The Mall as Disneyland
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Almost all Americans have heard the name Walt Disney. He created Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth. Walt Disney plays a large role in American society than just providing entertainment; many developers turned to part of his park, Main Street USA, for ideas when they started to design modern day American shopping malls. In “The Mall as Disneyland” Richard Francaviglia argues that Walt Disney played a key role. His romanticized “Main Street USA,” a re-creation of a small town America’s shopping district for his new theme park, Disneyland, set the standard for carefully designed and managed shopping environments. Malls in America today have been influenced by Disneyland in past years to create an appealing look for visitors all over. The Disney parks’ enormous success is based on the way they operate as a “national trust” of mainstream cultural values. For this reason alone they must be considered a category completely distinct from amusement or thrill parks, whose value is in the immediate gratification of successfully challenging physical and mental limits. The power of the themed environment lies in embodying critical shared cultural values as embedded in history, innovation, adventure, and fantasy. This is “entertainment” in its original meaning: that which engages the attention.
Most buildings at Disneyland look and function like shopping malls. Indeed, the layout and structure of Disney is similar to the mall with its external parking lots, kiosks, food courts, and invisible infrastructure such as power lines and other utilities. The mall, of course, is familiar enough that its presence in a recreation location is no question. The Disney experience seems incomplete without purchasing meals in Disney restaurants, adorning one’s friends and family in Disney paraphenalia, and, perhaps, sleeping at a Disney hotel. Being caught up in the whole experience, embracing the norm of consumption, the visitor is less likely to show restraint in spending money on non-essential items. Everything is targeted towards the visitor as a customer, a consumer. According to Richard Francaviglia “Main Street USA sounds familiar, and it should indeed, that is because it has in fact become the model of the typical American shopping mall, where the visitor or shopper leaves the car in the parking lot and enters an environment that is climatically controlled, and where the real world is left outside” (447).
Disney aims to construct a world apart. They ask of the visitor to suspend belief and enter into a land far away from the reality of the world outside its gates. It is as though Disney wants us to see only the world how it should be. This is the better, brighter side of life where people and place seem naturally and harmoniously co-existent. Such observations reflect the theoretical position that all reality is “socially constructed,” that what the guests experience and understand is a product of decoding signs and symbols, with cognitive tools which are themselves cultural constructs. Thus by, experiencing and understanding its various motives and functions and its complex role in society. One primary need is for more audience research, particularly qualitative research, in which the participants themselves articulate their expectations and their sense of what it is they have experienced in order to develop a much better understanding of how people move through, appreciate, and patronize a retail environment.
Within this cleanliness lies a sanitized and unrealistic view of the world. In Disney there is no sign of decay, crime, confusion, discontent, pain, poverty, or struggle. There is no sign of blood, sweat and sacrifice that was required to construct the world. Not only is evidence of work hidden, employees are coached to appear as though their work is play. As part of the moral sanitizing at Disney, visitors are encouraged to feel safe. The undesirable and threatening aspects of society are purged. Not only is dirt, crime and poverty removed, but social deviance is curtailed. Disney does not tolerate drug consumption, unrestricted free speech, gang paraphenalia or behavior, unusual religious practices or open displays of homo- or hetero- sexuality.
According to the article “Mall as Disneyland” Jane Holtz Kay architectural critic states that Disney’s Main Street and shopping malls embody both “public persona” and “private autocracy” (448). Public persona is the role that one assumes or displays in public or society. It is incorporating the fact that even the employees that work there at Disneyland even display a fun environment for all visitors. Private autocracy is a form of government in which a country is ruled by a person or group with total power. When people visit Disneyland they are not fully aware that private autocracy is linked to safety and security. Visitors are led to believe when they come to visit that nothing bad can happen in Disney. Perhaps implicit within this is the notion that as long as humans control and corral nature, then all will be right in the world.
The Disney Effect can be seen in towns of “authentic” American design: Celebration, Florida, Reston, Virginia, and Columbia, Maryland, recreate the small-town ideal as showcased by Walt Disney in Main Street, U.S.A. According to Hugh Bartling he explains “Its prominence as a high-profile New Urbanist community illuminates the distinct normative elements of this particular design philosophy. New Urbanism is a framework of design that attempts to move beyond simple engineering and physical planning into the realm of substantive social change” (377). The theme park is now considered an idealized urban center “unattainable” by ordinary design strategies, a ‘very serious, very creative experiment in urban design.” The adaptive use of technology to solve human problems in the built environment made Disneyland “the outstanding piece of urban design in the U.S.” to exert broad and lasting effects on the American city.
There are various methods you can use to get to Disneyland. Disneyland visitors may get there primarily by car, but once they park, they get a taste of efficient, attractive and free public transit. Walt Disney built the first monorail system in the U.S., opening it at Disneyland in 1959. Eight years later came the PeopleMover, individual carts powered by electric motors in the tracks rather than the vehicles-a system installed at Houston International Airport as well. Trams take visitors to and from the Disneyland parking garage and lots, they can also board a steam train that circles the park, ride an old fashioned Mark Twain paddle wheeler in Frontierland and introduce their kids to driving at Autopia in Tomorrowland.
The most common form of transportation at Disneyland is by foot. According to Lawrence Mintz “There are tours within tours, i.e., the tourist travels to the park to travel within the park. For that matter, in a visit to both World Showcase and The Old Country, one travels to the park, then travels within the park by cable car, boat, monorail, etc. to reach specific destinations, and then “rides” each attraction, by transport which is either entertainment in its own right or means of locomotion through an exhibit” (51). This compares to the mall in a number of ways because traveling to the mall you can take various routes such as bus or taxi and then once inside the mall you can travel by a train, elevator, escalator, or just by foot.
Recreation and leisure have multiple meanings based on individual perceptions. Recreation, from an individual perspective, involves as an example, watching television, attending an opera, base jumping, mowing the lawn, taking your children to the zoo, playing checkers, downloading music, writing a book, an evening on the town, going to the mall, or whatever one chooses to make it. Theorists even struggle to agree on what to call these types of experiences. Is it recreation, leisure, free time, available time, creativity, selfishness, or hedonism? One’s own perceptions are important in the defining of leisure and recreation that researchers continue to argue its meaning to society, individuals, and culture. According to “The Mall as Disneyland” article it states that “More than twenty years ago, when Edward Tauber insightfully stated that “not all shopping motives, by any means, are even related to the product, he introduced the concept of “sociorecreational shopping.” Several very revealing articles over the last dozen of more years have shown that shopping centers are important places of social interaction where people may wind up meeting future spouses and friends; where families go simply to stroll, to see people and to be seen by them; where young people go to “hang out” and socialize” (448-449).
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