Are We Having Fun Yet?

Feature 002 • Dec 11th 2014

Twice a day, every day, in sunny Anaheim, California, Mickey’s Soundsational Parade bops its way through the streets of the Disneyland amusement park.

And it is exceedingly likely that twice a day, every day, Mickey’s Soundsational Parade is photographed. Disneyland is the #3 most “Instagrammed” location on Earth. Countless photographs of the park have been taken, unimaginable numbers of them scattered across social media, family albums, kitchen fridges. And yes, okay, fine: Disney has reason to celebrate – they’re making oodles of money. On their tax forms, Disney just checks the box for “oodles”.

But every single day, throwing themselves a parade? A Soundsational parade?

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Think about the origin of parades – think back to caveman days. The first parades were probably after the great Hunts, parades of hunters showing off the carcasses of wildebeasts or whatever, slain animals that would keep a smelly disgusting cave-tribe alive through the winter. “Unga! We get to smell up the wintertime with our disgusting odors. Oog! Arg!”, your hairy great-grandfather probably said at some point, while standing next to a shiny new wheel. Skip ahead some years, and it’s Julius Caesar, parading through Rome after the unparalleled military might under his command had conquered vast swaths of the world around him, parading on his way to end democracy in Rome. “My great-grandfather’s not that old,” Julius Caesar probably proclaimed, which is ancient Latin saying that roughly translates to “I love a parade.”

But now?

Now, a mega-corporation throws a parade to celebrate its vast storehouse of intellectual property, parades through the streets of its artificial land all of the brands that will smell up our culture and be profitably exploited on a host of platforms for many long winters to come.

Twice a day.

Boy, I don’t know – that sounds a little weird.

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But oh, what brands! The Little Mermaid! Aladdin! The Lion King! The Coughing Hippo! Sanjay! The Used Sandwich! More and more brands every year: Marvel! Pixar! Star Wars! Do you remember that magical summer in your childhood when you spent a whole night camped out under the stars erotically discovering your body using an electric toothbrush? Disney bought your magical summer for 2.8 billion dollars last year. Randy Newman’s writing a song for the toothbrush to sing– here’s an early draft of the lyrics:

You’re not the only one /

Whose head is spinning /

But don’t be dizzy, sweetheart, /

we will always be Best Friends! /

Overland Avenue? I SUPPOSE I LOVE IT!

So, you watch this parade and you say to yourself, “such is our world”, and what else can you do? But here’s the bit that interests me: how do you explain the photographs? Disneyland is the #3 most Instagrammed location on Earth – how do you explain to yourself all those photographs? Why so many photographs? What makes it so Instagramous?


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There is the Simple Answer: “Disneyland is a fun place, normal people have fun there, and normal people like to take photos as a way of sharing with their friends a fun moment in their lives. That’s what normal people do. You would know what normal people are like if you didn’t spend so much time watching internet porn. What if your ancestors were ghosts who were stuck watching your pathetic life? They’d rather watch you at Disneyland than at home, hunched over a laptop. You’re disappointing your poor ghost ancestors, pervert!”

For many people, this answer might suffice, this Simple Answer for simple people, but what nags about that answer is that parade, Mickey’s Soundsational Parade.

Consider how Disney’s website describes the parade: “The beat is rockin’ the street in this giant jam session– led by drummer extraordinaire, Mickey Mouse!”

The kind of “fun” on display at Disneyland is so specific to Disneyland. How many times have you asked a co-worker or some variety of chum about their weekend? How many times has the answer been “I saw a drummer in a rat costume rock the streets in a giant jam session? Skiddly-be-boppity-do-boop!”

