O’Hagan captures the transformative experience of going to a Disney theme park—transformative for adult and child, with adults basking in the glow of their own superlative parenting skills and children finding a world where everything is “legible, self-representational, literal and witty.” When you want ice cream, for example, you just look for a cone-shaped building with a scoop of vanilla on top of it. A brilliant analysis that supplements and surpasses Baudrillard in its tongue-in-cheek embrace of the culture industry, consumption, and the hyperreal.
The trace of Nabokov in the writing is sheer genius, and I now fully understand why I called my book about the power of stories in childhood Enchanted Hunters. Can you identify the paragraph below that is vintage Nabokov?
We went into the Disney California Adventure Park and found ourselves in a colored clamshell, entering the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a ride in the Paradise Pier section. Lights and cold air gave us the illusion of floating underwater, and Nell looked up at me to see if I was believing. “This is awesome,” I said.
“A bit awesome,” she said.
“You mean, ‘not really’?”
“I dunno. I like her face,” she said. By this point in the ride Ariel was singing “Part of Your World” and every fiber in my sick being was saying “Yes. Yes, we are.”
“I think Daddy likes it more than me,” Nell said.
Reader, I am not beyond shame. But I was so happy I wanted to cry. I suddenly needed to live in this lagoon with all these fake bubbles. Nell is one of life’s natural stylists. She might only be 11 but she knows what’s what. When we stood in front of a giant painted billboard near Mickey’s Fun Wheel, and Sophia went to take a picture, Nell started doing the Charleston and I felt that the best spirit of all the best girls resided in my daughter. She ate a corn dog and we ate popcorn and bad food never tasted so good.
My daughter responded immediately to the idea of America as a built environment and of Americans as built too, by themselves. I think we all do. I took Nell to Paradise Pier in the hope she’d feel like Dorothy in the land of Oz, and she did, seeming entitled to her own large sense of belonging in a place that she’d dreamt of. And that place, Disneyland, is then a part of parental self-creation: In America, in Disneyland, you’re all the father or mother you can imagine yourself to be, creating — along with the Imagineers — a place for childhood that is larger and purer than you remember it being the first time round. So that is an evening we will always remember, the evening we looked up and imagined the sky too must be Disney.