Magazine | November 11, 2019, Issue

Complainerland

Disney characters attend the 25th anniversary of Disneyland Paris. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

We just returned from parents’ weekend at our daughter’s college, and we’re worried about her.

She seems so happy.

If I measure her against today’s youth who populate the long-form websites that decry the horribleness of everything, she’s quite out of step with her demographical cohort. She lives close to a transit stop but hasn’t considered gluing herself to the tracks to protest Climate Extinction. She seems to interact with young men in a way that suggests they are not ravening Bluebeards fingering the ampules of knockout drugs in their pocket. 

Her roommate is worse — she’s from India, studying neuroscience, and seems to buy the idea that the empirical foundations of Western science are not a remnant of colonialism. What kind of college is this?

Later, my wife and I conferred. “She wants to be a writer,” I fretted, “and yet her store of angst and alienation seems lacking. We can only hope she’s hiding her unhappiness and it’ll be a reservoir of strength when the time comes.”

“I don’t know,” my wife said. “Maybe we failed her, what with all that saving-up-for-college stuff. If she graduated with an onerous millstone of debt, and tried to apply her liberal-arts degree in a congested city sodden with old money and awash with sparkly tech cash that rarely filters down to the interns, she’d finally turn that smile upside down and be a voice of her generation.”

We’ll see. Hey, maybe I’m wrong! Maybe not everyone in her generation walks along with his chin banging on his sternum in eternal funk, but like I said, I got my impressions from online performances. I recently read a long essay about Disney World’s Tomorrowland, which the author found infuriatingly irrelevant to the actual tomorrows to come, and by the way there will be no tomorrows. 

“Adult Disney fandom no longer holds the stigma it once did,” says the author. “We’re all going to die soon, why not let a 28-year-old ride some teacups?”

Gosh, the happiest place on earth morphed into the Masque of the Red Death so slowly I hardly noticed.

“The same looming apocalypse that drives adults like me to Disneyland is the same force that makes one of its ‘lands’ intolerable.”

You can imagine a survey-taker on Disney World Main Street: So what brings you to our magical land today?

“The looming apocalypse,” the author of the piece snaps. “I’m here to single out all the intolerable elements that conspire to draw a caul of ignorance over the faces of the damned.”

“Okay! Have a nice day.”

In case you’ve not visited: Tomorrowland was an early expression of Walt Disney’s techno-optimism. It has an elevated tram that drags you around at a pace slightly faster than a snail’s on sandpaper; it has rides and games built around various Disney/Pixar intellectual properties. It has Space Mountain, which is a totally realistic representation of what a mountain is like, in space. It is fun, but it is not accurate, in the same sense that the medieval castle in the center of the park does not have small Mickey Mice spreading plague. 

But there is no time left for fun. We are going to die. In the original version of Tomorrowland, mankind would vault to the stars and explore; in the author’s preferred version, we should enjoy simulations in which future people huddle in dry-mud huts while the Pacific Ocean laps at the outskirts of Orlando. 

No, that’s not fair. Let’s see what the author says. 

“Introduced in 1955, Tomorrowland was Walt Disney’s love letter to a jetpack- and meals-in-a-pill future, where technology would make our lives cleaner and faster and more fun. But today, it’s nothing but a bad joke in the age of corporations-as-people, the end of privacy, and climate change.”

I’m thinking what you’re thinking: Fun. At. Parties, this one.

“Tomorowland has become crowded, hot, and choked with corporate sponsorships and diesel fumes. It’s the worst of the present, not the best of the future.”

Translated: There’s a noisy ride where little kids can drive real cars. Pure hideous evil propaganda. I remember when we rode it, and my daughter emerged from the ride with glassy eyes, droning, “Expansion of the single-occupant transportation model must be given primacy over mass transit.” She was six. This ride must be demolished immediately, and replaced with one where kids pack into buses and take 45 minutes to go half a mile while averting their face from the prominently odorous armpit of an adjacent straphanger.

On to the main attraction: “GE’s Carousel of Progress posited that self-cleaning ovens were the yardstick of advanced civilization.”

How dead in your heart and imagination do you have to be to deliberately pee over the Carousel and reduce it to that? A self-cleaning oven is a yardstick of an advanced civilization. It certainly is not the only one. But it takes a particular type of self-hating Western privilege to sneer at a narrative about technology liberating women from domestic drudgery.

And so on. Solution: Cover “the Space Mountain queue in solar panels, or show off carbon-fixing kelp forests in the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.”

Yes! Such fun. I need to take my college-age daughter back to Disney World, which she loved as a kid. She needs to experience the plethora of squandered opportunities. But like I said, she seems happy. She doesn’t think she will die soon in a climate apocalypse, and hence is working hard to ensure a future in which she can thrive and flourish and create.

It’s every parent’s nightmare. Where did we go wrong?

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