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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

The Role of Control

Structure rules at Disneyland; structure underlies everything at the park, and is often hidden.  In order to create the magic, the movement of people, and their interactions with each other and the environment need to be managed.  Findlay (1993) notes that Disney wanted customers to receive “the same consistent show on every occasion,” and in order to do this, mechanization was the key. Various rides incorporating animals used audio-animatronic figures which were “superior to animals and actors, ‘because they would never forget a line or miss a cue,' " and in addition, “provided a completely predictable show at a relatively low, fixed cost” (pp. 77, 73).  Similarly, having all guests enter the same way, through Main Street USA, sets the stage for the experience of the park to be a common experience, structured in a particular way.

Main Street USA, a place of tradition, although imaginal, structures our experience. Archetypally the planet Saturn rules both structure and tradition and also the first stage of physical birth,  which is akin to the separation phase of rites of passage. The function of Main Street USA is exactly this, to separate us from our outer world reality and to lead us into the imaginal reality of the rest of the park. When Disneyland opened, Saturn was in the first house in Scorpio in Disneyland's natal chart: the first house relaties to what focus we bring to life and how we meet life in general; Scorpio alludes to the hidden nature of control and structure at the park (L. D. Miller, personal communication, March 15, 2005). Findlay (1993) would agree:

The success of the theme park was predicated on complete mastery of its world, but the future refused to cooperate, and thus it compelled the theme park to make constant adjustments.  By undermining the messages presented inside the park, the future could smuggle contradiction and ambiguity into Disneyland.  The purity and coordination of themes faced two other critical threats.  One was nature and the other was human nature, as embodied in the park’s employees and visitors.  Representations of the natural world were crucial to many parts of the Anaheim theme park, but they had to be carefully conceived and controlled . . . . WED designers described their work as a concentrated form of nature.  In the minds of the studio artists who designed Disneyland, a version of nature that was rigidly distilled and controlled was essential to their ability to present an undiluted, purified experience to customers . . . . Like the future, the designers couldn’t control nature—“but not for a lack of trying” they controlled ecology within the park, (pp.  71-73)

The camera controls what you see in movie, and Disney imaginers control what you see in the park.  When you are in an attraction, the vehicle acts like a camera and steers you physically managing your gaze.  Marling (1997) states, “in childish play, and within the precincts of Disneyland proper, the perception of order was the best sensation of them all.  Order implies control and there is no question about Walt’s abiding interest in being in control” (p. 85).  Disney desired to have something subject to his control.  The animator’s strike in the 1940s and the failure of Fantasia led to, as Marling explains:

Walt’s growing determination to build something tangible and true, something perfect, a place where nothing could go wrong.  Children love doll houses and toy train sets because they give little fingers mastery over the dangerous forbidden frustrating world of grown-up things. (p. 35)

Children love stories and especially love to hear their favorite ones over and over, with the details repeated exactly.  Stories give a sense of order, since things happen in a sequence, one after the other.  They provide a sense of comfort and predictability, we can count on things in this way.  Children watch the same movies over and over for the same reason, since movies are stories that we can see, stories that take us to the imaginal realm.  Sometimes, as in myths, they can transport us back to illo tempore, the magical time of beginnings.  Stories and movies also allow us to identify with the different characters, we can put ourselves in the story, and still be safely at home, in familiar surroundings.  We can put ourselves in their places imaginally and perhaps learn different things from their experiences.  Marling (1997) relates that “at Disneyland, Walt translated that verbal and pictorial narrative into a material, spatial dimension” (p. 85).

Disneyland, as we have seen, is a very controlled place.  It is all about control behind the scenes.  This control provides a safe environment, but on the shadow side, can limit freedom and restrict the imagination, too. Control is important to play, allowing us to master different situations, but we need to keep control "in control," as it were.  Disneyland walks a fine balance, and in some areas the shadow side of control comes out, where control operates to enforce conformity in ways that might not serve in the long run.  In other areas, control and structure have produced an amazing play space.  We need to remember the bicycle wheel, and the hub—there needs to be some "play" in the system.  Too much control, too much rigidity and tightness, is as bad as too little.

Now that we have seen the importance of the many "C"'s to the Art of the Show—from caring and cleanliness to control—let us continue on to the hub where we can explore the "Cherishing of Childhood" excursion.


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