3 Dangerous Myths of Disneyland

by Melissa Karnaze

Disneland is a place of illusionsDisneyland is a cultural icon. Known across the world. With locations in the U.S., Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, and that’s probably just the beginning.

How does a theme park get so much fame?

Even though it is just a theme park — it’s not marketed as such. It’s something far better:

  • The happiest place on Earth
  • Where you can be a kid again
  • The place of dreams and making wishes come true

Or is it?

Those are three dangerous myths of Disneyland, and it’s important to understand why.

Myth #1: It’s the happiest place on Earth

The happiest place on Earth doesn’t exist. Because happiness doesn’t come from places or things. Yet that won’t stop people from yearning for Heaven on Earth, or just plain Heaven.

Disneyland caters to this contrived, codependent need.

You go to Disneyland prepared for lots of fun, and magic, and wonder. There’s no reason not to be happy there.

But what is D-land really like?

The rides and attractions are built upon illusions, replicas of imaginary worlds, that simulate real people and real life situations.

But it’s all fake.

Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is an amazingly life-like robot. He’s fun to look at, but he isn’t real.

In creating Disneyland, Walt Disney became a great illusionist.

So what does that say about happiness if the happiest place on Earth is just make-believe?

Myth #1 sends a subconsciousness, but definite message:

“Happiness is just a dream. It doesn’t exist in the real world. You need to come to Disneyland to experience it. But even then, it’s all made up. So good luck with life and trying to be happy.”

Do you think that’s healthy for a four-year-old mind?

The happiest place on Earth shouldn’t be an amusement park packed with cotton candy and Goofy apparel.

It should be with your loved ones. A place within your heart. Something that doesn’t need to be manufactured by one of the largest corporations in the world.

And you shouldn’t have to spend loads of money for a fun time. Yes, some of the rides can be breathtaking (especially to a four-year-old). But so can nature. It’s called going outside and exploring the wonders that are real and all around you.

Myth #2: It’s where you can be a kid again

Disneyland is supposed to be a simulation of your childhood innocence and wonder. It packages all the things that make you feel young, naive, and special. So when you go there, you’re like a kid again.

In Simulacra & Simulation, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard argues that Disneyland isn’t a simulation.

Because it’s a simulacrum — a copy without an original.

None of the rides ever existed as real places (fictional movies aren’t real).

And Disneyland doesn’t capture your lost childhood wonder because you never lost your inner child to begin with.

Myth #2 means that:

“When you become an adult, you lost your childhood innocence and wonder, and you lost your right to play and imagine. What a recipe for lifelong unhappiness.”

Therefore, the only way to recover those things is by going to a place like Disneyland.

But going to a place filled with giant puppets isn’t an authentic “recovery” of childhood characteristics inherent in every person — child or adult. It’s a money-making machine.

Baudrillard says:

“This world [Disneyland] wants to be childish in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the ‘real’ world, and to conceal the fact that true childishness is everywhere — that it is that of the adults themsleves who come here to act the child in order to foster illusions as to their real childishness.”

Why would adults want to pretend that their childishness only comes out to play at places like Disneyland?

Because of another cultural myth, that Disneyland cleverly reinforces:

“Growing up means you can’t act like a child anymore. You have to get a job and take on real world responsibility. No more time for dreaming or playing or wonder, and definitely no time for being curious. Don’t question the rules, the system works fine — you need to conform to survive in desert of the real.”

Myth #3: It’s the place of dreams and making wishes come true

Disneyland is the place of dreams.

Quite literally, too. Many of the rides are darkly lit, dream-like, and make direct references to black magic.

If Disneyland is the place of dreams, this implies that the real world isn’t.

You go to Disneyland to be inspired — because it’s assumed that you can’t get inspired by your real life.

One Disney theme song, “When You Wish upon a Star,” glosses over this fact. If you’re lucky, you can hear Tinkerbell singing the words while “flying” high above against a colorful fireworks display.

“When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you”

Anything you want, you’ll have? Sounds a bit like The Secret. Which means it caters to a materialistic mindset.

And what about wishing for the sake of others? Can you change someone else’s life without their consent, just because your heart desires?

Making dreams a reality doesn’t just happen because you talk to balls of gas burning billions of miles away.

