Ray Bradbury and Disneyland
April 15, 2012 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Yet another horror story and tale of self promotion.
posted by clavdivs at 11:53 AM on April 15, 2012

Disneyland causes you to care all over again. You feel it is that first day in the spring of that special year when you discovered you were really alive. You return to those morns in childhood when you woke and lay in bed and thought, eyes shut, “Yes, sir, the guys will be here any sec. A pebble will tap the window, a dirt clod will horse-thump the roof, a yell will shake the treehouse slats.”

I just hope he got a free day pass out of writing that steaming mess.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:59 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think he just liked that it was populated by robots. Although, when he describes the people of Las Vegas as robots. he wasn't nice about it....

Metafulter: Robot Vikings treading the Vinland coastal sands.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:02 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wasn't this written in 1965?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:04 PM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I love Disneyworld (and barely remember Disneyland) and I enjoyed this essay. The robot bit was a bit confusing but otherwise it was nifty.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:04 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and,

Metafilter: No Cool people with Cool faces pretending not to care, thus swindling themselves out of life or any chance for life.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:05 PM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

There is actually a valid argument against Disneyland.

I had a history prof in college that had a hare-brained theory that there was a real American religion - not native American or syncretic European, but a genuine American religion:


He pointed out that recreation in America has all the things that define religion; and Disneyland serves as it's primary pilgrimage. That's right, Disneyland is America's mecca. Think about it: everyone has to go to Disneyland at least once in their lives.

The argument against Disneyland is that it Recreation as religion is supplanting other religions. I am fine with that; hell, I'll actively support it. But that argument that that is a bad thing is a valid argument, even if it presumes the value of other religions. I beg to differ, but I respect the opinion.

Long story short: I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Bradbury. As for the religious angle, Recreation is one religion, probably the only religion, where you actually get what you pay for.

Disneyworld is Disneyland, I use the term Disneyland to describe the original - canonical - site in Southern California, but I also mean the concept of Disney pilgrimage, er I mean destination resorts, whether they are in Tokyo, Paris, Orlando, or Anaheim.
posted by Xoebe at 12:05 PM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Gawd, I really need to proofread these posts.
posted by Xoebe at 12:07 PM on April 15, 2012

You know who else loves Disneyland...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:08 PM on April 15, 2012

posted by Meatbomb at 12:12 PM on April 15, 2012

[If you are not interested in reading the article perhaps you shouldn't be the first person to post in the thread. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:14 PM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

I didn't agree with it, but it makes sense to me that Bradbury would feel that way. It's been a long time since Disney's done anything particularly exciting or new. But to someone of his generation, Fantasia and Disneyworld woulda been The Future Of Entertainment. Reading this is a little like listening an early-90s nerd enthuse about the promise of virtual reality after an entire childhood spent fantasizing about the Holodeck. (Or at least it would be like that, in an alternate universe where some early purveyor of overpriced VR gear had turned into a ginormous eeeeevil media empire, leaving those of us who came along later to wonder how the hell those early-90s nerds had managed to get so excited about such an uncool and uncreative bunch of scumbag copyright trolls.)

Also, it fits right in with the golden-age sci-fi obsession with circuses and carnivals and all that. Basically Walt Disney was the P.T. Barnum of the 20th century, with all the good and the bad shit that that implies, and it seems totally fitting that Bradbury would have a thing for him.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:14 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The essay is really interesting — particularly on the way the animatronic robots are addressing the problem of actually believing in history, literalizing and making immediate something that we only have the most partial, fragmentary, mediated access to; and also about the way Disney's success really does hinge on its having automated wonder, created an assembly line that really does deliver a sense of amazement and magic to children. This automated magic is something that shouldn't, you'd think, be possible; but it is.

