Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Many Faces of Machiavelli

This is Machiavelli

He wrote a book called The Prince

In the book, he tells rulers how to maintain stability and hold power

Many rulers have followed his agenda

Now it's common to refer to the devil as 'Old Nick'

Machiavelli's first name: Niccolo

Below you'll find a vector image of Machiavelli, I created. Move the transparent images, below, over this image of Machiavelli to transform his face into another person. Can you guess the people I've turned him into?



Well, you probably guessed it right: Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin.

These despots all learned from Machiavelli and utilized some of his principles in their rule. Napoleon wrote extensive notes about The Prince. Hitler was affected by Mussolini, who read and followed Machiavelli's The Prince. And Stalin kept a copy of The Prince on his nightstand.

For this project, I created a framed image of Machiavelli with transferable Plexiglas sheets showing the other faces.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Disneyland Deconstructed: Postmodernism Revealed

Disneyland has been considered, among other things, the mind controlling, child knapping, psychotic dream world of the 20th and 21st centuries. Millions of visitors make their way to the park every year to put away adult obligations for a few days in order to re-live their childhoods. One LA Times columnist summed up his experience: “We eavesdrop as self-described mouse freaks trade esoteric tips for milking the most fun from every Mickey moment. We meet families who never vacation anywhere non-Disney. We learn of couples who get married here and ride in Cinderella's coach. With resolve that is nothing short of heroic, I fight the mind control.”

Indeed, Disneyland has created a fascinating cultural movement worth a bit of study. Rather than simply explaining this cultural movement, a deeper significance is found: Although Disneyland seems to model American idealism (an attribute at odds with postmodernism), park visitors (including the majority of American visitors) are, in effect, embracing postmodernism.

American idealism is forever branded in the American dream: The belief that with some hard work and clever thought, one can achieve his or her utopian world—a world where happiness abounds among equal opportunity, capitalism, consumerism, and industrialism. Conversely, postmodernism has no such grandiose ambitions. Postmodernism might be considered the satirical twist of the American dream. It objects to objectivity; rather than searching for answers, postmodernism makes a parody of presupposed truths and juxtaposes seemingly unrelated pieces of culture together.

And yet, how can one purport such postmodernism in Disneyland when the park is literally a microcosm of early America and the American Dream? I doubt many would debate this idea. Everything about Disneyland seems to scream “American” just as anything about McDonalds and other fast food franchises do the same. If one were only to stroll down the park’s first land, Main Street USA, one would clearly recognize signs of America as it was in the 40s, such as the quaint, Victorian street shops, the barbershop quartet, and the red fire engines. Perhaps the most American feature is the first attraction visible in the park, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”

We also can’t forget the man who dreamed up the park, Walt Disney, who is considered one of the most American men of the 20th century. We can readily see Walt Disney’s American characteristics such as his small-town, conservative personality, and his pursuit of the American Dream. However, many other typically adverse values have been characterized with Disney: emphasis on capitalism, commercial globalization, and an unseen obsession with control. Let’s analyze these characteristics and how they influenced the creation of Disneyland.

Don’t expect any deep interpretations about Disney culture from Walt Disney himself:  “I make pictures for entertainment, and then the professors tell me what they mean.” However, many meanings can be derived in Disneyland—especially with the larger, capitalist, American culture as the context.

More than anything else, says Mark Gottdiener, Disneyland exhibits signifiers of each aspect of early American capitalism. “Frontierland can be interpreted as a reference to the stage of predatory capitalism; Adventureland, as a representation of colonialism/imperialism; Tomorrowland, as state-financed capitalism, or the military-industrial complex; New Orleans Square as a signifier for venture capital; and lastly, Main Street as the period of family and mercantile capitalism.”

Take, for example, one of the newer attractions in the park, the Indiana Jones Adventure ride. Guests can embark on a daring journey past giant snakes, into skeleton-filled rooms, and over a rickety rope bridge all inside a forbidden Indian temple. The ride is obviously Disneyesque, and yet much of what is signified is completely overlooked by guests. Its capitalistic story tells of Professor Jones using the ancient temple to offer tours in order to raise money. When Indiana Jones goes missing with a group of tourists, park guests must enter into the temple to rescue them. Turning an ancient temple into an attraction is clearly capitalistic and points to the western tendency to commercialize just about anything. The temple becomes an object of exploit, where artifacts and historical information may be extracted.

