We all need a little normalcy in our lives. And a little fun. Hence, with lockdowns threatening to make a comeback in the winter months, it was quickly determined in our household that it was now or never to get our fill of the Disney themepark experience. It is still not popularly acknowledged, but such attractions are genuinely at risk of permanent closure due to the appalling economics associated with low capacity operations. I had run the numbers on the airline sector. They were bad enough. But theme parks like Disneyland were equally vulnerable. (Do see South Park’s Cartmanland episode to get the basic idea). V-shape or no v-shape recovery, the economic damage is such that in the long run only government bailouts or nationalisation are likely to preserve such assets. A nationalised Disneyland, however, is not something I can realistically stomach. And so it was we decided to set off to Paris and bear the consequences of quarantine.
Unfortunately, what we encountered upon arrival was worse than anything I could ever have anticipated. Disneyland Paris is no more. What used to be a beaming beacon of American enlightenment values, liberty and human potential has been radically shifted and morphed into the exact opposite. Disney is now dystopialand. A corporate conditioning exercise promoting the new normal. Merchandised, to boot. Which means you get to go to dystopia and keep the face mask.
Annoyingly, I’d missed the clues to Disney’s capitulation to this state of affairs. Or the scale of the dystopia they were now peddling.
A few weeks ago Disney had put out some exceptionally creepy mask-ridden propaganda in a bid to present the illusion things were business as usual. I only caught the video once we were already here. (Had I seen it before I might have saved myself the €1000.)
My rationale for going had instead been misguided by an absolutely delightful trip to Peppa Pig World earlier in August where normalcy, common sense and fun had properly prevailed. Plus, I had wrongly assumed that outdoor mask-wearing, while recommended, would somehow be rationally and compassionately enforced.
How wrong I was.
There is nothing quite like the Disneyland experience in France, a country that is now enforcing mask-wearing everywhere, to make you realise the extent to which the rule has absolutely nothing to do with virus suppression and everything to do with social control, population conditioning and the normalisation of a Nazi-like mentality among those entrusted to police the standard. And that, really, is what’s truly frightening.
Control is asserted via a hierarchal top-down formation.
At the top of the pyramid lie the mouse gestapo – intimidating-looking private security guards bearing what appear to be either guns or at a minimum a taser arsenal. They monitor the outdoor areas demanding full compliance with the company’s mask-wearing protocol at all times. The usual exemptions that work in Britain simply do not apply. Don’t bother telling a stormtrooper you have asthma or a visceral fear of masks. You will be escorted out of the park pronto. The only exemption comes by way of a signed off medical release which entitles a visitor to a coloured exemption wristband. No wristband, no exemption.
The active enforcement of this standard on people simply peeking their noses out while walking many metres apart is what’s really gut wrenching. If the stormtroopers don’t get you, it will be the park employees that do – they’re the next down in the structural enforcement order. “EXCUSE ME!” they shout, if they spot a stray nostril. “Please put on your mask properly. It must be worn over your mouth and nose at all times or else it is not effective and you will put other visitors in danger.” The shaming is very loud, clear and self righteous.
Eating and drinking is a key park revenue generator. So there’s obviously an exemption for that. But here is where even greater madness lies.
Word from staff is that after outdoor mask wearing was first mandated, people were buying bottles of water and carrying them around to avoid the masks. But this is now verbotten. A mask must be maintained on your chin – literally, on your chin – at all times even if you are walking and drinking or eating. The only time you can remove it is while sitting down to eat or drink (or in the privacy of the public conveniences).
The walking rule is perhaps the most egregious example of the disingenuous norms at hand. If this was really about virus control nobody would be encouraging people to keep a mask on their chin while scoffing popcorn or ice cream.
Defiance of the system however is hard. I had brought visors with us. But they were also soon deemed verbotten and “dangerous”. We then thought a good workaround might be the consumption of lollipops. That worked okay for a while, but eventually the sugar intake began to take its toll. And even then you could feel the watchers – i.e. all the other visitors – judging you all the time. The watchers represent the final rung of the enforcement pyramid. It is they who ultimately give the control system its strength. The system works because even those who don’t believe in masks end up watching everyone else, just to ensure they are not being unfairly disadvantaged by others who are getting away with not wearing them.
All of this leads to a highly dystopic and sinister experience. The reality is that without the feedback of smiles or happy expressions, there is no fun or laughter to be had. The human spirit is highly sensitized to such feedback. Without it, everything becomes miserable. All there is is permanent scrutiny of others and dutiful compliance with orders. It’s a process-oriented experience focused on working your way through the rides. You become an automaton. De-sensitized. Disempowered.
After the sixth or seventh time of being told off for not wearing a mask properly, you begrudgingly begin to conform just for the sake of some peace and quiet. And then you realise this is exactly how liberty dies and how everything we as humans value in life becomes eroded. You also realise this is undoubtedly the same process by which perfectly normal people allowed Nazism to take root in their communities.
When this realization sinks in all you can do to stay sane is try to identify other potential allies who might rally to your cause in the event you finally lose your shit. Look there, you think to yourself, that chap has his nose out! Quickly, give him a look of knowing support and solidarity. Oh darn it, he thinks you’re scolding him because you can’t effectively express solidarity with the power of eyebrows alone. It is then you realise the dissidents in the park need their own secret way of signaling to each other. Ah ha! The Winnie the Pooh balloon. Surely that’s the most effective show of distain for authoritarianism at Disneyland? But does anyone else get the Xi Jengping reference? How about hanging around the liberty court on Main Street in quiet protest against authoritarianism bearing said Winnie the Pooh balloon? If only we dissidents could get the message out.
Oh bugger, you then realise, even Winnie’s been repressed. There he is caged off in a character safe-space because a full-on character hazmat suit has been deemed not enough to protect workers from the hazard that are masked-up parents with children. Mickey, Donald, Minnie, Pluto – they are all caged or cordoned off.
That’s the sadness of it all. It’s not just that they’ve cancelled all the character meet ups, all the parades and all the fireworks. It’s that even when you are taking a selfie five metres away from Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse you get scolded for the audacity of trying to take a maskless picture. This surely is insanity?
Other mad procedures in play include no housekeeping, no room service and no buffets. Many rides and shows remain closed or not operational, and half of the park’s hotels never opened to begin with. Not that there are any significant discounts!
To sum up: Don’t go to Disneyland Paris. The magic is gone. Disneyland is now a horror show.