At Disney World, Trauma, Therapy, and Lingering Damage as American Pilgrimage

(Hey everyone!  So for Nano this month, I’m going to try to write something every day.  I know the blog is somewhat disused, but it’s my platform, and I’m stickin’ to it!  Without further ado, the content.  This piece is old, but I never published it, so I’m counting it for the day.)

There’s a noticeable tension as we’re led into our seats at Boma, the luxurious buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I had just gotten off the phone with a last-minute hotel arrangement after our original lodgings had every trapping of a murder motel save for the dead hooker under the mattress.  There were also a handful of grumbles about the price, continuing until the waiter arrived.  Our waiter, a middle-aged man with thinning hair, built like a linebacker, then says the magic words: jungle juice is included with the buffet.

Jungle Juice typically suggests either the triple-strength kool-aid of summer camps, or the hell brew of vodka and whatever drink mix was in the cupboard that can be found at any frat house.  This was closer to the former, although much nicer.  Sunny D bright, it tasted mostly of orange and mango, with some other tropical fruits thrown in in the back.  Our party immediately regresses, for better and worse (the conversation improves, and ancient food pickiness rears its head.)  Naturally, dessert (at least 50% of the meal’s calories, including the cultishly adored “zebra dome” mousse cakes) is not the final course.

Disney parks are obsessively designed to trigger age-regressive behavior.  From the beginning, it’s been their naked appeal.  To quote Uncle Walt, at Disneyland’s opening: “here age relives fond memories of the past”.  The churros and kibitzing characters are just as much for the adults.  This is why the Pleasure Island nightclub complex was doomed from the start.  People aren’t going to Disney World to go clubbing.  No matter what your age, you’re eleven at Disney.  Eleven-year-old children notoriously detest nightclubs.  Calling Disney’s appeal cross generational misses the point.  Disney is for children; you’re just inevitably going to be a big child there.  Of course people keep coming back on pilgrimage to the mouse: it’s the fountain of youth, and they can’t resist another sip.

There’s one niggling detail though, that ends up uniquely reacting with the facts above: Disney World is wildly fucking traumatic.

Perhaps like me, you were a Type A child with a Type B parent taking you.  Placed in the middle of endless delights, and desperate to squeeze every bit out of the day, the hours are agonizing waiting for your parents to finish their drinks when I can be a pirate literally 300 feet away Dad, please!  This pleading, combined with your parent’s inevitable exasperation at the fact that everything costs a billion dollars, typically ends in a screaming match.  Then again, in my observation, the inverse seems to be more common: miserable children who’s promise of magic and charm is shattered by a death march.  Jawohl, Kommandant Mutter!  Only another day’s half march until we reach Splash Mountain!  In the middle of the Kodak moments we choose to preserve, everyone has a nightmare at Disney they’d prefer to forget.

Walking into Hollywood Studios as an over analytic 23-year-old, I should have known I would be primed back to somewhere between 6 and 12.  Breakfast is a fat Napoleon gushing cream (a favorite childhood treat literally not eaten in at least 10 years) along with milk.  Star Lord, of Marvel fame, has just told my party that we’re good dancers and laugh at his corny jokes, and as such are more than welcome to crash on his spaceship.  And on the subject of space, there is Star Wars everything.  As someone who formerly forced their father to drive to every Pizza Hut in the state to find one that had a windup model of Naboo in stock, I can’t help myself.  Chewbacca gives us all bear hugs.  We are “offered audience” with Kylo Ren as new potential Sith initiates.  Best of all, the fastpasses have worked out so we can ride Star Tours, reviled by my parents and only grudgingly ridden once as a child, twice.  Once on, my “It’s My Birthday” pin singles me out on the ride, where a surreptitiously taken photo, inserted into the ride, identifies me as a rebel spy who must be delivered to Yoda to save the Galaxy.  I’m beaming.