You make dreams come true because of hard work, sweat, and tears. And probably plenty of failure. Frilly advice from Tinkerbell won’t prepare a four-year-old to prepare for that harsh reality of growing up.

Beware of cultural icons

Cultural myths cover up, or act as euphemisms for, harsh and unpleasant truths about a particular culture and what it means to be a part of it. And sometimes they falsely instill harsh and unpleasant truths into the blind believer.

Disneyland is no exception.

The three dangerous myths of Disneyland don’t necessarily harm every park-goer.

But they sure cling in deep to those who are lost, emotionally unstable, lonely, desperate, or even just a kid who doesn’t know any better and doesn’t have parents to tell him the difference.

It’s because of these myths — inscribed all over the park — that Disneyland is much safer for adults than for children.

Adults, that is, who go to Disneyland not to:

  • Be happy
  • Accept their inner child
  • Get inspired

But adults who already are:

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.

Want to learn more about how you can cut through dysfunctional cultural myths, and how happiness is your inside job? Sign up for the free e-class, Your Life is Your Construct, to have 10 inspiring lessons delivered straight to your inbox.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

SeH August 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

Disney “Epic Mickey” Environmental Disaster

Cory Chu-Keenan August 20, 2010 at 11:41 am


I feel you on this one, Melissa. We lie to kids because adults think it’s cute to do so. But it’s akin to spanking. We only do it because we have an advantage. We wouldn’t lie to or spank kids otherwise.

We have a big problem with idealizing our children. We want them to be smiling little bags of sunshine at all times, or else! This is not reality. This is how child stars get split personalities, unable to negotiate between their dark side and their public (perfect) image. But you don’t need to be a child star for this to happen.

In real life, kids are little assholes. I mean, look around at the restaurants, the schoolyards, the theme parks. Yes, they are also cute and charming and lovable at moments, but for the most part they’re more like the South Park kids than anything else. In fact, South Park is the most accurate portrayal of elementary kids ever.

As a parent I’m, of course, speaking of other people’s kids. My son is an angel :)

Melissa Karnaze August 20, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Lying to kids is a serious offense. But how many parents want to give up Santa?

When I was visiting Alaska, I noticed a lot of screaming children at restaurants. I was annoyed by the shrieks, but bothered by the parents. You only have to watch them for five minutes to see how they condition — reward — their children to get away with it.

Yep, there are a cultural myths about childhood too. Hoping to look more at cultural myths and the like in future articles. :)

Evan August 20, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Hi Melissa, I hope to die immature – because ‘maturity’ seems to mean doing what you don’t want to do (especially with regard to ‘work’).

I do think children adapt to their environment and rebel against it – like elementary school (sitting still, getting gold stars, doing what they see no point doing – except to get gold stars etc and so it’s no wonder they rebel, become violent and so on) . I think adults do too – and so need places like Disneyland!

Cory Chu-Keenan August 20, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I think it was in a Louis CK stand-up set where he said:

“People without kids see parents screaming at their children at the grocery store and say, ‘What is that horrible parent doing to that poor child?’ People who have kids say, ‘What is that horrible child doing to that poor parent?'”

Parenting is tough work, but I’ve learned all my biggest lessons from it.

Melissa Karnaze August 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Evan, great point about Disneyland being one place where adults can rebel. Wish it would inspire them to rebel more in daily life. :P

jaxun August 21, 2010 at 11:03 am

Your question about parents and the conundrum of perpetuating Santa is poignant. As time goes on and the world becomes an ever harsher place to live, let alone grow up, as parents we are more and more desperate to find refuges for our kids’ innocence. It’s agonizing! Unfortunately I think megacorps like Disney exploit this, and parents are willing to pay that price.

Yes, Santa is a lie, and our integrity as parents is put on the line by perpetuating that lie, but is it any better than denying a child a few years of fantasy (not at the cost of teaching the true meaning of Christmas, of course) in the name of unflinching truthfulness?

There are no easy answers, only lots of questions to fill this bucket of angst I call parenthood.

Zach Dexter August 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm

We’re hard wired for this — no only believing myths but, more importantly, acting them out. We were all born, and we all have to die. Myths help us deal with that.

It is fraudulent to teach kids that when the wish upon a star they can have whatever they want, but is “whatever you want” synonymous with “everything your heart desires”? Plenty of people who have the means to buy anything they want never seem to get what they need.

As far as Santa is concerned, I suspect most kids don’t care if he exists or not. Toys are either going to be under the tree or they won’t. And if they want those toys to be there, they better behave. That’s as real as Santa needs to be.

If a myth does not constructively inform your perception of reality, then its just a lie. And the worst lies are the ones taught in school.

Thought-provoking post. I like.

Melissa Karnaze August 24, 2010 at 8:35 am

jaxun, hard questions indeed. “Innocence” just may be a childhood myth. It only lasts for a short while. And maybe it’s not that it’s meant to last, but that instead of breaking it we can transition it more smoothly.

Zach, myths definitely help us deal with that. “Everything your heart desires” equates to “whatever you want” because that’s how it plays out when young people are told such vague things (when did Jiminy Cricket ever explain what “heart” and “desire” concretely mean?) and left with little guidance or training as to discovering the difference between their “desires,” “heart’s desires,” and simply what the heart the feels.

“If a myth does not constructively inform your perception of reality, then its just a lie.”

So true. And “constructively” is open to interpretation. Thanks for sharing your insight!

Cory, came across these two diagrams last night deconstructing Disney Princesses (and Princes).

Cory Chu-Keenan August 24, 2010 at 12:09 pm

“There’s nothing weird about kissing girls while they’re unconscious.”

Hilarious deconstructions, Melissa! Haven’t we all attempted at one point or another to be these princes and princesses? Not to mention attract them!

What should we do? Write amoral childrens’ books with truthful life lessons? Maybe. Just might be crazy enough to work :)

Lionel Mandrake August 24, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Sure, I’d agree with much of what you have said.

But isn’t it a question of picking one’s battles? Aren’t there more egregious dangers for our kids than this?

My own kids had their own fantasy era, which they have naturally grown out of over time. I would think with competent parental nurturing, any child’s “Disneyland” fantasy would easily be outgrown as well.

And hey, Disneyland, the circus, the local amusement park, can be a load of fun. I’d say as a parent, raising kids strictly by a grown adult’s sense of value will most surely backfire. How many stories have I heard of grown “children” of morally domineering parents (e.g. 60’s/70’s counter-culture, strict religious, political, you name it) being totally repulsed by having to abide by “norms” they had no personal inclination for?

Certainly that’s not a carte blanche for anything goes. But parenting is a delicate balance of instilling values step-by-step over time.

Melissa Karnaze August 24, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Cory, one of my favorite children’s books with truthful life lessons is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” But it’s still pretty fantastical, which is a good way to deliver the metaphors.

“But isn’t it a question of picking one’s battles? Aren’t there more egregious dangers for our kids than this?”

Lionel, did I say there weren’t?

I’m not “picking a battle” here, but writing about something I think is important.

The thing about dysfunctional beliefs from childhood is that they don’t always fade away like magic. Sometimes they compound with age, or take on a different script with the same meaning. One example is the movie, He’s Just Not That Into You, which illustrates how the prince charming belief becomes disastrous later on in life. And it speaks for many young women who grew up on Disney.

Lionel Mandrake August 24, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Melissa, I guess I am wishing to develop a more multifaceted perspective by my contribution. Nuance is everything in my book.

You seem to be very young and no, there’s no problem with that. Young people have a very important and essential idealism to contribute.

As a parent, with 20+ years of experience, I also think I might have a valid perspective in the balance. Disneyland is just a symptom of something deeper. I think maybe you would agree?

Disneyland does offer some imaginative avenues for kids although definitely polluted by consumerism. But what doesn’t in our culture? Very little I think.

Yet in the real world, parents deal with kids inundated with all sorts of fantasy media. To dismiss everything is basically to shoot ourselves in the foot. Kids will assimilate at least some of the crap unless you lock them in the closet.

Yes, I think you have half of the equation going here. There are some harmful things in the Disneyland fantasy. But the other half of the equation is missing. What would you suggest for the real world? Taking one’s kids out to nature and reading books to them only goes so far.

Melissa Karnaze August 25, 2010 at 9:15 am

Lionel, I will say again: I am writing about something I think is important.

As you passive aggressively bring in age and years of parental experience as a qualifier, and imply that I’m trying to dismiss everything or say that nature walks and good books will solve all the world’s problems — I see that you missed the point of the article and aren’t interested in developing a more multifaceted perspective, but in telling me sideways that my opinion is only “half of the equation.”

There are more constructive ways to approach the question, “What would you suggest for the real world?” Your statement directly following disagrees with me, so I suspect that you’re not really looking for a dialogue here.

Cory Chu-Keenan August 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm


Taking my 2 year-old to nature and reading to him are practically the only two things I consider actual parenting that do for my kid. I’m confident that these two things alone will take him extremely far in life.

The other “half” of the equation is sitting him in front of the TV with an Elmo DVD, which is what does happen in reality. I don’t like doing it, but when I have other stuff to do, it serves as a useful break for both of us.

There’s nothing magical about becoming a parent that automatically makes you an expert at anything besides time-management. It’s an art and no one can really tell you how to do it.

The point is not to dismiss all fantasy media and lock your kid in the closet. Just have meaningful discussions about the film, or book, or theme park afterward. Discuss what’s real and what’s fantasy. Ask their opinions and then offer yours.

Too often we want our “kids to be kids” and that’s fair to a point. Kids are also EXTREMELY CURIOUS about what it’s like to live as an adult. Let them peek behind the curtain. They’ll be thankful for it later (probably not in the moment, though).

Evan August 25, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Qualifications, whether age or something else, are a problem for arriving at an understanding of what is going on, I think.

I’m thinking that young people don’t contribute idealism so much as realism. They look at the world and call it as they see it – more like the emperor having no clothes.

SeH August 27, 2010 at 3:11 pm

“As mentioned before, the hypnotist will find children easier to hypnotize if they know how to do it with small children. One method that is effective is to say to the small children, “Imagine you are watching a favorite television show.” This is why the Disney movies and the other shows are so important to the programmers. They are the perfect hypnotic tool to get the child’s mind to dissociate in the right direction. The programmers have been using movies since almost day one to help children learn the hypnotic scripts.

For children they need to be part of the hypnotic process. If the hypnotist allows the child to make up his own imagery, the hypnotic suggestions will be stronger. Rather than telling the child the color of a dog, the programmer can ask the child. This is where the books and films shown the child assist in steering its mind in the right direction. If the hypnotist talks to a child, he must take extra precaution not to change the tone of his voice and to have smooth transitions. Most of the Disney films are used for programming purposes. Some of them are specifically designed for mind-control.”

chapter 4 on hypnosis: source

mike kirkeberg August 30, 2010 at 11:22 am

You are on a roll. This is another “rings true” post.
“When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you”
I heard this every week on tv when I was a kid. I would think even then, “Wait a minute, I wish for stuff. Nothing happens. What gives?”
And of course, some wise adult would say something like, “Good things come to those who wait.”
Still waitin’.

Melissa Karnaze August 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm

mike, I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie The Secret, but it’s like the New Age adult version of that verse. According to the The Secret, the reason you didn’t get what you wanted was that you let doubt in. And you can’t afford to let doubt in because what you think and feel is exactly what you will attract according to the Law of Attraction.

In other words, you have to not only wish but remain perpetually positive and knowing that your wish is already true — how’s that for even more frustration!

Kelley Mitchell August 31, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I have always been intrigued by fairy tales, a genre that combines magic and fantasy with morals. I love various artist and author interpretations and the versions from different regions. All too often though, I see or hear people complain that fairy tales don’t come true or they wish their life was like a fairy tale. Too many people are under the impression that fairy tales always have happy endings, and I think we can largely blame Walt Disney for that. I’m not saying that Disney movies should have sad endings just that it can be yet another unhealthy perception.

Melissa Karnaze August 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm

That’s a great point that the fairy-tale ending as being a happy one can be a fairy tale itself! It’s interesting how many of the Disney stories are based on fairy tales with pretty dark endings that aren’t suitable for children.

Jeffrey Guterman September 2, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Brilliant. You spoke my heart. Word for word.

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