Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 11: Disneyfied Nostalgia

(This is the 11th installment of a series of blog entries. Be sure to start with Part 1.)

A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here in Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December and exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September in Camelot.
Camelot! Camelot! I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot that’s how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown. By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot.
…The snow may never slush upon the hillside. By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot.

(“Camelot” from the musical Camelot, sung by Richard Harris)

When my grandson Jonathan was 11 years old, our family went to Walt Disney World, for the first time since he was a toddler. Early in our visit, we had just strolled down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, and as we sauntered on toward the Castle he commented, “It is so peaceful and beautiful here! I want to build something exactly like this back home!”

As you can tell by Jonathan’s comment, Walt did his job well. For Main Street USA, he and his team of “Imagineers” essentially “recreated” an idyllic piece of his turn-of-the-last-century boyhood in Marceline, Missouri, in a former swamp in Florida in the 1970s. (And went on to recreate it once again in Paris in 1992–as shown in the pic below.)

And it was really authentic—the Imagineers who plan such things leave nothing to chance. Well, authentic in one sense of the word. For the buildings themselves weren’t really modeled on the buildings in Marceline. They weren’t recreating Walt’s specific memories—they were recreating “the feel” of his idealized memories. Walt, who was born in 1901, lived in Marceline from 1906 to 1910. So this 1909 postcard of Marceline shows exactly what it looked like when he lived there.

Somehow it doesn’t quite look like the Disneyfied version! There don’t appear to be any “sidewalks,” either concrete or wood plank, in front of the buildings. And it’s quite likely that the street you see here was just plain ol’ dirt.  With dust whirling up to choke you in the miserably hot Missouri summertime, and turning to a nasty mud and slush in rainy and snowy seasons that would make a mess of the hems of those long dresses you see in the pic.  Noting the dog in the pic, I’ll bet there were dog droppings on the ground everywhere (pooper-scooper laws hadn’t been invented yet) and plenty of accompanying flies. There would be no air conditioning inside those buildings when temps got up into the 100s.

No, the Disney Imagineers had no desire to actually clone a dusty old Missouri town and make it the centerpiece of their splendiferous theme park. They took the emotional feelings Walt had about this part of his youth, and created a setting worthy of them. And the result was essentially…Camelot.  A place that never existed either.

Actually, I didn’t invent the word Disneyfied. Disneyfication is a recently coined term actually used in books by social scientists to indicate when something in the real world, that has flaws and blemishes, is recreated in such a way that all those flaws and blemishes have been figuratively “air-brushed” out and the recreation is idyllic.

Wikipedia: Disneyfication (also called Disneyization)

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.

The real world has mosquitoes and litter and peeling paint and pollution and hostile people and animals. Not so Disney’s theme parks. See someone toss a gum wrapper on the ground?  Turn away for a second and a “cast member” (as employees are called) will swoop in out of nowhere, dispose of it, and disappear by the time you turn back around. Where do they disappear to?  Well, if it’s time for a break, they pop down a hidden entrance to the Utilidor passageways and rooms that criss-cross like an anthill deep in the bowels of the earth under the Magic Kingdom. Any procedure or worker who might distract from the illusion of perfection of Camelot…er, the Magic Kingdom…is hidden out of sight there.

All surfaces throughout the Magic Kingdom, whether walls or signs or whatever, always look freshly painted and polished, because once they have the slightest dulling from wind or rain or sun, they ARE freshly repainted or polished. (The rumor that hitching posts on Main Street are repainted EVERY night is likely an exaggeration …but not by much.)

If you visit the international area around the lagoon at Walt Disney World’s Epcot, you will get a taste of various “nations,” but it will be a homogenized, sanitized, non-threatening taste. “Morocco,” for instance, will have no dust and sandstorms, no beggars, no surly natives, no spitting camels. Just pretty architecture and snazzy souvenirs—and Aladdin and Jasmine.

I bring Disneyfication up because I believe it to be something that many older Americans do to their memories of the past. Sometimes their own personal past, but more often the past of their nation.

Before I continue commenting, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I am an American. I am grateful to God that I live in America. I would not choose to live anywhere else. I am proud and grateful for the accomplishments and sacrifices of many people throughout its history who have made the nation and the world a better place.

