Divine Disney: The Magic Kingdom of heaven
Postmodernism is a self-fulfilling concept. As a rejection of other precepts that had long since outgrown their revolutionary geneses, postmodernism was hip. As a nebulous philosophical zone that welcomed deconstructivist terminology, postmodernism was accessible; with a reliable list of buzz words and the right style of glasses, most anyone could get away with spouting postmodernist commentary.
But postmodernism quickly became all things to all people, which is more or less what Jean Francois Lyotard was talking about when he spoke of “incredulity towards all metanarratives.” Paradigm shifts, collaborative language systems, vaseline sculptures, Ronald Reagan proclaiming “I am a jelly doughnut”-– all postmodern.
But for prototypical postmodernity, nothing can rival the image of Jesus in Disneyland.
When an evangelical Christian group recently rented out Disneyland for their Harvest Day Crusade, organizers spoke of an “opportunity to bring God’s kingdom to the Magic Kingdom.” They didn’t mean that they were going to convert the oversized animal hosts. They meant that their brand of religion aimed to be every bit as democratic and user friendly as Disneyland.
This is where religion is headed in these postmodern times, says David Lyon, a sociology professor at Queens University in Ontario. As he sees it, today’s new worship groups form as much around common demographic– political, musical, or spiritual preferences– as around a particular God or savior.
They are, says Lyon, “confessional consumers,” who shop the malls of religion, acquiring the beliefs, creeds, and professions that fit. What they come up with is a “bricolage of beliefs,” which, in addition to being a postmodern term par excellence, sounds a lot like a “suitcase full of tchochkies.”
There’s a lot more to Lyon’s thesis than manna from Mickey, and he stresses that it is merely a metaphor. But he’s right to rely on metaphor. Give us a panorama of the Harvest Day Crusade at Cinderella’s Castle or The Promise Keepers on the Mall in Washington, and we get the point. People want their belief systems contradictory: pleasure in penance; political spiritualism (or, in the case of The Promise Keepers, religious males denouncing chauvinism and racism).
But for those who balk at the truth of Disneyland as the heir of Protestantism, Lyon has this assurance: “In so far as it trivializes truth, simplifies suffering, and sucks us into its simulated realities as extras to the spectacle, it can hardly expect to go unchallenged.”
Forgive us our monorail passes …
David Lyon speaks on “Commodification, Classification, and the Culture of Control,” Thursday, March 13, at 3:30pm in Minor Hall auditorium, UVA. His book, Jesus in Disneyland (Polity Press, 2000), is available in paperback. For more information on the lecture, call 924-7705.