Unless your chumly co-worker is either (a) living a pretty goddamn charmed life or (b) David Lee Roth, my guess is you have not heard that answer very often. But if a Soundsational Parade resembled how people actually defined “fun”, wouldn’t we all be having that kind of fun all the damn time? Wouldn’t that be the very thing we pictured in our heads when we heard the word “fun?” Wouldn’t our streets be clogged with snare drum-toting vermin-impersonators on a regular basis? There would be at least one movie in the Step Up franchise involving a young roughneck kid from the streets showing a mouse-costume clad ballerina what real dancing is all about. If nothing else, the Step Up franchise as we all know it would be radically different.

That’s not our world (yet). So I have a problem with the Simple Answer to the extent that it calls for some revision to everything I know about what constitutes fun. The Simple Answer just gut-level doesn’t feel like the whole story. It doesn’t feel like enough. It feels like something is missing.


“The costume designers have been to too many raves and have been around too many drugs”

– A Yelp Review of Mickey’s Soundsational Parade

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There is the Cynical Answer, for cynical people: “People are staring empty-headed at corporate parades because they’re all slack-jawed yokels, grade-a maroons prone to gawping as a bunch of shiny colors trot past their field of vision. They are more husk than person, incapable of true thoughts. Only we are the true possessors of the Life Force – you, me, a pretty girl I saw riding a bicycle the other day, probably Paul Thomas Anderson, and that’s it.”

Unfortunately for Paul Thomas Anderson, that answer is also probably untrue, at least based upon the results of a simple google search. Take a butter knife to the internet and what is soon splayed before you are countless websites offering advice to Disneyland attendees, “life hacks” on how to maximize your visit to Disneyland, how to attain a Greater and more Ecstatic Pleasure from a Disneyland trip than some noob who didn’t think to check the internet, how to best your rivals in the modern-day Game of Thrones that is Attending a Crowded Amusement Park.

Hype Orlando advises: “Choose a day with a long, vicious downpour, then wait until it stops and head immediately to your theme park of choice. It should be nearly deserted, since most of the attendees will have fled the inclement weather. You can get in some good ride time before they return.”

Babble.Com advises “Tip #3. Location does matter. At Disneyland, the best spot to view Mickey’s SoundSational Parade is the terraced area in front of It’s a Small World, right next to the beginning of the parade.”

Buzzfeed lists “18 Tips And Hacks To Make Your Day At Disneyland Better”, including this Sun Tzu-like stratagem: “Try the left-side lines, most people are right-handed and veer toward the right-side lines.” Hack the planet!

You can not say that you are surrounded by throngs of dead-eyed consumerist zombies while watching Mickey’s Soundsational Parade because amongst their number are ice cold Buzz-fed vulture-tourists seeking to out-maneuver, outplay and out-fun you – sovereign, deadly and perfect, like in a Stanislas Cordova movie.

Any flight of fancy in which we are the post-apocalyptic heroes of the Dumbing of Society is too difficult to reconcile with how the internet sells Disneyland as a survival competition. No matter what it is exactly that people find fun about Disneyland, they are enlivened by it and in fact desperate to attain it.

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“The performances, floats, and outfits have a lot of intricate details that can be missed if you’re not paying attention! For example if you look closely at Goofy’s outfit, you’ll notice a xylophone pattern lining the outer portion of his pants and also on both sides of his vest/jacket.”

– From a Yelp Review of Mickey’s Soundsational Parade


Both the Simple Answer and the Cynical Answer ask us to imagine some Other, a hypothetical person, a fun-loving yokel bereft of neuroses, a quote-unquote “normal person.”

But you are probably not that hypothetical person, not some “normal” happy-go-lucky grade-Z schmuck. By my math, there is at least a 85% chance that (a) you are a sexually elite member of a decadent cocaine-fueled upper-class, (b) you have anxieties, worries, fears, petty jealousies and envies, the capacity to harm others, the capacity to harm yourself – i.e. an inner life that separates you from hypothetical people and their hypothetical lives, and (c) you are connected to others in part by an isolating technology where they broadcast to you a constant stream of their victories – photos of vacations, photos of babies, photos of new romances.

