Friday, April 27, 2007

Disneyland as the Perfect Expression of Communism

... we'll okay, now that I've got your attention...

maybe not the "perfect expression" but at least one thing I learned while down at Disneyland:

Communism works.

(What have you been smoking, Basil?)

So, here I am standing in long lines all day long... So, here I am complaining about the fact that you cannot buy iced tea anywhere but one or two of the sit-down restaurants. And the fact that they have only one coffee shop - only ONE PLACE in all of Disneyland that you can buy coffee.

Not to mention this: there's the high prices. And really, people just buy it. They don't complain.

There was a fruit stand in one place where you could buy an apple for $2.50.

Why is the price for an apple $2.50? - you ask.

Well, the fact is: there is no competition. And because there is no competition "the state" sets all of the prices for everything.

So, I'm standing there in a Disneyland line thinking: what does this remind me of? Well, actually, it reminded me of my visit to Moscow at the end of the Soviet Empire.

In a nut-shell. Disneyland is communist. Once you are inside that place, it is the same thing as being inside a communist country.

So, why is Disneyland successful, and communist countries pretty much are not? (Well, you could argue about China, but forget China for a moment.)

I've pondered this question seriously for a couple of weeks now. Here's what I've come up with:

1) They've never had to endure decades of sanctions, and embargoes, and trade restrictions.

2) They've never been forced to the brink of bankruptcy with an arms race.

And, this I think is the most important reason:
3) Everyone who is there is there voluntarily. They want to be there. In fact, they are sorry they have to go back home. They are sorry it will come to an end.

This last point sort of expands and grows as you think about it. Not only have these folks paid money to be there, and continue to pay out more money while they are there, but they have a "vision" an "ideology" just the same as the Bolsheviks had an ideology. But this ideology is easier to catch onto.

For the Disney workers (the folks who work there) they have a common vision of "The Magic Kingdom" - making everyones time in Disneyland magical, fun, etc. The basic ideology is "The Happiest Place on Earth".

And how is it the Happiest Place on Earth? Well, basically by everyone becoming a child again, and "playing." Not only the Disney employees, but the Disney customers. (I should point out that all Disney employees are "Cast Members" and all Disney customers are "Guests".) You see: PLAY is built right into the very existence of all things Disney.

And how do we play? Well, the basics are "story" and "reenactment". You can be a pirate, and sing "Yo, ho, ho, ho..." everywhere you go. Or you can be Buzz Lightyear. I couldn't believe the simply countless little girls dressed up in Disney Princess costumes. And everyone wearing one sort of Disney hat or another. It's a mad-house. But everyone knows the stories, and laughs and plays.

Anyway, "Fun for all" is apparently a more successful approach to a communistic society, than "food for the masses" or "free medical care" and so on.

Now, I'm going to fall off the wall here now, but the last thing I want to point out before I launch into a message about how Disneyland relates to the VT mass killings. Namely, I'd like to point out that the Early Church was also communistic.

Okay, more on this later.


Basil the Baffling

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Disneyland Tips and Pointers

I realize that this is totally rude, indelicate and insensitive... but it is, nevertheless, the truth. And that's what the "Fly in the Holy Oil" is all about: telling the truth... no matter who it might offend.

Some things I learned at Disneyland:

1) GRANNY. Bring your Granny. She wants to ride on the roller coaster with you. Seriously. Go to the nursing home (ask the wife for directions if you don't know where it is) and scoop your granny up out of her bed, and stick her in a wheel chair (she will love that) and take her with you to Disneyland.

Bring her with you to each of the rides. They've got a special deal going on. As long as you've got granny in her wheel chair, they will let you and the whole family (all 18 of you) get on the ride without waiting. It's true, I've seen it with my own eyes. Little old gray-haired grannies, and their 18 closest and most dearly loved relatives going right straight to the head of the line, no matter how long the wait (and some of them, even in the off-season, were 90 minutes lines!)

2) FAST PASS. If Granny isn't available, or you are afraid of losing her, do the FAST PASS thing instead. FAST PASS is a really cool thing they've got going on at Disneyland, but you won't know about it or how to use it, unless you read the fine print. The reason FAST PASS works, is because nobody knows about it, okay. So, now you know about it, and it is going to help you ride on all the rides you want without waiting for 90 minutes in line.

The way FAST PASS works is: there are about a dozen of the most popular rides at both Disneyland and California Adventure that have FAST PASS. What FAST PASS is, is there's an area somewhere near the ride (often difficult to find) where you can "get your FAST PASS". You stand in a short line (usually 5 minutes or less) and when it is your turn, you insert your Disneyland tickets into a machine, and it spits out a FAST PASS ticket for each of your Disneyland tickets. The FAST PASS ticket enables you to go in a much shorter line for the ride (usually 5 minutes or less) at a specific time. It's like making reservations for your ride! It's really a cool thing.

We used FAST PASS to go on Autopia (bypassing a 60 minute wait) and Space Mountain (bypassing a 90 minute wait) and Thunder Mountain Railroad (also bypassing a 60 minute wait.)

The only thing about FAST PASS is: they are not unlimited (unless you are staying at the Disneyland hotel) so you have to plan things right. Once you get a FAST PASS for your ticket, you can't get another one for another hour and a half. Also, really popular rides (like space mountain) are all booked up before NOON! (even in the off season.) So, get your Space Mountain FAST PASS first, or else you will end up going on the ride at 11:00 at night.