Walking out of Hollywood Studios as a precocious 12-year-old, I’m sobbing.  I’ve just been sitting in the rain for about an hour and a half, soaked through, waiting for the start of Fantasmic.  The show is unceremoniously canceled, and I have a small outburst, tired and uncomfortable.  Although not directed at my family, my father takes this unkindly.  All the way back to the car, he berates me: no one wants to be my friend because I’m like nitroglycerin.  I’m too volatile to be around people.  The insult still stings today.

It’s about 8:45 PM, May of 2017, immediately post Star Lord, and the rain is coming down in sheets.  Jess, one of the friends I’m travelling with, has also hurt her leg through some sort of jamming accident on the Rock n’ Roller Coaster.  She’s been limping like a trooper for the better part of the day, but by now, she’s hobbling and miserable.  However, the stakes have gone higher than canceling Fantasmic.  Disney has just debuted a new evening Star Wars spectacular, said to be their greatest show yet produced.  The gang’s not having it though.  There’s no shelter with a vantage point.  To watch this would be to fully submit to the elements, with Jess on her bad leg.

I’m a kid, and I want to scream and beg for it to finally go right.  I want to believe Star Lord is real and there’s potential for adventure, and eat cake for breakfast, and see every ride.  No, I’m a (young) adult, and I want the gorgeous actor playing Star Lord to jump me (a “friend of Star Lord” in Disney speak,) having called dibs when my friend Cat and I draft picked the hottest actors to pass time.  I’m begging for some salt to get the lingering old sugar taste out of my mouth.  I’m acquiescing, realizing how ridiculous standing in the rain with a miserable group of friends would be.  I’m finally getting it right.  I’m good enough to have friends.  The poison is also the antidote.  Amid all the entertaining fantasy roleplaying, I’ve managed to slip into a minute of gestalt therapeutic roleplay.

In an unexpected twist, my party happens to have arrived at Disney for Gay Days.  Not officially endorsed by the park, but quietly cheered, LGBT people of all ages (but mostly, it seems, gay men) descend upon the parks for a weekend, and host lavish parties in the evenings.   As the only practicing homosexual in our group, we didn’t partake, but I couldn’t help but check my Grindr in curiosity.  The pamphlets can pretend the event is for young gay families all they like, I know gay men, and as expected, the hook-up pool is buzzing.

I’m no stranger to older men asking me to call them Daddy.  It’s a common kink.  I’m no stranger to other young gay men looking to call people Daddy.  It’s a common trauma.  I don’t think I ever have, or ever will, see quite so many in the same place though.  I’ve found the one class of people that don’t have childhood trauma at Disney; those that got denied a happy childhood.  Here’s an army of men looking to have that perfect fantasy of happy youth, or clumsily offer a sexual simulation.

I take another sip of my boozy “Cosmic Galaxy Shake”, complete with light up “meteorite” ice cube, at the Hollywood Studios Sci-Fi Dine-In.  Even at the outrageous costs, I hope they find it.  I hope we all do.


Allegiant: Genetically Pure and Fundamentally Damaged

Much has been made over the term “Mary Sue”.  Referring to a character that tends to populate the worst amateur fiction, the characters is flawless, too beautiful for mere mortals, beloved by all except those who’s admiration turns to resentment, and should they have a flaw, it comes across as token and self serving.  The Mary Sue reeks of author surrogate and empowerment fantasy, hence the stereotype that it appears in the works of young, disenfranchised high school students scrawled in the back of their marble notebooks.  Defenders of the term point to countless examples, and ask for a better common name to unite them, while detractors see the term as a sexist label, primarily slung at young female writers, ignoring equally empowered characters in dime-a-dozen Heroes Journey clones.

Tris (Shailene Woodley) isn’t quite a Mary Sue, but lord help me if the film doesn’t feel like fanfiction from a deeply insecure high school student.  Tris (an absurd shortening of the name Beatrice) is at the very least in the same ballpark.    We spend an eternity describing how she is literally everyone in the films genetic superior, all who meet her love and sacrifice for her without a moments hesitation (and no legitimate buildup to the now front-and-center romance,) and her decisions, even the most obviously wrong ones, always turn out to be for the best.

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