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Bonne anniversaire, Mickey!

Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001
Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001

That’s right. Twenty-four years ago, on 12 April 1992, the gates to Disneyland Paris were flung open. The ‘Magic Kingdom’ offered fantastical experiences, exuberant characters and wondrous rides.

Its ongoing popularity is undeniable, its appeal unmatchable, and yet to me what it stands for remains questionable.

In the 21st century we ask – does Disney encourage the values we want instilled in the young, or does it infringe on them?

Disney has gained a truly faithful following, distinguishable by the recognisable logo and the comic face of Mickey Mouse.

But is this a good thing?

Back in 1992, not everyone was in favour of the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ touching down in France. Some saw it as a form of cultural imperialism that would encourage American-style consumerism in France. In fact, the term ‘cultural Chernobyl’ was even employed by a Parisian stage director to describe how Disney would contaminate millions of children (and parents), making Euros the currency for purchase of imagination.

Many French intellectuals criticised the corporation for Americanising and probably diluting France’s distinct culture, built upon tradition.

Disneyland is full of various representations of American culture, and some believed these were out of place in France, and indeed the rest of the world. Alongside this, the company have even embarked on a steady marketing campaign encouraging teachers to take students to Disneyland, as part of a supposedly enriching, and stimulating school trip. A business review by Capital recently found that over 600,000 French children go with their school to Disneyland each year.

Do we really think that young people benefit more from visiting the fake castles of American culture than the real castle Fontainebleau on the other side of Paris?

What are the other harms of this Americanisation, you ask?

Various, I reply.

American culture certainly emphasises this concept of consumerism – the overwhelming value of material goods. We see this in everyday life through the abundance of advertising, and the ever-present ‘Golden Arches’ of everyone’s best-known fast-food restaurant. For one, this squeezes out independent shops that are often replaced by infamous chain stores, and secondly, it dilutes the unique traditions of a nation, which are submerged beneath the mass culture of America.

The form of materialism that is encouraged by Disney specifically targets the young. We can see this in Britain. From a young age, our generation, those that preceded us and those who follow are bombarded with material images – such as the apparently irresistible ‘My Size Elsa’ (hint: Google if unaware). Disney has been accused of fostering materialism, and it seems as though their advertising contributes to our preoccupation with material objects that now distracts us from cultural and intellectual values.

You may believe this view is simply the work of a deprived youth who never visited Disneyland Paris as a child, or you may feel informed on how mass corporations like Disney are materialising society, and Americanising nations, suppressing tradition.

Either way, I hope you’ll view ‘Tower of Terror’ in a more critical light.

-- James Blyth is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds


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