An aside: Space Mountain seems to be the most popular ride there. Probably the most popular ride at California Adventure is Grizzly River Run. In fact Grizzly River is so popular that we didn't get a chance to ride it. By 11:00 AM, the only FAST PASSES left are for 9:30 at night, and who wants to get soaking wet at that hour. Even in sultry California. Well, yeah, apparently some folks do!

3) wear your feet out. We tried to save money on our trip by staying at a hotel a block away from Disneyland. But, upon reflection, it might have been better to pay the extra $100 a day to stay at one of the Disneyland hotels. Not only are you a lot closer to the park, but they give you unlimited FAST PASS (no wait time between FAST PASSES). That means you can get all your FAST PASSES one right after the other, and then come back at the appointed times and ride the rides quickly.

4) Early Entry. One of the advertised specials is that if you buy tickets for three days in a row, they will let you in for Early Entry one day. Early Entry means you get to come to the park one hour before it opens. When we were there it meant 7:00 AM instead of 8:00 AM. They only do Early Entry three days a week, so you have to plan for it. And, just so you know, Fantasy Land and Main Street is the only thing open on Early Entry days.

Don't do it. It isn't worth it. At least on the days we were there, the lines for all the rides were much shorter on normal entry days than they were on early entry days. I figure everyone tries to get a break on those long lines, by coming early on early entry day, but on normal days they don't come right when the park opens.

On the day we got to the park at 8:05 AM, we walked right onto Jungle Ride (and got off and got back on the next boat), and the line for Pirates at 8:30 in the morning was only 10 minutes long. BUT on early entry day, we planned to ride on the Fantasy Land rides that always have long lines (for some reason, that's Peter Pan, and, for obvious reasons the Matterhorn) - well, by the time we got to Peter Pan (maybe 7:15 AM) the line was already 60 minutes long! We went over to Pirates, and bit the bullet at a 25 minute wait (at around the same time it had only a 10 minute wait on non-early entry day).


Life and Disneyland

Some reflections on my trip to the Magic Kingdom...

So, what is it about Disneyland? The Magic Kingdom? The Happiest Place on Earth? Source of controversy?

What is it about Disney in general... everything Disney?

I really loved Disneyland as a kid. Then as a young adult, I ran across an article or something somewhere that said "Life is no Disneyland!" And I thought that was rather poignant. As a young adult, you get into this frame of mind that "life isn't fair" and "life certainly isn't all fun and games" so the concept that "life is no Disneyland" makes a great deal of sense to you.

But as I grew older and my conception of the world reformed, I began to take on a new point of view about things. Namely: life is as fun as you want it to be... life is as fair as you want it to be... joy is as readily available as you want it to be.

I began to realize that happiness is something you make inside yourself by being content with the life you find yourself in.

Basically two people can live in exactly the same circumstances, and one of them become bitter, angry, grouchy, unkind, ungenerous, and so on, while the other becomes kind, forgiving, pleasant to be around, and so on. Of course, I find myself often falling victim to the former conception, when I want to mostly dwell in the latter.

Generally, there is a fine line between caring too much about things, and caring too little about things. You have to find the right balance between the two, so you don't become complacent, while at the same time you don't care so much about every little thing that you become bitter, angry, grouchy, etc.

What I think really works is: BEING a CHILD! I really think Jesus was onto something when he said "except you become as little children..."

So, anyway, I'm enjoying my second childhood, and it started a few years back. But I'm not going to let anyone stop me...

Anyway, that takes us back to Disneyland.

You walk into this place that Walt Disney envisioned as a place where everyone is happy. You are excited and ready to have a great time. Maybe you rush around a bit too much from one ride to another... maybe you feel a little bit uncomfortable waiting in long lines, in the hot sun. But you never really get grouchy. Why? Because you are just a big kid now. This is Disneyland, after all, how can you be grouchy? (Unless you are one of Snow White's dwarfs...)

Okay, so you tell me there's a difficult world right outside, where there are problems and complications and hardships and struggles. Okay, so there are even some folks out there who cannot afford to go to Disneyland.

Well, a "safe haven from the troubles of the world" has it's cost, doesn't it? It has its cost whether you are thinking of it spiritually or physically. Everything has its cost.

You could look at Disneyland from the perspective of how unfair it is to enjoy this little island of utopia while the rest of the world outside is suffering. Of course, you could look at heaven the same way.

But the fact is: utopia is a place in your mind.

(The Kingdom of God is within you...)

As Orthodox Christians we believe in bringing heaven to earth. It is one of the fundamental concepts of our faith. This is why John Lennon's song "Imagine" (there's no heaven... it's easy if you try...) has no meaning to us. It is neither an accusation against what we believe in, nor an affirmation of it. We can't imagine there's no heaven, because we already live in it. At no time of the year is that more obvious to us than Pascha! At least, I think, if you are an Orthodox Christian, you should be living in heaven - right here and now.

So, what does this have to do with Disneyland?

I think Walt Disney had the right idea: make a place where everyone can leave all their cares behind. Make it a place where everyone believes in happiness. Where everyone is a kid. Where people can actually believe in magic.

Never mind how expensive it is... never mind the waiting in lines and the heat. I became a believer when I saw a little girl lose her balloon while waiting for the Main Street Parade, and then watched as one of the Disney workers walked from position performing crowd control, half a block up to the balloon stand, and then back to the little girl to give her a new one.

Sure Disney comes with a cost.

But you never lose your balloon.