Disneyland Vs. Dismaland: Why Both Are Incomplete

Recently PBS aired a two-part documentary on the life of Walt Disney. The program presented Disney as a man who recoiled from the dark side of life. He withdrew from the real world by re-creating a parallel, sanitized version of reality. Disney was a remarkable visionary and storyteller, so he powerfully communicated this safe, uber-reality through movies, television, and ultimately Disneyland. Walt-Disney America–and much of the rest of the world–found Disney’s vision almost irresistible. Practically every American child has had his or her life impacted by Walt Disney. I grew up on a steady diet of Disney movies, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Ducktales comic books.

However magical Disney’s world may seem, there’s always something that’s missing. Escapism never satisfies. A recent Disney movie, Tomorrowland (starring George Clooney), displayed just how vapid and banal such utopian visions really are. A recent article in Christianity Today explains why the Disney vision falls flat:

It may assuage our uneasiness to disengage, to pretend that ignoring evil is the same thing as resisting it. Disney has built an empire on this principle, regularly stealing from the Grimm Brothers’ treasury and adapting fairy tales to suit our modern sensibilities. We like our stories sanitized, following a formula that is predictable and happy and safe for children. But the problem with this reluctance to look evil in the eyes—besides the cowardice it betrays—is that such a view of reality is not complete.

Banksy, the British artist and political activist, has had enough. He has created a ghoulish parody of Disneyland that he calls “Dismaland”. Located on a couple of acres in Somerset, England, the exhibit provides creepy rides and disturbing characters intended to mock the Disney vision.

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Dismaland is as depressing as Disneyland is cheery. The CT article noted earlier explains why Dismaland falls prey to the same shortcomings of Disneyland:

The problem with Dismaland is that, despite its best efforts to stand in opposition to Disney World and the like, it fosters the same kind of narrow vision that Disney World perpetuates. Disney may ignore certain horrors in the world, but Dismaland shields itself from Disney’s blazing glory. The world is too vile for us to be blithe. It is also too beautiful for us to be afraid.

Both visions–Disneyland and Dismaland–are incomplete. Neither worldview properly views the evil in the world; both fail to see the world in the light of redemption. Sin has marred a beautiful Creation. Through Jesus Christ, God promises to make all things new. A Gospel-centered worldview, one that sees all things from the perspective of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, can view this beautiful/ugly world with clear-eyed confidence and hope.

Cross posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com