Answer: Location, location, location.
Last month I had to spend a week with my family at Walt Disney World in central Florida. As we were driving in, the comment was made about how clean the streets were. I was reminded of articles I had seen about places like Turkmenistan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
I was inside an American dictatorship.
Throughout the parks, there were little quotes from Walt Disney on the fences. One of the indicated that it was his dream that people would come to Disney World and forget about the outside world.
Forget about our shared world outside the walls of the park.
Forget about our wars across the world.
Forget about your life.
Sounds like a terrifying, isolationist hell to me.
I made sure not to let the “magic” ever infiltrate my clear view of reality.
If one thing is obvious about Disney World, it is that the majority of the park employees are not treated so well. In fact, over a thousand Disney employees are homeless. It’s little more than a giant sweatshop.
Disney also recruits foreign workers and essentially traps them in temporary workers visas that are specially set up for Disney! So it really is a sweatshop.
Aside from the egregious labor abuses, Disney World is also a haven that perpetuates racist nonsense and cultural ignorance. We can start with the hotel.
My family stayed in an Animal Kingdom hotel. All of the workers were from Africa (not a single country, mind you). They were from Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, South Africa, etc. In the middle of the hotel lived giraffes, gazelles, and antelope who grazed lackadaisically throughout the day.
This is Africa.
So (mostly) rich white people can come to Florida and pretend like they have actually gone somewhere. They don’t have to worry about the actual animals, people, or situations. Everyone speaks English, so there’s no problem. There are no diseases, no poor people, no bizarre foods, no unsightly slums, no foul smells, and no health risks. Alcohol is always available, as are Coca-Cola products and air conditioning.
A diverse continent with hundreds of ethnic groups, languages, and cultures is reduced to one static Americanized dream.
You don’t need to actually travel when you can Disney travel!
But don’t worry, that’s not where the racism ends.
We have the lovely incident of when Disney (albeit the one in California) fired a woman for wearing hijab. Because, God forbid, one of the Disney employees actually exhibits the fact that they don’t comfortably fit into the perfect white American fantasy of not encountering anyone who has different beliefs than you.
One thing I did notice was the amount of Muslims who were there. I even saw a man praying Maghrib in Epcot!
However, there were no facilities for Muslims at Walt Disney World.
Not a single prayer room, no ride to a mosque in Orlando offered, no attempt to reach out to the countless Muslim tourists at the resort.
In fact, when I went to the fake Morocco in Epcot, the woman initially told me that there was no place to pray. After she asked her supervisor, I was finally offered a rug and a spot to pray. However, it was in an incredibly public place and I had to make wudhu in a public fountain. And the rug definitely was not a standard prayer rug.
When I went to the fake Moroccan café, I had to specifically ask specifically if they had any coffee without alcohol, because everything on the menu was spiced with something.
“Do you have anything halal?”
I was actually surprised, because I figured they would have some back secret room for all the Muslims. That’s just good business when you have that many Muslim tourists. I figured they might let something innocuous slip by here and there as a special wink. Maybe everything in Morocco would be halal or they would have a special back area where you could make wudhu in peace.
They fulfill their goal for their target demographic.
And that goal is to cover up the real world and replace it with a fictionalized reality.
This fictionalized reality can be totally racist and nonsensical, as long as it appeals to that demographic: rich, white, straight Christians.
Because if you don’t fit any of those categories, then you’re pushed to the margins.
And don’t forget, you’re spending hundreds of dollars for this sanitized, heteronormative, imperialist fantasy world.
Ultimately, I did a pretty good job of not getting sucked up in the magic. I never forgot the exorbitant amounts of money running the place and I never forgot how little of that was going to employees. I tried to be mindful of the sexualized Disney characters, providing the girls there with a good healthy dose of patriarchy. And I tried to be ever-vigilant in my analysis of this beacon of industrial escapist capitalism.
And what lessons did I learn?
Disney World is a Hell on earth.
Disney World is an American dictatorship.
Disney World is a North Korea.