So it'd be nice if we could talk about the essay instead of doing the "oh yeah, I have some thoughts about DISNEYLAND" passing jibes without even a pretense to RTFA.
posted by RogerB at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Something Mickey This Way Comes
posted by The Whelk at 12:23 PM on April 15, 2012 [13 favorites]

It looks like all the early wonderful rides were there already (except Adventure Through Inner Space) and It's a Small World didn't open until 1966. I see why he had a blast. If he could still love animitrons after Small World though he's a better man than me.
posted by Blue Meanie at 12:31 PM on April 15, 2012

It's an interesting compliment to Umberto Eco's Travels In Hyperreality, where he defined the essential American art form to be Re-Creation, not relaxation but recreating the idealized past or forms so that it's an a completely authentic total fake, from wax museums to Disneyland to posed dinosaur bones to fully immersive 3D spectaculars. No expense spared to bring the physicality of the past or imagined past into being, to well ..make dreams come true.
posted by The Whelk at 12:36 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love the joy with which he writes of Disney and the possibilities Disney offers. It's enthralling when people are so entranced by the idea of something that the joy pours out of them. I might not agree on the source (though I have quite enjoyed Disneyland), but, still, it made it delightful for me to read.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:36 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I kind of enjoy how the thing at Disneyland (circa 1965) that most captivated the imagination of Ray Bradbury was animatronic Abraham Lincoln. That the greatest potential he saw at the Magic Kingdom was to bring history to life, rather than alien worlds or dreamlands. Although it also just makes me imagine a steampunk comic strip from 2006 in which rogue robot Abraham Lincoln rampages through history in a top hat, emitting a faint mechanical whirring the whole time.

But I was stuck by the humanity he saw in the the Lincoln robot, how he believed that "Audio-animatronics borrows the per­fection of the cinema and marries it to the 'presence' of stage drama." (And I do remember feeling a kind of awe and immediacy at the Hall of Presidents as a small child in the 80s, but then at that age I was also pretty awed by all forms of live theater, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to my brother's school play.) Still, Bradbury's assessment seems both interestingly optimistic about the potential cultural impact of an animatronic history museum and interestingly disparaging of the value of actual actors (that robots will soon do their jobs better than they do), and on both counts this seems extremely true to the ethos of that era's science fiction.
posted by unsub at 12:40 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I absolutely love the idea of Charles Laughton plowing through crowds at Disneyland with the enthusiastic abandon of a schoolboy.

It's also amazing that the "Schweizer Falls" joke on the Jungle Cruise has been around so damn long!

I'm heading to Disneyland tonight. Must get my Star Tours fix.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:45 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's interesting that Bradbury is so taken by the robots, given what all WASN'T robots in DL in 1965.

They had live mermaids in the 20,000 Leagues ride at that time. They had pack mule rides which featured live animals for park goers to ride. The Indian Village was still in existence, staffed by Native Americans to be gawked at. I think there might even have been "cannibal natives" on the Jungle Cruise ride played by real people.
posted by hippybear at 12:47 PM on April 15, 2012

I grew up in San Diego and went to Disneyland probably once a year or so for my whole childhood, so possibly for that reason, I feel the same way about the place that Bradbury does. I'm terribly cynical about the place when I'm over here sitting on my couch in Chicago but whenever I go back there I feel this sheer stupid giddiness of being a little kid again.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:08 PM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

The very first time I went to Disneyland was 1966, just a year after this article was written. I was an already-blase' 10-year-old, and our parents hadn't told us where we were going --- just another roadtrip with the family, right? Ho-hum.

That place was just magical. I've been back three or four times, and no matter what, I still love it. Go, and take a couple kids with ya: it'll do your soul good.
posted by easily confused at 1:14 PM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Too bad he and Cory Doctorow have that beef going, cause otherwise they'd have a lot to talk about.
posted by modernserf at 1:15 PM on April 15, 2012

Yeah I never understood the idea of going to a place just to sneer at it, it's DISNEYLAND it has RIDES and CANDY and SINGING.
posted by The Whelk at 1:22 PM on April 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

Gillian Tett gave her impressions just the other day
posted by IndigoJones at 1:29 PM on April 15, 2012

...created an assembly line that really does deliver a sense of amazement and magic to children.

I always cringe through It's A Small World, but the last time I went on it, there was a little boy in front of me, maybe five or six, whose face just lit up as our boat entered the ride and stayed that way the whole time. His grandparents got really into it too and kept pointing things out to him. Watching him get so excited made the ride so much better.
posted by book 'em dano at 1:29 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Roast Beef disagrees
posted by The Whelk at 1:36 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love Disney World, and all the tourist traps in Orlando.
( I know Bradbury was talking about Disneyland -
Disney World is so much better than Disneyland).

Orlando is amazing, fun town for family tourism.
There is so much there - go to Paris (in Epcot), go safari (Animal Kingdom),
watch a joust (Medieval Times), or get lost in Jurassic Park (Universal) and so much more.

Ok, sure, every experience is plastic - an anethesized fake reality -
but suspend your disbelief - and have fun. Kids can see the magic of Orlando so easily.
Many adults sneer at it instead - but Orlando is incredible town -
and Disney is a big part of it.
posted by Flood at 1:36 PM on April 15, 2012

Disney World is so much better than Disneyland

I've instigated knifefights over this issue. Be warned.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:55 PM on April 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

Wasn't this written in 1965?

1957. Dandelion Wine.
posted by pracowity at 2:54 PM on April 15, 2012

When I went to Disney World, I chased an armadillo in a metal stairwell at our hotel. It clanked a lot, which was hilarious.
posted by ryanrs at 3:15 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've instigated knifefights over this issue. Be warned.

That's not good show.
posted by eriko at 3:56 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really like the compactness of Disneyland as opposed to Walt Disney World. It's plausible to walk the entire park in a day and take in quite a few of the rides, especially if you know how to time getting to a few of them (like hitting Pirates Of The Caribbean while the crowd assembles for the early nighttime parade). I haven't been back since the FastPass system was instituted, but I imagine that helps with getting into some of the more popular rides without spending hours in line.

It's also one of my favorite places to do lsd. Everything is already brightly colored and entertaining, and tripping means you can really get into that. Plus, if one area grows tedious, there's a completely different thing waiting for you in every section of the park. (And Fantasmic is a great way to round out a day when you've been tripping.)
posted by hippybear at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

The main thing I like about Disneyland over Disneyworld is how it's not designed for a climate where it rains twice a day in the summer-- the big pastel clock edifice of It's A Small World is outdoors, for example, instead of inside a big room with an overhang like it's just another location at the Ride Mall.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:09 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bob and Ray both get invites to a Playboy contributors' day at Disneyland, circa 1975. (It's the never rebroadcast hourlong Easter special). Ike tags along. Hef is kinda perplexed by Ray but respects both Ike and Bob's opinions about man stuff, like wine and guns. Everybody troops onto the PoTC ride, which gets stuck halfway through the assault on Port Royal. Bob goes for help along with one of the hypercompetent engineering genius bunnies that Hef brought along as arm candy.

As soon as the ride is fixed, Hef, Ike, and Ray clamor for the lights to be brought down and the boats to stop again. Bob ends up cooling his heels on the Bayou dock discussing libertarian ideology with the hypercompetent engineering genius while Hef, Ike, and Ray have a bacchanal under fire from the guns of Port Royal.

Bob hates that.
posted by mwhybark at 4:28 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should note that the day that PoTC broke down for Bob and Ray was NOT the day it broke down for Roast Beef and that other Ray guy. Although the Clooney dude was there.
posted by mwhybark at 4:31 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clooney is everywhere
posted by The Whelk at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suspect the sentiment expressed in this essay was pretty much the consensus opinion among science fiction writers in the 1960s. Philip K Dick wrote We Can Build You a few years later. Apparently nobody else on this thread has read it, because you can't read this essay without thinking of that book. The whole premise of the book is that this company has managed to build faithful-to-the-originals robot simulacra of Abraham Lincoln and Edwin M Stanton. The plot goes off the rails rather spectacularly (this is Phil Dick we're talking about, after all), but on the whole, when you read the book you can't help thinking he just went to Disneyland and saw that Abraham Lincoln robot and utterly lost his shit. Eagle-eyed readers will also note that most of A Scanner Darkly takes place on the same block as Disneyland park.

I explicitly framed my trips to Disneyland in religious terms back in high school. I've been to eight Disney parks on two continents. I'm definitely a major fan. But no matter what you think of this essay or Ray Bradbury or Disney or anything else, you can't deny that what Disney did with that original plot of land in Anaheim inspired a lot of pretty creative people for a couple of decades after with the new possibilities it opened up about what entertainment could be. We're used to what it's like to have Disneyland in the world now, and for many of us, there's never been a world without hyper-themed, hyperreal entertainment environments, or reasonably realistic humanoid robots, or a bunch of the other innovations that grew up at Disney first and have since percolated down to your local mall. But I can't even imagine what it was like for a science fiction writer to head over to Disneyland in the 1960s. I imagine he'd think, well, here we are: we've built a robot that looks like a human and its sole purpose is to entertain. This is the future.
posted by troublesome at 4:34 PM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

and in conclusion Disneyworld is a total Disneyland knockoff; the addition of the strings section and all those overdubs weaken the original brilliance of the first album.

I have heard there was a total self-funded limited release Disneytown or Disneyroom; I haven't ever seen any evidence of this however.
posted by mwhybark at 4:35 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

troublesome, i think you may have solved the mystery of the whereabouts of the long missing PKDbot. He is in the Hall or Presidents backlot, disguised as Taft.
posted by mwhybark at 4:37 PM on April 15, 2012

argh, Hall of Presidents.
posted by mwhybark at 4:38 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

There can be problems with robot performers, however.
posted by hippybear at 4:39 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Clooney is everywhere

Except here! He has left this building, to my genuine dismay!
posted by mwhybark at 4:39 PM on April 15, 2012

OMG, hippybear THAT is why Disneyland rules. My fave decrepit thing for years was the Dole Pineapple Tiki Room. The animatronics were neglected well into the late nineties. It was hilarious and creepy and THE BEST THING EVER. The masks on the pillars would stick and twitch and chatter and blink and generally looked as if they were going to leap out and eat your soul. The fact that the room was cobranded to the company largely responsible for kickstarting American imperialism in Latin America just made it that much more delightful.

Disney really did make great art, and the parks are clearly a high order expression of that. PoTC, the ride, was the last big project Walt had a hand in, in the late sixties. When you put it in that context, the ride is a cri de coeur of fear and anxiety about the cultural convulsions of the time. That's not Port Royal sacked and burning; it is Los Angeles.

I can't even tell you how awesome the place becomes when you start looking at it like this.
posted by mwhybark at 4:48 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seven hits of L
and nobody could tell
So I spent every dime
just to get to Anaheim

I was in the Magic Kingdom
Now I'm in the Caribbean
You get something really wicked
when you spend an E-ticket
- The Vandals, Pirates' Life, 1982

I can't not think about Disneyland without thinking about that song. I also used to have to travel to Anaheim for work and no one in my office got the "so I spent every dime to get to Anaheim" line.

I can see how Bradbury was smitten by Disneyland in the 1960s because it was pretty fucking futuristic and open to the public. Sure, people will compare it to Disneyworld now and complain it is too small but back then it was king shit of fuck mountain.

Compare his thrill for Disneyland in the 60s with his disdain later in life for technology: "We have too many cellphones. We've got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now," I'm unable to find if "you kids need to get off my lawn" was edited out of that quote.
posted by birdherder at 5:21 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

After this essay was written, Bradbury also went on to write the original script for EPCOT's Spaceship Earth attraction.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:43 PM on April 15, 2012

metafilter: we've built a robot that looks like a human and its sole purpose is to entertain. This is the future.
posted by localroger at 5:44 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Man and his Spaceship Earth"

Theme Show
Epcot Center Future World

Concept by Ray Bradbury
July 22, 1977
posted by mediated self at 6:16 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: One of my favorite places to do LSD.
posted by byanyothername at 6:17 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

At the risk of being too cool: I spent a month in Ray Bradbury's vacation home in Palm Springs.

Yes, I received mail addressed to him, for lame things like his ADT alarm system. Coolest thing ever.

Not that there was any cosmic revelations or anything, but it's clear from his interviews that he's a California boy. He had a driver take him around to the bars. Why not? There's even a statue of Sonny Bono in Palm Springs.

The takeaway: I don't think he'd be dissing Disney.

And it's a *really* cool (in a daddy-o sort of way) house.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:48 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

But I was stuck by the humanity he saw in the the Lincoln robot, how he believed that "Audio-animatronics borrows the per­fection of the cinema and marries it to the 'presence' of stage drama."

The "humanity" in the Hall of Presidents was what got my whole family too back in 1978; but not from a "oh wow this could actually be a person" standpoint, more like "jeez those are robots but someone actually bothered to program the robots to do this." I just remember that during Lincoln's speech, the Jimmy Carter robot kept periodically turning to the audience and giving us that same toothy smile I'd seen him do on TV all the time.

But then, about two-thirds of the way through the speech, the Polk robot leaned over to have a few seconds' whispered conversation with the Buchanan Robot and then straightened back up, to listen to Lincoln again. My father especially freaked out over that - it wasn't anything you heard, it could have been "hey, JB, do I have time to run to the head or should I wait" for all we knew, but someone still bothered to make that happen because it would just plain look more real to have two guys in that sort of situation maybe have a quick whispered conversation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love Disneyland. Some of my fondest childhood memories take place there.
posted by savvysearch at 11:32 PM on April 15, 2012

I can't help but be charmed by Bradbury's vision of the future, where the apex of educational simulacra and technology is to have robot cavemen fighting robot pterodactyls while robot mammoths stomp around in automated grass.

It's definitely preferable to the trajectory I'm seeing, where children in dark rooms wear proprietary glasses (deposit required) to watch computer-animated cavemen wearing Coca-Cola togas fight computer-animated pterodactyls on a field of computer-animated grass, their every blade whispering "Taco Bell" as clouds drift by, lazily shifting and changing places to fleetingly form the words Almond Joy in the sky.
posted by Shepherd at 5:46 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Shepherd, the only reason Disney doesn't have everything in the park branded for Coca-Cola and Taco Bell is that they're too busy branding it all Disney.
posted by localroger at 6:34 AM on April 16, 2012

I guess when you grow up near Disneyland you get a different type of memory of the place. Tom Sawyer's Island is the first place I ever smelled pot.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:21 AM on April 16, 2012

Fantastic? Perhaps. Ridiculous? Somewhat. Nonsensical? Vulgar? A touch. Not worth the doing? Worth doing a thousand times over.

Right on. Especially as my Bear and I leave for DisneyWorld in Orlando, first visit there ever, in three days.

Also, I want to go with Charles Laughton. Bradbury had me pea green with envy right there.
posted by bearwife at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2012

Speaking of dead presidents, didja hear about robo holo Tupac?
posted by mwhybark at 12:00 PM on April 16, 2012

Disney World was ok. My brother getting pissed on by a Clydesdale at Disney World was great.
posted by stavrogin at 8:47 PM on April 16, 2012

The next time someone says "I've gotta piss like a Clydesdale", your brother should look them completely straight-faced and say:

"Sir, no matter how urgent your urination requirements may be at this moment, I can assure you that this is simply not the case. Don't ask how I know."
posted by ShutterBun at 3:34 AM on April 17, 2012

Alright, I got idly curious and did some browsing on the Disney site - and there's actually a kind of cool behind-the-scenes video at The Hall Of Presidents page. They've done a couple of overhalls of the original concept, since introducing it as an exhibit - it used to be just this one speech Lincoln gave; they'd add a new animatronic figure each time we got a new president, but used to be they just stood in the panel and Lincoln did all the talking. Then they rewrote Lincoln's "speech" when Bill Clinton was in office, and took the opportunity to have the Clinton figure also make a short speech before Lincoln went on as well. That turned into the program being "speech from current president followed by speech from Lincoln" and then they later added "and also short speech from Washington".

Then when Obama took office, they also added "current president also recites the Presidential Oath of Office," and I can't help but wonder if that was a tweak in the nose to people who were up in arms about the whole "omigod they screwed up the oath during inauguration Obama's not the president" crowd.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on April 17, 2012

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