Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Hypnotic Power of a Bug Zapper & The Happiest Place On Earth

Mosquito #1: Larry, no! Don't look at the light!
Mosquito #2: [entranced] I-can't-help-it. It's-so-beautiful.
A Bug's Life
I know I've got Disneyland on the brain right now (we're leaving for Anaheim in 14 days!), but this post has been fermenting in the dark corners of my brain for nearly six months now. Blame
Erwin McManus... it was an off-handed comment he made during the Ethos part of The Origins Experience.

He suggested that different cultures have different icons that give us clues to the underlying values that permeate those cultures:
  • the English have Big Ben - a giant clock. Is it any wonder that order & consistency are highly valued in that society?
  • for Germany, Erwin suggested the iconic value of the automobile (Volkswagon, Mercedes Benz, Porsche)... and that leads easily into a culture that finds precision & attention to detail.
  • Brazil's icon is not an object but a celebration: Mardi Gras (Carnivale) - which fits a country where living life to the fullest & enjoying the party are deeply valued.

Then Erwin asked the question he'd been leading up to: "What are the metaphors of the culture that you are in?" And since the majority of us in the audience were from the U.S., he answered the question for us: "Mickey Mouse. Disneyland."

Of course, I was prepared at that point to hear your standard anti-Disney diatribe: [snob]"Just like Disney, Americans are shallow, interested in being lulled to political & moral sleep by a Pied Piper with promises of a fantasy world & happy endings."[/snob] But that wasn't where Erwin headed...

"Disneyland stands for the promise of imagination - that we can create something bigger & better & more amazing. It suggests that every one of us can live a heroic life." (This quote, btw, is paraphrased - this is what I can construct from my personal notes & my failing memory.)

With that nugget burrowing into my head, I began reading Erwin's most recent book, Soul Cravings (you can read a chapter that particularly moved me, 'cuz I blogged about it earlier this year: Pathos [Entry 24]) His premise is that each person has three needs:

  • meaning - we want to know what we can know (truth) and what we can control (security)
  • intimacy - we want to experience community (acceptance) and love
  • destiny - we want to make a difference (success, signifigance)

Mix into a pile of books I received for my birthday on Disney & Disneyland...

...along with my already well-documented obsession with the Disney parks and you've got yourself the makings of a world-class philosophical/theological rant.

I'll try to spare you most of my musings, which are probably only interesting to me & a couple of other Disneyphiles... still, I've started down this road, so join me as I address the key question here.

Why is that so many of us are drawn to Disneyland like a moth to a flame? (Or, to borrow from A Bug's Life, a mosquito to a bug zapper?)

I've come to believe that it's because Disneyland, knowingly or unknowingly, taps into all three of these core desires (or cravings):
  • meaning - In the world of Disney (and by extension, Disneyland), there are heroes & villains. Rather than a world that seems to be sometimes painted in shades of grey, the park offers a place where visitors can see good triumph over evil.
  • intimacy - From encounters with characters to the special attention to guest relations that each Cast Member is trained in, the folks at Disneyland want you not only to enjoy the attractions but also to connect on a personal level. It's telling that none of their publicity materials (that I know of) advertise this as a great vacation for individuals - instead, they emphasize how experiencing the park together brings families & friends closer with the bond of shared memories.
  • destiny - The park is designed to involve you in adventure after adventure - whether it's flying through outer space (Star Tours, Space Mountain) or dealing with pirates (Pirates of the Carribean) or facing ghosts (the Haunted Mansion) or exploring the wilds of Africa & Asia (the Jungle Cruise). Challenging your fears, diving headlong into adventure... these kind of experiences touch base with your need to do something meaningful with our lives - to escape the monotony of our everyday slog.
I'm not suggesting that Walt Disney (or anyone else who's making the "big decisions" for the park) was/is a follower of Christ... or even that they sought to satisfy these cravings in a purposeful way. I'm simply suggesting that the appeal of Disneyland is not as simple as "it's clean & has wormed it's way into a definition of the American experience." (One clue to that being false: there are now 3 "Disneyland" parks outside of the U.S. - in Tokyo, Hong Kong & Paris.)


For those of you in the reading audience who need to hear me quote some Scripture right now so you won't brand Erwin (or me, by extension) as a Mickey-ears wearing heretic, how about John 14:6?:

  • destiny ("I am the way")
  • meaning ("the truth")
  • intimacy ("and the life")

Or how about 1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 & 5:8?

  • meaning ("faith" - what is really true?)
  • destiny ("hope" - where are really we headed?)
  • intimacy ("love" - will we really know & be known?)


A final thought about movies & amusement parks & well, church (maybe?):

"Don't write stuff & produce stuff about answers - don't do that," Winter said. "Write stuff & produce stuff that will stir up cravings inside of us, because that's the DNA that God's put inside of us. You stir that stuff up, and that's where [people] want to go to church. That's when they want to talk about the good news." Ralph Winter, producer of the X-Men series, quoted in The Hollywood Project by Alex Field

No comments: