While in California attending my nephew’s high-school graduation, I acted on a whim and decided to divert to Disneyland. I have been to Walt Disney World in Florida several times but had not actually been to Disneyland since I was six years old. Blessed with a great memory for things in the past, that amazing day spent at Disney in the ’50s came racing back as I walked through the park.
In addition to Snow White and the Sleeping Beauty castle, Main Street had the same feeling and so did the tea cups, the flying elephant ride and the boats. Of course, Mickey was present, and I remembered meeting him back in 1958 and being suitably impressed.
The House of Tomorrow, so prevalent in the 1950s, was gone, but Walt Disney had said that as soon as something was in the House of Tomorrow it was already part of yesterday. Touring the plastic House of Tomorrow, my then 12-year-old cousin, Joey, was so impressed by Styrofoam that he called up Monsanto, who sponsored the house, to find out where he could obtain the product. Now, the House of the Future has several products that we can turn on our computers and find out about. It fell rather flat to the Disneyland visitors and did not hold people’s attention. What captivated the audience was the Honda robot.
ASIMO, the robot wowed the audience. ASIMO could answer questions and climb up and downstairs. The audience was able to see via screen the view that ASIMO has. The robot, which took decades of development by Honda, also gave pause to many of the audience. Dovetailing on what Ray Kurzweil calls “singularity,” merging of humans with machines, it begs the larger question of what it means to be human. ASIMO, as one of the people sitting next to me muttered, could be scary. Like the Star Wars clones, what happens if the machines fight the next wars? What happens to us?
What has happened to us in a good way was another profound change in 54 years since my last visit. Disneyland has adapted to the many international visitors to the United States and to the changing composition of our country as well. We recently found out that minority babies born in the U.S. outnumber white babies born in the U.S. The Disneyland I visited in 1958 reflected a different America than the Disneyland I visited this weekend.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the parade. Sure, we saw Mickey Mouse but Snow White was African-American. We saw Donald Duck, who was on top of a float. But, this Donald Duck was wearing a sombrero and dancing to a distinctly Mexican tune. He was part of The Three Caballeros. People from Aladdin were in the parade with a nod to the different cultures that make up the diversity of our planet. The parade we watched was very different than the parades of the 1950s. America has changed.
What struck me the most, however, was the conversation I had with the family in front of me waiting their turn for It’s A Small World. They were working class, and they told us they had saved up during the year to take their two children to Disneyland for their birthdays. They lived in California and had driven to Disneyland for the day. The cost without food, mouse ears, etc., was $336 for a family of four, and that did not include parking.
We started to talk about where we lived, and what we did. Mom worked for a chiropractor, and I talked about being a reporter at the White House. They told me that President Obama wasn’t popular in Orange County and he was running against “Mitt somebody.” All they knew was “Mitt somebody.” That said it all to me.
Much has changed in America since 1958, but what hasn’t changed is that many Americans are still focused on raising kids and providing for their families. Five months away from the election and only Washington and the political establishment is paying much attention to the election. For me, that was what I learned most at Disneyland.
Politicians and media beware: Most Americans are focused on their families and not on the election. Whoever wins is going to have to make the case to the family I met and other Americans just like them that they can give them more days spending time with their kids and showing them a good time without breaking the bank. Whoever wins is going to have to make the case for a proud future for that family I met and others just like them.