And I have some nostalgia for limited aspects of that history myself. But I feel no compulsion from God to Disneyfy that history, to airbrush—or photoshop—the past.

I bring all this up because I frequently get CCMails, or read posts in my Facebook Friend Feed, that express sentiments that I don’t share. I call them “Ain’t it a shame” rants. The basic gist of them goes something like this …

Ain’t it a shame how rotten young people are these days? They have no respect for their elders. It was different when I was young! Why can’t they be like we were? God says in the Bible that in The End children will be horribly disrespectful—we are obviously there now! Jesus is definitely coming soon because it can’t get any worse.”

Ain’t it a shame that our country is so immoral these days? Society was so much more wholesome when I was young. Why can’t we go back to the way it was in the 1950s, when God was in the schools, Dad was the head of the Family, and people believed in and lived by the Ten Commandments? The Bible said there would come a time like this—Jesus is definitely coming soon because it can’t get any worse.”

Ain’t it a shame that America is no longer the great nation it used to be? God blessed us with great prosperity. We made the world safe for democracy. We were like the biblical “City on a Hill”—because our culture and institutions had been so clean and pure and noble. We all looked forward to achieving the American Dream of material abundance for all! That’s what it was like when I was young…not like now. The Bible said there would come a time like this—Jesus is definitely coming soon because it can’t get any worse.”

The blog entries in this series have been building up a case for the possibility that Christians have been “preparing” in recent times … physically and emotionally … for the wrong thing. So many have been absolutely sure that we are living in the very End Times, often because of “conditions” they see around them like those above.  Their idea of getting physically ready for what they have believed is “imminent and inevitable” in biblical prophecy has sometimes included stockpiling survival supplies for The Great Tribulation, which many are sure could start this year, or next year, or by the latest, five or seven years from now.

And their idea of being mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for what they expect to happen has often been to just hunker down, study prophecy under some favorite prophecy guru, and wait for The End.

This blog has suggested you just MIGHT want to consider … WHAT IF the “unthinkable” happens? If you’ve been thinking that The End is at Hand, WHAT IF it isn’t?

What if you find yourself just growing old and gray ten or twenty or thirty years from now? Have you made ANY actual preparations to deal with the reality that this unexpected scenario would bring?

I’m not suggesting that there will be no changes in the future. In fact, I am convinced that the pace of change in our world, already happening at break-neck speed, is going to increase. Nor am I suggesting that there will not be troublesome times. I expect economic upheavals, political uproars, much more widespread wars. But we’ve already had two World Wars. They were awful…but they didn’t bring The End. Even though many Bible-believers were 100% sure that they would at the time.

In the rest of the installments of this series, I will offer some suggestions on steps you can take to prepare for NOTHING of big prophetic significance to happen in the foreseeable future. IF you would happen to follow my suggestions, I guarantee you that these steps will not, in any way, interfere with you being ready if Christ should end up coming next week, next month, next year, or five years from now. You will STILL be prepared for that possibility too! It is a win-win situation!

So here we go:

STEP ONE

Get rid of the Rose-Colored Nostalgia Glasses

Nostalgia: A sentimental longing for the past,
typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. (Wiki)

Although we usually think of the term nostalgia in a somewhat positive way, evoking the idea of “happy memories,” it was actually invented back in the 17th century to describe a debilitating medical condition of anxiety caused by homesickness among Swiss soldiers far from home. Nost is Greek for “homecoming” and algia is a Greek term for ache or pain.

In the context of this blog series, at issue is the kind of nostalgia that many Americans have that seems to encourage them to despise most things about “the present,” and cling to the wistful desire to return to what they believe to have been a Golden Age of American society. Among the circles I travel in, and I think it is pretty typical, this Golden Age tends to be identified as the 1950s.

These nostalgic people are convinced that God is about to destroy America and/or bring an end to the age of “man’s rule” on Earth entirely by sending Jesus back to set up a Millennial rule. They are convinced that this is inevitable and imminent very specifically because “this generation” of Americans is so utterly wicked and godless, unlike the Americans of that Golden Age. THEY were blessed by God with prosperity and favor because of the godliness of the society of the time. The nation was the most powerful in the world, our “institutions” were objects of admiration and envy by other nations, the economy was booming and bringing to pass the American Dream, God was “in the schools,” youth respected their elders, marriages were typically sound, families were typically great environments for kids to grow up in.