In terms of globalization, just about any child in the world can recognize the iconic mouse ears. Disneyland has effectively made copies of itself in every corner of the world and before Disneyland had penetrated far off countries, Disney movies had already snuck into homes and theaters of foreigners. Before even entering the park, visitors were already attached to the characters and stories that make up much of Disneyland’s attractions.

Perhaps, these “warm-fuzzies” instilled in childhood memories by Disney’s Animated Classics have been a major factor in garnering such an attendance to the Disney parks. The idea of theming based on cinema has been imitated by successful theme parks ever since.

Although Disney was an idealist and a modernist, he sampled postmodern tendencies—taking art from the past and mashing them with his own ideals. Gottdiener said, “We know that Disneyland over the years had a profound impact on the construction of themed environments across the country by blending common mass culture symbols and an appealing physical design.”

Walt Disney was a grand storyteller—taking fairy tales and tall tales of his youth and presenting them to millions. He was extremely successful at sterilizing his image of folk culture and turning it into pop culture. In the meantime, the company raked in profits from selling park tickets and products plastered with Disney’s version of fairy tale characters. Interestingly, Cinderella and Snow White aren’t just figures from German folklore but they now hold the modern title of “Disney characters.” David Boje said, “Walt had a universal vision of a vast empire; he saw his cartoons, characters, TV shows, and films as culminating in a theme park. The theme park was based on Walt's vision of a small midwestern town, the one he knew as a boy. Disneyland is Walt's archetype of an ideal American town.”

America’s historical connection with conquering the frontier is also seen in Disneyland. In their effort to conquer and own the open land, Americans laid railroads and built cities as settlers made their way across the pioneer trails in order to gain their piece of the American Dream. Such historical westerners as Louis and Clark, Davy Crockett, Jim Bridger, and even the bandit, Jesse James, have been idealized in American folklore. Walt Disney produced films featuring some of these men, sanitizing them and molding them into archetypal characters that showed conservative dignity and determined self-reliance.

Thus, it was natural for Disney to include his version of the American West, Frontierland, in the park. The land meshes varied symbols of the Wild West such as a steamboat, an old saloon, and an out-of-control mining car. In combining such previously unrelated signs, Disney created a new image of the frontier that has since replaced the older signs. Consequently, meanings have also changed.

A discussion on hyperreality is important as it is one key component of the Disney parks.  Hyperreality exists in a state where chosen symbols of reality mask our surroundings, thus producing unreality. Jean Baudrillard, one of the leaders of postmodernism and proponent of hyperreality noted that with Disneyland, “everyday life has been captured by the signs and sign systems generated to represent it. We relate to the models as if they were reality. In his argument, California's Disneyland functions as ‘an imaginary effect concealing that reality no more exists outside than inside the bounds of the artificial perimeter.’”

As was stated earlier, Disney had an obsession with control. Every aspect of the park was micromanaged by Disney.  He even went so far as to refer to the company artists as “my musicians” and “my artists.”

And just as Disney sought to control his company environment, Disneyland, like American colonialism, controls its natural environment.  Rather than allowing nature to be “natural,” Disneyland restrains every aspect its guests’ environment, from the sights and sounds to the available directions guests may go. Furthermore, “there is no sign of decay, crime, confusion, discontent, pain, poverty, or struggle.” According to one scholar, this cultural interpretation of nature can have negative effects:  “There is a strong presumption that Disney closely records the real thing out there in mountain meadow, prairie and pound. If our first introduction to the natural world is via ‘Disneyvision’ -- and for virtually all of us, it is -- then we cannot help being disappointed by the real thing. Documentary is a dramatic form. Nature is hard put to compete with art.” Disneyland embodies the presence of an idealized world in which Americans, bred from a culture of idealizing, find comfort in the safe and happy confines of a park where nothing goes wrong.

Many of these aspects of Walt Disney and his park relate his idealistic approach to business, and this idealism coupled with modernism is engrained in the parks.

Disney utilized modernism’s emphasis on the empirical approach to management and creative thinking. He engineered what Boje called the “story machine,” where all aspects of animation and film making, including much of the creative work was systemized and compartmentalized. Similarly, the creative work and development of Disneyland was also brought about in a similar fashion.

