The dark side of the fun
But what if your child DOESN’T love the amusement park? A dad laments.
We had a family reunion in Atlanta Georgia in December, gathering the modest clan in the happy exile home of my older sibling.

A sideshow to the family high jinks was a 3 day trip to Disney World in Florida for those with children under 15.

Mickey’s shining realm gave me a blinding flash of confused insight into the unhappy confluence of modern capitalism, consumerism and child-abuse.

They stream towards the gates, these bright-faced children, tugging at the gentle restraints of loving hands. Oh Joy! They are at the gates and smiling private security guards gently touch the private things in their bags and welcomingly wave them through. Beyond are the spires, the fairy castles, the fields of dreams; delights beyond compare; the release from all pain; the place where, finally, perfect, exquisite joy will find full expression.

So they stumble and gambol and happy laughter fills the air and they tumble in towards the sights and sounds and tastes. The parents are smilingly calling out to be careful; they hold out shoes and they clutch the smaller hands more tightly.

The little faces are filled with awe: something here is sacred, a whiff of the divine. The air is sweet, the gardens perfectly sculptured and ready for us all. It is as if the sound starts up again and then we realise: we are inside.

Disneyworld is expensive. Hotels – “in park” or “off” are at a premium. The parents leading their delighted offspring into the park have mostly scrimped and saved to be there. But it is the American dream – a dream shared by everyone touched by global capitalism.     

With every new and deeper discovery of delight you feel that this is it! This is the place you have been led towards all day, all your life. But it isn’t quite there. The promise they made you at the start of the ride or display or the meal or the roller-coaster is not quite met. The slight disappointment grows as the sugar floods your blood and your heart is crashing like a trapped bird. Look, over there. It’s the next place: those arches are the tallest yet, the colours brighter still.

The parents are dragged along, but their loving indulgence is gradually eaten by the children’s’ whining ingratitude, their constant disappointment.

‘Do you know what it has cost us to get you here?’

‘Jesse! Stop tormenting your brother.’

‘Tom, stop whining, for goodness sake, would you rather be back in Cape Town?’

And the crack-sugar is coursing through their veins and perfection is just out of reach and we loathe them for not being happy, despite everything we have done for them. Bloody ingrates!

There is a little boy, standing in sphere of privacy created by his piercing and irritating cry, his snotty nose and sticky hands and cool drink spilled down his front. He is lifting both arms, he is pointing:

‘Over there!’ he cries.  ‘Mommy! Daddy! Over there! I want to go there!’

An exhausted and disgusted parent finally grabs his arm, shaking him roughly.

‘You are coming back to the hotel right now. I have never, NEVER, seen a worse, more badly behaved, spoiled, horrible child. You have ruined the holiday for all of us.’

The child cry cracks; loss and sadness break over him as he is dragged away.

The unhappy throngs of Disney World can give one a peculiar perspective on the winners and losers of global capitalism. The tragic American lower-middle class families, Disney-indulged and Walmart-spoiled, opulent beyond compare in human history, are a kind of sacrifice to global growth.  The world throws money towards them so they can buy the goods the world produces – and the system, counterintuitively, seems to work. They waddle their way into Disney World; childlike adults and children, vainly hoping to capture or recapture a myth, a manufactured memory of childhood and innocence, that never was, that never could be.

In the same way that Coca-Cola is not designed to quench thirst, Disney World is not designed to be a fun experience. Like built-in obsolescence and crack cocaine, Disney World is designed to feel like happiness is just around the next corner --  in the next hit on the crack pipe, in the next car or widescreen TV -- but never actually deliver it. It creates a kind of anxious disappointment in children and their parents alike.

And everyone is condemned to keep coming back for more, thinking: ‘There is something wrong with me (or my parent or my child) that made me unable to find the joy that was so obviously there. So we must go back, we must take our children there, it’s there! Everything we need. I know it’s there...’

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