Walt Disney Thesis Essay

Walt Disney Thesis Essay-25
For instance, Disney employees are typically required not just to smile, but to smile .As Van Maanen and Kunda note, “[e]mployees are told repeatedly that if they are happy and cheerful at work, so too will be the guests at play.”30 While the active and willing participation of the employee is necessary, such emotional labor is extremely prescriptive and alienating, to the point that when the emotional toll seems too high, employees simply “go robot” or “fake” desired emotions, thereby opposing “passive resistance” to their supervisors’ control.31 Above all, the frivolous, Mickey Mouse connotations of the Disney corporation allow such instructions to not be taken too seriously, offering some leeway in how to interpret and apply them.

For instance, Disney employees are typically required not just to smile, but to smile .As Van Maanen and Kunda note, “[e]mployees are told repeatedly that if they are happy and cheerful at work, so too will be the guests at play.”30 While the active and willing participation of the employee is necessary, such emotional labor is extremely prescriptive and alienating, to the point that when the emotional toll seems too high, employees simply “go robot” or “fake” desired emotions, thereby opposing “passive resistance” to their supervisors’ control.31 Above all, the frivolous, Mickey Mouse connotations of the Disney corporation allow such instructions to not be taken too seriously, offering some leeway in how to interpret and apply them.In his broad overview of the social life of theme park workers, “The Smile Factory: Working at Disneyland,” Van Maanen shows how Disneyland’s overall organization of labor and training procedures are appropriated and even allow subgroups to emerge with perceived common interests.25 Despite their apparent social homogeneity, the predominantly middle-class workforce has developed an informal status system based on the perceived autonomy, skill sets, and exposure to guests required for any of the park’s given functions, from the “upper class” Disneyland Ambassadors and Tour Guides down to the “peasants” from Food and Concessions, otherwise derisively known as “peanut pushers,” “coke blokes,” or “soda jerks.”26 With nearly equal pays across all ‘classes,’ power struggles among the park’s various classes have crystallized based on status symbols, starting with uniforms.

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In particular, approaches whose topics and methods fall outside our scope include discussions of the parks’ overall design and contents — most notably their presentation of history and technology.7 Under the European influences of semiotics and post-modernism, American cultural critics have approached the parks as sets of signs and representations arranged into a discourse and intended to blur the distinction between reality and fantasy.

These approaches combine the Socratic view of representations as fallacies with a Marxian approach to mass culture, generally depicting the parks as a privileged seat of ‘false consciousness’ — the embodiment of capitalist domination and consumerism.

Baudrillard for instance noted that “the debility, the infantile degeneration of [Disneyland’s] imaginary” was meant “to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the ‘real’ world” while “real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real childishness.”20 Other critics, relying on micro-sociological approaches, have placed stronger emphasis on users’ practices and insiders’ tales, depicting the parks as a playground for social interactions and allowing visitors and employees to engage in individual or collective “poaching” strategies (following Michel de Certeau’s expression) in the name of personal or group interests.21 As noted above, as early as 1965, architect Charles Moore saw in Disneyland a public space where people, through playacting, were able to engage in social interactions and “respond to a public environment, which Los Angeles particularly no longer has.”22 Ethnologist Alexander Moore further elaborated on this view in 1980 as he described Disney World as a “playful pilgrimage center” — a place where visitors compensate for the gradual disappearance of the communal experience of “organized religion and obligatory rituals” through collective and ritualized forms of “play,” with the park’s attractions reenacting “true rites of passage, offered as edifying play in a modern art form.”23 In accordance with such interpretations, John Van Maanen, an organization theorist, wrote a series of articles in the early 1990s dealing with the corporate culture and public meanings of Disney theme parks.

Rather than a collection of shared representations, Van Maanen seems to view culture as a “toolkit,” in Ann Swidler’s seminal expression, a “repertoire of strategies” that enables improvised action under variable circumstances.24 As an audience especially subjected to the messages of the Disney corporation, the Disneyland work-force has allowed Van Maanen to demonstrate how such messages are actively appropriated, as employees typically negotiate their way between recommended instructions, ‘on the fly’ responses as well as codified acts of collective or individual resistance.

Long held as the province of capitalist domination, the Disney parks have recently seen other trends of analysis emerge, providing renewed emphasis on user activity and the parks’ competitive environment.

In this article, we identify three trends of research toward the Disney theme parks, with the ‘locus of control’ for the parks’ meaning, design, and operations placed successively within the Disney-controlled environment of the park, within the user, and, lastly, within the park’s wider socio-economic context.

In such approaches, the visitor is a passive receptor of the park’s hidden ideological message, and the locus of control for the user’s experience sits within the park’s environment itself.

A second approach places the locus of control within individual users, presenting visitors and employees as actively involved in appropriating the park’s design, themes and contents.

Indeed, as is common with hegemonic interpretations, very little room is left for individual variation from the normative interpretations identified by the critic: given Eco’s proclivity to depict the park as “a place of total passivity” where visitors are required to “behave like [Disneyland’s] robots,” one is hardly surprised that even an anthropologist such as Fjellman did not feel it necessary to interview visitors, as he himself admits to “never initiat[ing] a research inquiry with a customer while at the parks.”17 The semiotic and post-modern approaches that Fjellman draws from also fail to explain how the parks may legitimately be treated as linguistic products or ‘texts’ to be deciphered or ‘read’: while Marin explains that ‘utopias’ work at converting space into a text, geographers such as Gottdiener have legitimately insisted that “urban space can only be considered as a pseudo-text, because it is produced by non-semiotic processes, such as economics and politics, as well as semiotic ones.”18 Finally, the authors’ extreme suspicion with regard to mass culture brings them to reassert a strong divide between low-brow entertainment and high-brow analysis, as their critical interpretations of the parks ultimately serve to disqualify popular practices and receptions as invalid, naïve or even ‘distasteful’: by depicting the park as ‘fake,’ scholarly interpretations suggest the existence of an objective reality against which the park may be judged and interpreted.

Also, Fjellman takes great pains to distance himself from the decidedly low-brow audience of theme parks as he repeatedly describes some of the park’s attractions as “unbearably corny”: “However corny the show is — and it verges on the unbearable — the audience appears to enjoy itself.”19 Ultimately, Fjellman seems to have adopted the exoticism and perhaps even the slight contempt that European critics seem to feel for this (then) typically American phenomenon, thereby leaving the vague impression that American visitors are but gullible grown-up children.

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