’t see it. If the idea is rooted in the idea that Walt Disney World is not a substitute for Jesus or the church, I agree, but I’ve never seen anything that there is a company wide effort to imply that it is. At Epcot every year they have a thing called the Candlelight Processional at the stage near the American Pavilion which people line up for hours previous to get into (far longer lines than for the classic bands that play there in the spring like Davey Jones or Boyz II Men). In it, the story of Jesus is told to the backdrop of Christmas carols. I’m telling you – the story straight out preaches Jesus. The line for it is longer than any ride in the park which should tell you something about the hunger for the story of Jesus! Further, the attractiveness of the parks stems from an encouragement to have a childlike spirit – something that is very Christian. Over all, Disney has compiled a world message and wants to see people get together, love each other, be good to each other, and enjoy community together. These are all Christian virtues. Anti-Christian messages can be found in anything. They can be found in Disney. Sometimes they can be found in corporate mandates. Remember, however, that it is tens of thousands of people employed there telling the story together that make up the true message of Disney. No matter what happens at the top, it’s the people on the ground who decide.
There is a desire in the world to go out of its’ way to corrupt things that are pure. With the sheer availability of vice, it causes a person to stop and wonder why people spend so much energy taking things that are sweetly connected to childhood or positivity, like puppets or cartoon characters, and debase them as well. I suppose there are those who will say and really believe that they are showing that the things they learned in childhood were false and the feel anger toward them. It may be worth consideration, however, that a lot of this is based on people who want to legitimize their own moral decay. In order to do so, they must attack or corrupt the things that speak out against their conscience. Ephesians 4 talks a lot about this:
“Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.”
It may also be worth consideration that there is an enemy who has lived this philosophy from the beginning.
It is implied from Randy Moore in the title and content of his film Escape From Tomorrow that he wants to escape from a commercialized view of the world perpetrated by a soulless corporation try to capitalize off of sham values. I jokingly created Randy Moore World in the last post to illustrate something serious. It is easy to criticize or sling mud. It is hard to offer an alternative. Not offering an alternative is more than an act of cowardice, it is the act of a drowning man trying to submerge a rescuer who is trying to save others from drowning.
If you are escaping “from” something then it follows that you are also escaping “to” something. Walt Disney World is not salvation. It is not perfect even though it gives glimpses of perfected things. It does not offer a completed path to get to perfect. If people were looking to Walt Disney World to do that, then they would be disappointed. Walt Disney World may be one of the best the world has to offer at the illusion of perfection but the real thing, however, is only found in Christ and the church. In a way, Escape From Tomorrow confirms that. But, without glimpses or way points along the way, is it not much more difficult to get there? The tomorrow I want to escape from is one where people accept that there is no true goodness so they never bother to try. You can never reach a destination you don’t believe exists. In that way, Walt Disney World becomes much more than a theme park. It becomes a laboratory where people experience the goodness that could come with the desire and the tenacity to get there. It is tangible proof of a true good. It becomes a taste of a tomorrow that could be if it is chosen. And, when people choose it and try to reach it, it takes it out of the realm of philosophy and makes it, in some portion, reality.
As Walt said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”