Sunday, December 30, 2007

Evil Princess Cuts Obnoxious Tourists

Cousin Bella and I have long been fascinated and weirdly obsessed/ horrified by Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center since it opened when I was eight and she was two and our families dragged us there every single year, because, as you may recall from the previous post, the Holland side of the family won't go anywhere else other than Disney for vacation. My parents, coming from other families, don't share this habit and aren't Disney people at all, but I went on vacation with my grandparents and aunt and uncle every year, so that's how I got sucked into the Holland Disney Vortex.

Bella grew up and carried on the Holland tradition, taking it to a whole new level by actually moving permanently to Orlando at one point and working at Disney World and for this I think the Hollands all want her revered as a saint. SHE WORKED AT DISNEY. Bella is now called alum and things like former cast member. She knows inside secrets. I confess reluctantly to being fascinated by this aspect of my dear cousin as well.

My beloved first cousin/ best friend and I know the ins and out of the Magic Kingdom and we like it ok, but aren't as spectacularly impressed with it as we were when we were little and all I wanted in the whole world was to meet Snow White and all Bella wanted in the whole world was to be Tinkerbell and fly to the castle on a zip line. Mommom Jewel still refers to us as Snowy and Tink. (So add that to my list of nicknames along with Pinky, Hackie and Grilled Cheese.) The Magic Kingdom is all rides based on movies for children - a big cartoon come to life. That's fine and well when you're five, but as Bella and I grew up we started using all our free passes that she got for working there to go to EPCOT.

EPCOT's a lot more complicated of a place. Most people hate it and it's really the misfit of all the Disney parks. It's kind of awkward and weird and I think all the tourists use it as the place to walk around when they can't think of anything else to do on the last day of their vacation and they still have a day left on their Park Hopper pass. Back when it opened EPCOT was supposed to be some kind of experimental city type of deal, but I never did see how that could be. As kids we didn't like it because it was educational. A lot of the rides used to be like little cars or boats through an animated Natural History museum, which we admitted was better than the actual Natural History museum, but still, it was a museum whether the cave men moved or not. Most of EPCOT's attractions weren't based on motion pictures, but there were an awful lot of films and kids found them to be hideously, painfully, screamingly dull.

Twenty something years later, EPCOT became very endearing and sort of sad to us. Like most of our family members, EPCOT got stuck in the 80s. Metaphorically it was still wearing its OP shorts and flipping up the collars on it's Izod shirts while rockin' out to some J. Giles Band. It had become, Bella and I realized, a great big monument to out of touch, painfully nerdy, white Americans. This pretty much also sums up the Holland Family as well.

EPCOT has two sections - the big museumy area where all the rides are educational (though, thank God, less so now than before) and the World Showcase which is a long curved road divided up into spaces about the size of a city block dedicated to different countries with lots of shops and restaurants and people wearing traditional costumes. The big deal here is that a lot of visitors go to the World Showcase to get ripping drunk because they serve alcohol from all the different countries in the shops and restaurants. There are only two rides in the World Showcase.

On this past trip, after Bella and I recovered from Holiday on Sand, we decided to spend an entire twelve hours dedicated to EPCOT. We hadn't been in a few years and we wanted to shop for overpriced junk that we didn't need in the World Showcase stores while eating poor quality, Americanized versions of native cuisine. We also wanted to see what changes had been made in the park and along the way offer up our own ideas for EPCOT's improvement.

The first thing we noticed was that the gigantic golfball called Spaceship Earth was under construction. This is the attraction that defines riding through an animatronic museum. That's all it is. I think it's supposed to be the history of communication or something. It's a little unclear and it's obviously behind the times, so thank the good Lord they are updating it. It starts out with cave men scratching on cave walls and ends, I kid you not, with a family sitting on a shag rug watching one of those TVs that we used to have that is in a wood veneer cabinet and is an entire piece of furniture. Technology has definitely advanced a lot further than this ride. I think in the "Living Room of the Future" they have a push button phone and that is a big deal. They talk about things like the "modern miracle - the toaster!" as bored visitors glide by in their little carts, messing with their iPhones in the dark until the ride is over. The best part was that there are all these warning everywhere not to ride this ride if you are scared of the dark. Man, let me tell you, if Spaceship Earth scares you, you got some serious problems.