Please do not misunderstand my point of view. YES, there are manifold problems in modern American society.  But the issue is…was there REALLY a Golden Age, in the 1950s, when God looked down in enthusiastic approval with a beaming countenance on all the wonderful aspects He saw in the nation? Was this approval the source of the booming economy? If so, would our society regain His favor—and a revived economy and international respect—if we could somehow recapture the “values” of that time? We will explore those questions in this and upcoming installments of this series.

Most people I know who cling to this worldview are either Baby Boomers who grew up in the 1950s themselves and are now either in or approaching retirement age—or those who grew up in the next generation in the 1960s and ‘70s and are now approaching middle age. It’s not surprising that many people have a sense of nostalgia for aspects of the culture of the generation just before their own, as there were so many “lingering evidences” of that generation in their own childhood, including in the movies and on the never-ending “TV re-runs” that have been so widely available  since the advent of Cable TV. I know I (born in 1946) have a certain amount of “inherited nostalgia” for movies, music, architecture, and more from the 1920s to the 1940s.

But having actually grown up in the 1950s, and having unlimited access now via the Internet to documentation of that time period, I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that it was God’s Decade. And that I am now living in the Devil’s Decade. I fear that many of my peers, and those in my daughter’s generation, are selling their own minds a bill of goods that is more based on a Disneyfied version of Mid-Century America than on the flesh and blood Americans of that time and their world.

But how could this be?  Weren’t the Baby Boomers actually THERE to experience it?  Well, in one way yes, and in one way—No. Where they all were … and where I was too… was in their own tiny little corner of the world of that time. And as children, they would have been quite unaware of most of the “rest of the world” at the time. So there are two things that can rose-color their memories … and my own, if I’m not careful.

The first thing is that everyone’s memory is selective. We really don’t remember “everything” we experienced in our childhood in that little corner of our world. For instance, there were 5,262,480 minutes in the decade of the 1950s. I have “independent memories” of what went on in only a very tiny portion of those minutes! There would be a few unpleasant crises in my young life that would stand out and be part of my memories of a few minutes or hours or days. There would be a few really positive high points that would stand out, such as a birthday or Christmas when I received some coveted item as a present. And of course there would be a collection of “Kodak Moments” that I may only remember because my family preserved them in photos.  For instance, I have absolutely NO memory of this event depicted below—that’s me in about 1955 sitting on the horse named Topper that belonged to famous movie and TV cowboy star Hopalong Cassidy. The horse (not Hoppy…) was making a personal appearance at some local shopping center to promote the TV show—or maybe some product that was sponsoring Hoppy’s show at the time. But because my mom snapped a pic of the occasion, I have sort of a pseudo-memory of it.

The other aspect of everyone’s thoughts in the past hundred years that leads to rose-colored memories is that our memories have been and continue to be shaped to a MUCH greater extent than most people realize by the media—newspapers, magazines, books, movies, television, and now the Internet. Did you grow up in the 1950s? If so, let me ask you to remember a few things from your childhood.

List the names of five boys who were in your third grade class in school.

Give the name of the mayor of your town when you were a high school freshman.

Give the last name of the family that lived two doors down from you when you were in sixth grade

How did you do?  Not so well? Well, let’s try another little Name Game.

Name that Product

You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with_______

See the USA in your ________

It builds strong bodies 12 ways.  ______

A little dab’ll do ya. ______

Most Baby Boomers will get those trivia items … and a WHOLE lot more. Just add an advertising jingle or song to an item and you have an utterly “sticky” memory, that will likely last a lifetime. So a significant proportion of the “memories” we have of our youth … in this case, the 1950s … were formed not by “experiences” … but by manipulation by Madison Avenue!

And this is significant because in many cases a lot of our “perception” of what society was like as a whole in the 1950s is not based on personal experience. It is based on the images that were fed to us via TV shows, ads on TV and in magazines, and other media. I am convinced in many cases we may have many utterly false memories of what a whole era was like in the real world because what we think are “real” memories were images manufactured by the media that we were exposed to—carefully chosen and crafted by experts in their fields to wheedle their ways into our subconscious.

