Keeping it 'Real' | Sojourners

Keeping it 'Real'

In February 2001, the Disney company opened its newest theme park, California Adventure, back in the company's old home base of Anaheim, California. All through the 1990s, the Corp. That Walt Built was busy branching out. It moved beyond the United States with the failed Euro Disney theme park. At the movies, the company moved beyond its traditional families-with-kids niche marketing. And, at decade's end, Disney also owned ABC-TV and a good share of the channels on your basic cable.

In the process, the old and immensely lucrative Disney image got blurred. The company came to be viewed as just another faceless transnational conglomerate. The only things left from the Age of Walt were a crack animation department and a corporate culture ruled by control freaks.

Maybe the move back to the Anaheim roots was a response to a corporate identity crisis. Whatever the motivation, the result is a fake California—with ersatz mountains, beaches, vineyards, and a "Bay Area"—all designed to keep out-of-state visitors moored in Anaheim instead of rushing off to sample the real things.

Right next door to Disney's California Adventure is Downtown Disney, the Mouse-ified version of a hip and edgy urban experience. Of course it's a Disney "downtown," not a real one, so the "urban" experience is cleaned-up, dumbed-down, and smoothed-over. It's just like the Disney "history" in Davy Crockett, the Disney "Africa" of The Lion King, or the Disney "globalism" of "It's a Small World After All."

Apparently Disney sent researchers hither and yon to find out what makes the world's great urban spaces tick. And the answer seems to have been upscale retailing and chain nightspots. Disney imported some "local" stores from other real, non-California downtowns. But most of the tenants at Downtown Disney are the same ones you'll now find at every high-end mall in the known world.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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