After that we went to the Living Seas which used to be a big aquarium with all kinds of cool sea creatures, but is now dedicated to the excessive merchandising of "Finding Nemo" and Princess Ariel crap. Bella and I probably would have been into this when we were in kindergarten, but we wanted to see the manatees and they were gone, probably dumped into a drainage canal outside of Kissimmee, and replaced by some holographic talking fish that I desperately wanted to holographic Great White Shark to devour so that they would shut the hell up.

Now this brings me to another observation about Disney. This Princess shit is huge and it needs to end now before I have a daughter and she thinks I am an abusive parent and calls up Child Protective Services because I will not shell out $50 plus dollars on an ill fitting, unflattering, neon meringue, tangle of tulle and sequins princess costume so that she can parade around a theme park, dragging a train of stained, peed on, trampled on material behind her like some homeless, cracked out Jonbenet type, screaming until she's hoarse, for a picture with Mickey. I'm not doing it. Mark my words. I will be a mean mom.

For those of you who have not recently been to Disney, the big deal is to purchase these costumes, which are all frighteningly tacky and look like they were designed by RuPaul and Sigfried and Roy and make children look like washed up, schizophrenic Vegas showgirls who are now homeless, so that the children can indulge in this bizarre fantasy that they are the characters from the movies as they ride rides based on the movies and then throw tantrums in the gift shops to buy more stuff based on the movies. Mostly boys are exempt from this, although I did see a couple of pirate costumes, but I have a feeling those little boys will grow up to design elaborate stage sets for Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals. I guess Disney wants every little girl to feel like she is a princess. As a kid, I would have been totally into this, but luckily such foolish mania did not exist and all of my childhood pictures from Disney show me in pink, yellow and green diamond patterned bell bottoms or Garanimals.

I don't want to bust out the Feminism on you all, because for the most part, I'm pretty laid back about things, but I thought we had advanced a lot further than fairy tale princesses as positive female role models. Is this all we have for little girls to look up to? I mean, I realize that Hillary Clinton costumes wouldn't be as dramatic and I can't quite picture throngs of four year olds flying on the Dumbo ride wearing power suits and pearls, but still. I just can not get comfortable with this princess obsession. Something about these princesses with their tiny waists, bad taste in dresses, and huge praying mantis eyes creeps me out. Plus, the plot of all the films are little more than Princess gets saved by her man. Sure the princesses are clever and sweet and overcome mild adversity and blah blah, but ultimately, they're just gold diggers trying to marry a prince so they can wear the same fancy dress every single day and sit in the castle singing to mice and birds and doing nothing else. I don't want my daughter to think like that and I despise merchandising aimed at children that makes them feel that if they don't have some stupid, expensive thing that their parents don't love them and that they don't fit in.

Besides that, the majority of these girls don't look very princessy. The saddest thing I've ever seen is a dumpy, snot nosed kid from rural Mississippi crammed into a too small, Tinkerbell tutu with a melted Mickey head ice cream bar melted all down the front of it, scuffing her untied, Dollar General sneakers on the asphalt while her be-mulleted parents drag her off towards Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. As they say in Millpond "That shit ain't right."

But back to EPCOT. Bella and I tired of the educational section of EPCOT and after we rode Soarin', which is kinda cool I admit, especially the aromatherapy part, we decided to go buy some junk we didn't need and eat some fake international cuisine.

World Showcase is not exactly an accurate representation of the World. Mostly, it showcases countries where white people come from or where white people like to visit or at the very least that white people from rural areas have heard of. The countries are very pretty and look like film sets; folk tale stereotypes of politeness, white-washed, clean and made acceptable to xenophobic Americans, but dammit, there's something kind of nice about it at the same time, and plus, you can buy British KitKats in England and those are far better than the ones we have here and China makes a damned good version of sweet 'n' sour chicken.