If we’re all willing to admit to being imperfect, vulnerable people, what is our Vulnerable Answer to the question posed? Lucky for us in trying to answer that question, Disneyland is full of the most vulnerable people – infant children.

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Look around the park and you hear one question asked insistently, over and over, by parents to extremely small children: “What did you think of that?” Attend an amusement park with little kids. Attending the park with some kid, the pressing issue becomes not experiencing pleasure first-hand, but making sure that the child experiences it, that the child has a maximum experience of the park. After all, we know that their youth is impermanent and quickly fading, so we have to make sure they have fun, “happy” memories.

But this is a pretty strange way to think. Want to see a small child have a tremendous amount of fun? Just hand them an empty box. Have you ever watched a kid play with an empty box? Little kids + empty boxes = hours of delight! In 2005, “cardboard box” was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. To repeat: cardboard box is in the Toy Hall of Fame. For comparison sake, the Kite was inducted in 2007; the Skateboard and the Baby Doll in 2008; and the Ball in 2009.

Cardboard Box beat the Ball into the Toy Hall of Fame by four years.

A child who can be amused by an empty box is maybe someone that doesn’t need a two-parade-a-day diet to have a good time. Little kids are just fun-ass people, ready to smash their party-faces into Life’s titties on a moment’s notice– what the hell do we need a Disneyland for?

With Disneyland, the critical thing then probably isn’t the fun itself. The critical thing is probably the opportunity for the person “having the fun” to observe themselves have that fun. People get to step outside themselves and look at themselves having fun, say to themselves “I’m not having fun jumping into a pile of used syringes at the old abandoned children’s hospital like usual– I am having fun in Disneyland”. Parents get to step outside themselves and say “look at this motherfuckin’ parenting going on! Woo-hah!” It doesn’t matter what Little Timmy thought about It’s a Small World– Timmy’s folks got to ask him “What did you think of that?” afterwards. And if they had cameras (and they almost certainly did), they got to record that they asked him.

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And so, sure, Instagram photos, hard proof that fun was had. Here is our proof that we can pass as the “Normal” Other Person. Here is our proof that we belong to our cave-tribe, just as your hairy, Neanderthal primitive great-grandfather did before you. Here is our own broadcast of victories, to assert your right to exist in a competitive and devouring universe. Here is evidence for a trial that will never actually take place.

Not just in Disneyland. Those bizarros who take computer-phone photos of paintings at art gallery shows. All the photos of dimly-lit sandwiches people are about to grind up in their gross mouths – good thing we’re seeing those. The comedian Chris Rock has had to walk away from performing at supposedly “hip” comedy venues because young people have refused to put their phones away when he asked that they not record him – young people would much rather prove to the internet that they saw Chris Rock perform comedy than actually see Chris Rock perform comedy.

I have a computer-phone full of badly-composed sunset photos– I don’t know why I do; sun does that every single day; that’s how night-time works, dog. But at some point, reaching for my phone became a part of “enjoying a sunset” for me – proof that I was present at a moment, conscious of a moment, never mind that it’s also proof that I looked away.

Whatever all that crazy is, Disneyland bottled it before I was born.

Disneyland is the third highest peak of that mountain range.


Perhaps this invites a final, follow-up question:

Ad campaigns for Disneyland tend to involve a scenario in which parents confronted with the sparkling magic of downtown Anaheim somehow lose their minds, surrender all vestige of maturity to the park’s siren call, become themselves like children, and commence with the romping, and so forth. These ads all revolve around a notion of escape, escape from adult anxieties, adult concerns, mom’s financial worries, dad’s worrisomely flaccid member, etc. The silencing of that pesky inner life.

But do 8 million Instagram photos actually sound like any species of true escape?

Or does it sound like its very opposite – us trapped further in our own skin, our own heads, only more so observers, carefully monitoring each other for the “fun” we’re all expected to have, spectators of a parade that we know has nothing to do with us.

Feature 002: Are We Having Fun Yet? for The Photographic Journal