When reminiscing about how godly and wonderful the society of the 1950s was, lots of folks with roots in that era will point to their memories of the TV show “Father Knows Best” as an example of how things were, and how far we’ve come from that ideal.

Jim and Margaret Anderson and their children, Bud, Betty, and little Kathy were touted back at the time as the perfect models for us all.

The problem is, Jim, who supposedly Knew Best, and his wife and offspring weren’t a family of the ‘50s. They were fictional characters! Invented by writers in Hollywood. They weren’t the “typical” family of the day. They were a Disneyfied version—appropriately, the show began in 1954, just a year before the Disneyland version of Main Street USA introduced the nation to Walt’s pseudo-memories of a Place that Never Was. (Did you know that the word Utopia was invented by Thomas More for his 1516 book titled Utopia, by combining the Greek words for not and place—it is “no place.” A “Place that Never Was.”)

Which is surely true of the fictional Anderson Family—it was the Family That Never Was.

Because the REAL people who populated the screen sets for the show during its run from 1954 to 1960 were nothing like the Andersons. Elinor Donahue (“Betty”) managed to escape major issues. But the stories of the rest of the cast make it clear that the show wasn’t reflecting real life.

Robert Young (“Jim”): Young suffered from alcoholism and depression off screen during the show’s run. He had a nervous breakdown in 1966 and it took him nearly 4 years to recover.  He attempted suicide in 1991.

Lauren Chapin (“Kathy”-called “Kitten” on the show by her dad): In real life, Lauren had been molested by her father, and her mother was an alcoholic. When the series ended in 1960, she dropped out of Pasadena High School at 16 and got married, suffering the first of 8 miscarriages at age 17. She was divorced at 18, pushed into prostitution by her new boyfriend, and introduced by him to heroin, to which she became addicted. She had two more failed marriages after that … both of them actually illegal. Gratefully, she had a “religious conversion” experience in 1979 that turned her life around, and is reported to be doing well now at age 67.

Billy Gray (“Bud”): Shortly after the show ended, Billy was arrested and sent to jail for a while for marijuana possession. Although he was never again in problems for drug matters, that single incident plagued him for years in terms of getting other acting roles.

Billy (now 74 years old) was probably the most honest critic of the show, insisting in interviews in later years that it was NOT either a good role model for families, nor an accurate reflection of family life and society in general in the 1950s. Here are some excerpts from a 1983 interview with Billy, from the Wikipedia mini-bio of him:

I wish there was some way I could tell the kids not to believe it. The dialogue, the situations, the characters, ­ they were all totally false. The show did everyone a disservice. The girls were always trained to use their feminine wiles, to pretend to be helpless to attract men. The show contributed to a lot of the problems between men and women that we see today. . . . I think we were all well motivated, but what we did was run a hoax. ‘Father Knows Best’ purported to be a reasonable facsimile of life. And the bad thing is, the model is so deceitful. It usually revolved around not wanting to tell the truth, either out of embarrassment, or not wanting to hurt someone. If I could say anything to make up for all the years I lent myself to (that), it would be, ‘You Know Best.’

He was even more candid in an interview in 1991. See a two minute clip below:

But perhaps Father Knows Best was just a fluke, and doesn’t indicate that the 1950s weren’t God’s Special Decade.

Even finding out about what I’ve shared above may not pry those Rose-Colored Nostalgia Glasses off some of my peers’ eyes. So join me in the next installment of this blog for some other food for thought with Painting a Rosy Past.

But meanwhile, just to prove that I certainly DO approve of some nostalgia, at least in terms of “reminiscing” about some parts of the Good Old Days of the 1950s (although it doesn’t give me ANY desire to actually return to them), enjoy this little short, humorous diversion.

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5 Responses to Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 11: Disneyfied Nostalgia

  1. Pingback: Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 11: Disneyfied Nostalgia | Currently StaRRing …

  2. Ben Mauldin says:

    Thank you for an interesting article one again. I was reminded, as I read it, of a Pastor I once had who seemed to always talk about how wonderful it was “back when…”
    I asked one time if he could explain Ecc. 7:10 “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.”,
    and he did, but never quite to my satisfaction! Thanks Again, Ben

  3. Pingback: Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 12: Painting a Rosy Past | Prophecy Panic Button

  4. ip kamera says:

    Generally I don’t learn article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, quite great article.

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