As I strode though the eerie perfectness it occurred to me that they should expand the World Showcase. They need to have some new countries, or perhaps more authentic experiences of the countries they already have. For instance, all the french people in Faux France are creepy nice, like Stepford French, and they all smell like Guerlain perfume. Personally I enjoyed the brusque service in Vrai France and I totally understood why the servers in France were the way they were and loved that they didn't have to shamelessly kiss ass for tips the way servers in America do which spawns a hateful resentment that causes servers to write blogs which become wildly popular because people just hate waiting on other people. Making all the imported french students they have working in Faux France smile and be all waxy perfect is just cruel because I know deep down Annick and Bertrand want to shove a hot plate of steak frites right down the throats of every rude, fanny pack, mouse ear wearing asshole that parlez-vous his way down their pretend cobble stone streets under their mini Tour Eiffel.

Likewise, I suspect the rosy cheeked, corseted German maidens and their lederhosed counterparts agree. I'd like to see, instead of Hansel and Gretel selling cuckoo clocks, some Bauhaus architecture and icy blonde men wearing turtlenecks who hate our American asses. I'd also like to see a German fetish shop. Some of the freakiest porn in the world comes from Germany and you can be assured that whenever you hear some completely sick, twisted news story that it either happened in Germany or Florida, so why not combine the two and have Germany IN Florida? Imagine the deviant possibilities for a second.

EPCOT also features a China pavilion which is honestly beautiful with lots of gold dragons and lotus ponds, but it's totally Mulan. They should make it like real China and sell snakes and frogs in the market and they should have small children working in mock sweatshops making toxic products that are way cheaper than the products in all the other countries, but will actually kill you eventually. They could even have a mini-Tianenman Square where you could get your picture taken posing as if a life sized tank is about to run you over. Then you could watch a demonstration on human rights violations followed by a long explanation of Capitalist Communism (control people and make lots of money at the same time!). After that you could get thrown out, but not before they go through all of your bags to make sure you weren't spying.

Mexico is also way too perfect. It's actually my favorite country in EPCOT, mostly because it has a boat ride through a plastic jungle and a big paper mache volcano that erupts orange lights. There's a restaurant where you can dine under the volcano as the little boats pass and as a child Bella and I would have given our lives to eat there, just because it was SO different from all the Red Lobsters we had been to, which, incidentally were the only restaurants we had been to. Our families did not approve of such frivolity and always yelled at us saying:

"You don't need to eat in no danged Mexico. It's a rip off and it's not even as good as Red Lobster!"

Once, several years ago Bella and I, in an act of sheer defiance, actually ate at Mexico right under that volcano and it was one of the defining moments of our lives. The whole time we laughed wickedly at ourselves and repeated: "We're eating in Mexico!!!!! Bwahahahahaha!!" And yes, it was a little better than a Red Lobster, though not significantly.

Disney's Mexico is clean, minus donkey shows and cockfights and Montezuma's revenge. It kind of reminds me of the Acapulco they arrived at at the end of every Love Boat episode. What if EPCOT made their Mexico a little dustier, threw in a few tarantulas, corrupt cops who preyed on tourists and maybe a little mini-Tijuana where all the employees were trying to escape and cross over the borders into all the other countries for humiliating, low paying jobs? Then it might be more realistic.

I wandered through Norway looking at trolls, I bought a change purse in Japan where Japanese girls dressed as Geishas sold Sanrio and cut open oysters to reveal cultured pearls. We ate some authentically Chinese chow mein and sweet 'n' sour in China and strolled down to England where a Beatles cover band sang outside of a pub and a tea shop that sold Mickey tea sets. I got my KitKats and I thought of all the countries in the world that weren't represented here. How about Africa? I guess that caught up with Disney and they realized eventually that they had to do something to include Black people so they just gave them their own entire park (Animal Kingdom) and then threw in India there as well because Indian people are brown too. But that still leaves a lot of ethnic groups and cultures disenfranchised by the World Showcase. I began to have very non-politically correct thoughts.

