I’ve alway loved learning about history – in particular, American history. In addition to the hundreds of books I’ve read over the years, both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are accompanied by a minor in history.
My love of American history was set in motion by virtue of the fact that I was born in the spring of 1958, thus placing me in the high school graduating class of 1976 – the 200th celebration of America’s declaration of independence from England.
There were many activities from that senior year that hold a special place in my mind, but the one near the top involves Disney – and serves as a great connection to this week’s Wednesday Weekly Reader.
Disney Theme Parks and America’s National Narratives takes a public history approach to situating the physical spaces of the Disney brand within memory and identity studies.
For over 65 years, Disney’s theme parks have been important locations for the formation and negotiation of the collective memory of the American narrative. Disney’s success as one of America’s most prolific storytellers, its rise as a symbol of America itself, and its creation of theme parks that immerse visitors in three-dimensional versions of certain “American” values and historic myths have both echoed and shaped the way the American people see themselves.
Like all versions of the American narrative, Disney’s vision serves to reassure us, affirm our shared values, and unite a diverse group of people under a distinctly American identity – or at least, it did.
The book shows how the status Disney obtained led the public to use them both as touchstones of identity and as spaces to influence the American identity writ large. This volume also examines the following:
- How Disney’s original cartoons and live-action entertainment offerings drew from American folk history and ideals
- How their work during World War II cemented them as an American symbol at home and abroad
- How the materialization of the American themes already espoused by the brand at their theme parks created a place where collective memory lives
- How legitimization by presidents and other national figures gave the theme parks standing no other entertainment space has
- How Disney has changed alongside the American people and continues to do so today.
The book explores how five specific factors have worked in concert over time to transform Disney’s theme parks from simple amusement parks to places where the collective memory of the American narrative is shaped.
My Disney experience during the 60s – early 70s was limited to television and movies. But when 1975 rolled around, something magical happened.
Disney’s “America on Parade” was a unique parade at Disneyland and Walt Disney World from 1975-1976, honoring the United States of America on the occasion of its bicentennial anniversary in 1976.
I was a senior in high school that year – the class of ’76. Many activities planned for that class year revolved around celebrating the Bicentennial.
And this happened…
During the parade, recorded marching music playing from speakers in the floats was mixed with the same melodies played by live bands Disney had invited from high schools across the country.
The Mount Juliet High School “Band of Gold” was invited to participate in America on Parade.
Marching down Main Street, playing some of the music I love best – now that was something special.
As the Walt Disney Company celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, a look back at both the life of Walt Disney and the company he founded are intertwined with the concepts, images, and spirit of America.
Walt Disney had a deep love and respect for America:
Actually, if you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them and up my spine is growing this red, white, and blue stripe.
As author Bethanee Bemis states in her book, “Disney theme parks are some of the foremost places where the nation consumes its collective memory of the American Experience, where they see many of the stories and cultural myths that make up the American national narrative.”
According to Bemis, “Walt Disney was not the first to use history to inspire his storytelling nor the first to turn history into a physical experience. He was, however, the first to use a brand that had itself already become symbolic of a nation’s history to create that physical experience.”
Disney Theme Parks and America’s National Narratives is a scholarly work (the author is a museum specialist at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian) that is an important addition to the collective body of Disney history.
This book will be of interest to students and scholars of history, media, cultural studies, American studies and tourism – and of course, Disney nerds like me.
Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader
During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.
It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.