Disneyfication

Disneyfication is a term which describes the transformation of something, usually society at large, to resemble The Walt Disney Company’s theme parks.

The latter term appears in Sharon Zukin’s book, ‘The Cultures of Cities’ (1996), and was popularized by Alan Bryman (Professor of Organizational and Social Research at the University of Leicester) in a 2004 book, ‘The Disneyization of Society.’ Disneyfication of urban space is explored in sociologist Jeff Ferrell’s ‘Tearing Down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchy.’

The concept is generally presented in a negative way, and implies homogenization of consumption, merchandising, and emotional labor. They can be used more broadly to describe the processes of stripping a real place or event of its original character and repackaging it in a sanitized format. References to anything negative are removed, and the facts are watered down with the intent of making the subject more pleasant and easily grasped. In the case of places, this typically means replacing what has grown organically over time with an idealized and tourist-friendly veneer reminiscent of the ‘Main Street, U.S.A.’ attractions at Disney theme parks.

Aspects of Disneyfication include: theming (infusing a place or object with a particular idea), hybrid-consumption (a collection of multiple consumption opportunities in a particular location), merchandising (promoting a goods or services with objects bearing promotional images or logos), and performative labor (making employees not only providers of services, but also entertainers).

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (who writes about the nature of reality and the hyperreality) has called Disneyland the most real place in the US, because it is not pretending to be anything more than it actually is, a theme park. In his essay ‘Simulations,’ he writes: ‘Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyper-real and of simulation.’ He also criticized the hidden corporate nature of the company in his book ‘America’: ‘The whole Walt Disney philosophy eats out of your hand with these pretty little sentimental creatures in grey fur coats. For my own part, I believe that behind these smiling eyes there lurks a cold, ferocious beast fearfully stalking us.’

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