Modernism also deals with commodification. Disneyland makes an increasingly good use of placing price tags on elements and ideas in nature and society. One scholar said that “indirect commodification is a process by which non-salable objectives, activities, and images are purposely placed in the commodified world.” Disney discovered a great source of revenue when he began commodifying the characters from his films. From that time, commercialism has only increased in the parks. At every attraction there is a retail store, and the walkways are flooded with Disney street vendors.

As Disney embedded commodification in modernism, he also did so with advertising. Globalized corporations sponsor many of the attractions at Disneyland. One scholar said Disney is the “integration of recreation and leisure with hyper-consumption advertising and public relations.”   Like a mall, one cannot escape the thousands of commercialized messages found in every corner of Disney. When the park opened in 1955, Tomorrowland’s featured attraction was CirCarama, sponsored by American Motors. Even the front entrance to the circular theater looked like an American Motors show room.

Disneyland clearly stemmed from modern thinking in the early 1900s. Disney visited the early World Fairs that presented new technology in themed environments. In fact, much of the early technology at Disneyland, such as the Monorail, were first made known at World Fairs. These technologies were developed during the modern era, where functionality determined design.

Las Vegas, a land of themed casinos, draws much upon the themed approaches which were established by Disneyland. However, modernism is no longer a driving force in contemporary America. One scholar compared modernist architecture with that of the Luxor Casino, built in the shape of an Egyptian pyramid while using mirror-like glass for the exterior: “Modernist architects once promised us cities of glass in which we would live in a continual state of revelation: all would be made clear and available to us. Here, glass hides all, inviting our desires and threatening us with the danger lurking at the heart of the cities we have built for ourselves.”

Perhaps Disneyland, although an ideal world, was never quite so modern as it was postmodern. Its hyperrealistic environment is at odds with modern thinking. Ultimately, visitors who trek to the park aren’t necessarily seeking the ideal world but rather an escape from objectivity.

Disneyland attendance is much like that of modern-day social media use. Virtual reality provides the same type of hyperrealistic world that was detailed above. In effect, it replaces a reality—social interaction, with another seeming reality—virtual interaction, which creates an element of unreality.

Disneyland has few clocks for guests to tell time and many of the attractions take place in dark environments. The buildings and attractions are also disproportionate, creating spatial illusions. These elements suspend time and space for park guests, further enhancing their notions of hyperreality. As so many have noted, the park allows for guests to relive childhood dreams in a packaged, sterilized world without consequences or adult concerns.

Hyperreality allows the guests to embrace postmodernism. For postmodernism seeks not to define truths by connections, but rather, it simply makes connections—never coming to conclusions about reality. I don’t assume to say that Americans have completely forgone attempts to find meaning, but contemporary society, as a whole, is moved by this trend, further pushed by pop culture and mass media. While Disneyland may still be considered the mind controlling dream land of the 21st century, in the end, it’s this postmodern tendency in our culture that continues to compel us to the gates of the happiest place on earth.

Wild Wilderness, “Critical Disney References,”
Mark Gottdiener, The theming of America: dreams, media fantasies, and themed environments (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001), 120.
Mark Gottdiener, The theming of America: dreams, media fantasies, and themed environments (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001), 119.
David M. Boje, “Stories of the Storytelling Organization: A postmodern analysis of Disney as ‘Tamara-Land,’” Academy of Management Journal 38 (1995): 997-1035.
Stephen M. Fjellman, Vinyl leaves: Walt Disney World and America (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), 301.
David M. Boje, “Stories of the Storytelling Organization: A postmodern analysis of Disney as ‘Tamara-Land,’” Academy of Management Journal 38 (1995): 997-1035.
M. J.  King, “The audience in the wilderness: The Disney nature films.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 24(2) (1996): 60-69.
David M. Boje, “Stories of the Storytelling Organization: A postmodern analysis of Disney as ‘Tamara-Land,’” Academy of Management Journal 38 (1995): 997-1035.
L. M. Benton, “Selling the Natural or Selling Out,” Environmental Ethics 17: 3-32.
S. G. Davis, “The theme park: Global industry and cultural form.” Media, Culture & Society 18 (1996): 399-422.
Aaron Betsky and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Icons: Magnets of Meaning (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1997) 232.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hook, One of my favorites

Because I am such a Disney fanatic and so caught up in "Magic," I had to express my utter appreciation for one of the most magical movies, Hook. This film has a special place in my heart as it is a picture I remember watching as a young 6 year old.

One of the features that makes this film come to life with magic is the score by John Williams.