What if, I mused, we had an Axis of Evil EPCOT to kind of counter all the Disney chirpy charm? Sometimes all that scrubbed raw, glittering perfectness actually irks me. It makes me crave edginess, violence and trash. My World Showcase would have Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan, North Korea and an America without Ben Franklins and Betsy Ross's serving apple pies.

In EPCOT Iran there would be huge paintings of Ahmadinejad (I have no idea how to spell it), no homosexuals and guests would not be allowed to say anything or eat ice cream. In Cuba there would be a thrill ride where you pretend to escape on a raft through rough seas, smuggled in by corrupt Americans who take all of your money, as you are chased by the Cuban military.

Next, for EPCOT Afghanistan, women would have to don burkhas to enter and there could be a stoning demonstration. Park visitors could engage in mock fights using old Soviet and American weapons and ride the explosive new roller coaster Al Quaeda Training Camp! There would be no food, lots of disease, begging children and women setting themselves on fire. Visitors who experience motion sickness, heart problems, back problems or emotional instability should refrain from visiting EPCOT Afghanistan.

In North Korea you could have a government minder following you all around as you looked for food and were continually told that just around the corner there was a bountiful feast, although you would never find it because there is actually no food. Then you could sit in on a nuclear bomb test before you tried to escape over the border without being shot. It would be like an obstacle course.

EPCOT America would be the best. It would be a big trailer park and a Walmart and all the employees would be ignorant, militant and unhealthy. The restaurants would serve nothing but processed foods like Hamburger Helper and boxed mac and cheese. The entertainment would be bothering all the other countries and sitting around bitching about the government. Fox News would play on big TVs mounted inside the Walmart.

I hope this doesn't come as a big disappointment to the Hollands, but I just don't think I have much of a future as an Imagineer.

If you aren't tired of Disney I have some links for you where you can learn more interesting facts about the history, the parks and the proposed improvements. Feel free to email me if you are visiting because I swear to the Baby Jesus, that I could now be considered an expert, and please, Disney Thought Police do not come after me and kick my ass for writing this stuff. You know I still love you right? Hail Mickey!

HERE is a blog by someone who loves EPCOT as much as me and Bella and no, he isn't a relative though he certainly could be with this level of devotion.

HERE is another blog that is exceptionally well written and explores Disney's methods and means for designing unique spaces. It also has a lot of history, trivia and interesting facts, as well as a bazillion other Disney related links. I linked to his EPCOT category, but you might like the current posts as well.

Finally, this great lady wrote a hilarious book of essays, one of which is from the perspective of a parent forced to get her kid the princess costume. I was peeing in my pants. The whole book cracked me up and I wrote to the author, who, lo and behold, wrote me back a real, personalized letter. I was so excited. I love when people write me back (ahem Pioneer Woman, you are still on my list, I don't care if your behind was on CNN or not). Buy Celia Rivenbark's book Here. You'll love it. I am currently terrified that I may have inadvertently, accidentally plagiarized her in my summation of the princess thing, so if I did, I swear it was not on purpose and I read her book way back in September so any similarity is purely coincidental and the result of me and Ms. Rivenbark simply agreeing on the subject.


Heather said...

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! That is too hilarious! I would most definitely like to visit your Axis of Evil Epcot center, and I am now thinking of excuses to give my daughter as to why she cannot have a princess costume. Although I'm sure her Aunt will buy her one of each anyway.

kaylee said...

AS I hate Disney with a passion
that is keep in reseve
for GWB, I loved this.
I did not know if I should
be laughing or crying
at your version of Epcot.
I little of both may be
the thing.
The "Rodent that Ate FL" should
be banned in the world.
If you want real depression
go to the Disney in France.
This should be a live altering
event that will shatter
everything you hold scared.
Love your life and your story-
kay lee

JoeinVegas said...

