Last week I went to Disneyworld by myself for fun. It was a strange, extremely impulsive and extravagant decision. I made it with two days notice, not stopping to doubt, not even asking myself why, now that it was finally safe to travel, was this the place I wanted to go?
Something I didn’t really understand until I was on my flight home already regretting I hadn’t found a way to make the trip longer. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t miss home. I hadn’t worn myself out as I expected. From this experience I learned two things that I am now using to try and understand what exactly made Disney so compelling.
The first is that I LOVE constructed realities. The artifice of themed restaurants, the rides that make movie worlds into a larger experience. The very idea that I climb on a boat and ride around in a circle in the dark watching animatronics float by for a movie I’ve never seen, is deeply satisfying.
The second thing (which perhaps I should’ve mentioned first) is the music. For me, music makes the lie of a constructed world feel real. I have been to Paris. Seeing little Paris at Epcot center is not impressive. But sitting in a fake Parisian theatre, singing along to Beauty and the Beast with a bunch of strangers in the dark, had me in tears. (I don’t even like Beauty and the Beast.)
Even as I’m crying, I feel a little cheated. Because feminist me is like, B&B is really terrible. And the anti-capitalist in me is like, Disney is responsible for lots of destruction for independent storytelling and rights abuses for authors. But I’m still crying. And I want to cry. I am sitting in that theater without any people within six feet and I realize I came to Disney specifically to be alone and to cry. To feel whatever I want and not have to explain it. I want to be part of this world no matter how problematic because it is not the world I’ve been living in for the past fifteen months full of death, and stupid people, and uncertainty.
Doubters could argue, Disney music works this way on me because I’m a child of a certain generation. Fair. But people also hardwired to embed emotion from music. I am particularly interested in the perfectly timed music cue adding another dimension to a moment whether it is my lived life or a film. We embed emotion when we tie songs or listening experiences to our personal lives at key moments.
But when we want to experience something bigger, to feel bigger, to be away from our responsibilities and doubts and fears, the only place to really experience that is through movies. And if movies aren’t making magic for you, as they continually fail me, I guess you go to a theme park. And you ignore the screaming children, and the heat, and the 6 dollar waters. In this constructed landscape you go somewhere else that isn’t a real place, it’s a feeling. Probably, its a feeling that doesn’t even have a name. And you look for moments that provide the perfect cue for you to make magic within yourself.