Main St. is a very interesting American icon. For one, I really like the idea of living in a town where I would know most everyone, be able to buy things off credit and have everything I need so close to where I lived. It does not surprise me that people long for this type of community. I like going to my neighboring town, Stroudsburg, Pa, because of Main Street. And that is because in a place were I have to drive to go anywhere, Main Street is a change of pace, not to mention all the local, non-chain restaurants reside there. Unfortunately the proliferation of Main Street in Disneyland is worrisome.
In Constructing Main Street: Utopia an the Imagined Past, Orvell writes of re-creation of towns like Williamsburg as “escapist fantasies” and a “retreat to a past that was socially less conflicted, LESS ETHNIC.” America’s nostalgic and idealistic past is one of White america, not the melting pot. Williamsburg is, “representative of a time long before the immigrant hoardes invaded America.” To add insult to injury, the African American presence in Williamsburg, the representation of the very people this nation was built by, the backs America’s wealth was made on, were not “adequately acknowledged, and even then in a form that essentially cleansed the brutalities of slavery from the living record that Williamsburg was to be.” It seems to be America’s collective memory and wish to continue to represent the nation as free, equal and democratic instead of a nation that celebrated homogeny, and repression. This facade is “the essence of the inauthentic, it represents nothing but itself, its own factitious universe,” the very statement Orvell uses to describe Disneyland.
Disneyland represents White middle class America’s wish, in the 1950s and even today, to forget the inequality and repression so present in the nation. It is interesting that Disney used his park to critique the suburbs because his park would also be used as de-facto segregation against minorities and the poor, which was comprised overwhelmingly of minorities. His park becomes exactly what he is critiquing – an escape from the city, an escape from ethnicity, and escape from the poor. In the Making of Disneyland, Lipsitz states, “Disneyland was the success it was in part because the founder’s fantasy so closely resembled the shared desires of millions of Americans,” supporting the idea that those in power – White middle class America, wanted a place where only “the right” people could enter. Disneyland helps support the idea of the 1950s as “the last ‘good decade’: an innocent, affluent, peaceful and secure time, before the riots and protests of the 1960s.” The myth of the 1950s is exactly that, a myth. Never in American history was there a time of innocence, peace, and security. This myth only existed behind the “gates” of White America. Those on the other side of the gate lived and continue to live the struggles, contradictions and oppressive state of America that ultimately led to the “chaos” of the 1960s. This factitious place of a better America does not exist, and if, we as a nation continue to fuel myth, we will never be able to face our past or our present.