Disneyland: A Degenerate Utopia





1. Utopia

a.  Utopia/Outopia/Eutopia: Nowhere/the place of happiness


b.  Neutrality(of Utopia): “the name given to limits, to contradiction itself”


c.  Critical discourse: Utopia “transforms contradiction into a representation”… “utopia as the textual product of utopian practice or fiction is produced by the critical discourse as a possible synthesis of an historical contradiction.”

(Ex: “In More’s Utopia, More creates the harmonious image or representation of a society which is at the same time rich and poor, rich to corrupt and dominate its imaginary outside, poor to maintain virtue and to build with its citizens the ethico-religious monument of the State.”)


d.  A representation is produced from the negation of contemporary history



2. Two Targets of Disneyland Analysis

a.  Patterns of utopia which fill a specific function

Unconscious critical function of the patterns of utopia:

“The differences between social reality and a projected model of social experience. But the utopian representation possesses this critical power without being aware of it.” “Utopia is a social theory, the discourse of which has not yet attained theoretical status.” “Utopia cannot transcend the common and ordinary language of a period and of a place… the systems of representation of signs, symbols, and values which recreate, as significant for them, the real conditions of their existence.”


b.  To show how a utopian structure and utopian functions degenerate…

Disneyland is an immense and displaced metaphor of the system of representations and values unique to American society.”

“This projection has the precise function of alienating the visitor by a distorted and fantasmatic representation of daily life… But this projection no longer has its critical impact.”

“The visitor is on the stage; he performs the play; he is alienated by his part without being aware of performing a part.”



The Limit


1. The Gap

“The utopian land belongs to ‘our world,’ but there is an insuperable gap between our world and utopia.”

“The gap is a neutral space, the place of the limit between reality and utopia: by this distance which is a zero-point, utopia appears to be not a world beyond, but the reverse side of this world.”


2. Three Limits of Disneyland

a.  The outer limit: the parking area

“(It) is the limit of the space of his(visitor) daily life… The fact of leaving his car is an over-determined sign of a codical change… The visitor substitutes another system of signs and behaviors…”


b.  The intermediary limit: the row of booths where a monetary substitution takes place

“The Disneyland money is less a money than a language, (which is) the signs of the Disneyland vocabulary thanks to which he can perform his part, utter his ‘speech’ or his individual narrative”


c.  The inner limit: the embankment of the Sante Fe and Disneyland Railway

“It is a limit for the utopian space which is encircled and closed by it”

“The Railway is a limit in the map for a dominant, all-seeing eye… it is the first of the entertainments which he can consume.”

“The structure which belongs to the map is a concealed rule of behavior for the visitor.”



Main Street USA: The Access to the Center


1. Referential Function

“The most obvious axis(Main Street USA) of Disneyland’s utopia leads the visitor not only from the circular limit or perimeter to the core of the closed space, but also from reality to fantasy. This fantasy is the trademark, the sign, the symbolic image of Disneyland’s utopia.”

“Image is duplicated by reality in two opposite senses: on the one hand, it becomes real, but on the other, reality is changed into image, is grasped by the ‘imaginary.’”

“(The process of) an hallucinatory wish-fulfillment is not only (through) the stuff of images and representation which are molded by wish, but constitutes the very actuality of the fantasy where wish is caught in its snare.”


2. Phatic Function

“Main Street USA is the channel of transmission of the story narrated by the visitor in making his tour. It allows him to communicate.”

Disneyland can be viewed as thousands and thousands of narratives uttered by the visitors.”

“All the messages, all the tours, all the stories told by the visitors, is taken into account structurally in a ‘lexie’ belonging to a superior level.”(semiotic function)


3. Integrative Function

“Main Street USA is a district, a land which separates and links Frontierland and Adventureland on the one hand, and Tomorrowland on the other.”

“With Main Street USA, we have a part of the whole which is as good as the whole, which is equivalent to the whole… in the space occupied by Main Street USA, the past and the present, that is, an ideal past and a real present.”



Disneyland’s Worlds: from the Narrative to the System of Readings



“In order to utter his own story, the visitor is forced to borrow these representations. He is manipulated by the system, even when he seems to freely choose his tour.”

Disneyland is an example of a large reduced to a univocal code, without parole, even though its visitors have the feeling of living a personal and unique adventure on their own tour. And since this langue is a stereotyped fantasy, the visitor is caught in it, without any opportunity to escape.”

“To use the town as a multicoded or overcoded totality, codes subverting each other to the benefit of a poetic parole. / Viewed from this perspective, Disneyland is an extra-ordinary dystopia.”



a.  Adventureland: “scenes of wildlife in exotic countries – spatial distance of the outside geographical world, the world of natural savagery.”

b.  Frontierland: “scenes of the final conquest of the West – temporal distance of the past history of American nation.”

c.  Tomorrowland: “the Future-as-space, Einsteinian Time- Space which realized the harmonious synthesis of the two-dimensional world represented on the left part as time and space as strange, exotic primitivism.”



a.  The center in the map / The center in the semantic structure

b.  Main Street USA: a place of exchange: exchange of commodities and objects of consumption, but also significations and symbols.” “By the selling of up-to-date consumer goods in the 19th century street, between the adult reality and the childish fantasy, Walt Disney’s utopia converts the commodities into significations. Reciprocally, what is brought there are signs, but these signs are commodities.”

c.  “The center of the structure… is not only an intersecting point of these two semantic axes… Through it, the contrary poles of the correlations exchange their meaning: reality becomes fantasmatic and fantasy, actual. The remoteness of exotic places and of the universal space-time of science and technology and this universality becomes American.”

“The ultimate meaning of the center is the conversion of history into representation, a conversion by which the utopian space itself is caught in the representation.”

d.  The eccentric center

  The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at the New Orleans Square center



                      a reverse chronological order

skulls & skeletonsnaval battlethe attack of a townthe spoils in the pirates ships

  (the last scene) ------------- ← --------------------- ← -----------------

                         a chronological order


          This inversion has an ethical meaning: crime does not pay


  Carrousel of Progress: a successive scenes taken from (the same) family life in 19th century, the beginning of the 20th century, today and tomorrow.

“The scenic symbols of wealth are constructed by the number and variety of the means and tools of consumption.”

“The circular motion of the stage expresses this endless technological progress, as well as its necessity, its fate. And the specific organization of the space of representation symbolizes the passive satisfaction of endless increasing needs.”





“We have false duplicates of living beings and concealed mechanistic springs on the left, obvious machines and true models on the right. Real nature is an appearance and the reduced model of the machine is reality.”

“The realm of the Machine as a reduced model is the cultural truth of the American way of life, here and now, looking at itself as a universal way of living.”