Hmm, maybe a real Tijuana donkey show?
As for princesses - guess you haven't visited a big mall in a while. Out here there are Princess stores, where moms can buy outfits and the girls can come in and have tea parties with other little girls in princess outfits. It's all so princessy.
And not all ex Vegas showgirls are homeless. Some do marry rich. After all, George Clooney recently picked up a Vegas cocktail waitress.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe you can hate something and despise it so much at the same time, isn't it. For me, it's like that with Disney parks and also me.

MsCatMinder said...

You made my morning !

Anonymous said...

Exquistely written dear blogger. You are amazing. Loved the description of the ugly little appropro. Also, too many fat behinds at these parks. America at it's worst. And, did I mention the dreadful strollers running over everyone's feet. God I hate 'em.

MP said...

Axis of Evil Epcot..that is some funny shit!!
It's been quite a few years since I've visited the great parks of Orlando...

Anonymous said...

this is your best post, EVER.

the biggest virtual hugs of all, sunny

Yerba Buena said...

Oh, christ. I first visited Disney World when I was fourteen (a friend invited me along, and who was I to say no?) and the memory is still fresh - more than I wish it was. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard at a blog post before this one. Spot ON.

Reb said...

Oh, I so wanted to visit Disney as a child, either one! Alas, I have never in my life made it there. I would make love to visit your Axis of Evil Epcot though! It sounds so much more interesting!

Anonymous said...

I love Epcot. I always have. After wandering around in the heat I ove getting on Spaceship Earth for a little misting and AC.

I've actually only been to Disney once and I was 13 so I might be slightly one sided about my experiences.

Anonymous said...

So exactly 180 days before our last Disney World vacation we got out of bed at the crack of dawn to call and get our Breakfast with Cinderella reservations. Upon arrival I noticed a Princess Beauty Parlour in the castle across from the breakfast place. Of course there was no way I was paying to dress the kid in 50 pounds of tulle/gauze/whatever including hairstyle and tiara before the big breakfast. She didn't even ask thank god. The only thing I had to endure were the smug looks from the other mothers. I got the last laugh though. You can imagine the state of mind those kids were in by the afternoon after wearing all that nonsense in 90 degree weather.

Good parents don't let their kids walk around all day in plastic princess jelly shoes.

Awesome post, it had me rolling. We always do Epcot on our arrival day since it's only a half day.

Mile High Pixie said...

OMGMICKEY! I haven't checked your bolg in a while, and I'm glad I didn't go get that glass of sweet tea I was craving before I read this or it would be all over my computer monitor. I love it love it love it! The bit about Germany IN Florida? Priceless! Nothing like some Dieters in patent leather jock straps and leiderhosen to make you say "Danke shoehn!"

JDogg said...

Thanks for a smile here tonight! You never cease to amaze me with your writing.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful essay, one of your best - but then all of them are "the best." Thanks for sharing your wit and charm. Happy New Year!

anom. reader

secretmom said...

hysterical post! loved it

saintseester said...

Epcot was always my favorite, if for no other reason than you could sit on those educational rides, rest and be air-conditioned for a while.

And, I love Celia Rivenbark, too!

Eric said...

Wow what an entertaining and insightful piece.

gulfsidebo said...

i have two daughters...they both love the disney princess thing. you know what? i didn't like it either, but it actually is pretty harmless. they will grow out of it on their own and it allows them to dream and has really encouraged them to both love stories and storytelling and to play imagination games that i could never in my life come up with. so, in conclusion, i don't fear the princess thing if you ever have a daughter. you don't have to buy into it hardcore, but overall, it's pretty harmless.

btw, the only reason we ever go to Epcot with our kids is so they can have a massively, but extremely tasty, overpriced Princess breakfast with all the little girls favs. Give them plastic, don't look at the price, sign your name and watch the glowing smiles of your children. Memories that will last forever and interest rates that may outlast the memories.

Anonymous said...

I once saw a big scary Irish guy at Universal turn to his less-than-impressed teen son and threaten to beat the living snot out of him. He screams: "Yer it Disney and yer gin to lerv it or so help me god I'll level yer."

He was in front of a beer cart at Universal.

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