Fear and Craving in Disney World

While some parts of the Magic Kingdom may be fun, its aggressive commercialism sows the seeds of discontent.

If the Buddha were alive today, he might be tempted to rewrite his Four Noble Truths as follows:



1) In our life, there is suffering.


2) The cause of our suffering is desire.


3) It is possible to end this desire.


4) But certainly not at Disney World.

The Noble Truths are the foundation of Buddhism, and what the Buddha actually said, in the First Truth, is that

dukkha

exists. The Pali word "dukkha" has been translated in various ways, but most commonly as either suffering or discontent. I think of it as malaise, that persistent feeling so endemic to modern man and woman. You know the attitude: Is this all there is? Am I missing out? Why does everyone else have it better than me?

The Buddha addresses the cause of our discontent in the second Noble Truth. Dukkha is caused by our constant craving for something more. Look at the size of our homes, our wallets, our cars, our entertainment budgets, our restaurant portions, our constant impulse to acquire new things, and you will see that this is true.

Or look at Disney World.

I did, two weeks ago, with my 11-year-old daughter, Maria, and I have never seen a more troublesome concentration of longing and desire in my life. For much of my week at Disney's Dukkha Kingdom, I was horrified.

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The World, as they call it in Orlando, is of course precisely designed to assault our senses, to make us feel less and want more. Disney is, after all, an amusement park, and amusement parks are based on thrill rides. The idea is to take our senses to an extreme, setting us up for the next ride, the next extreme; the idea is that only through the experience of being mere inches away from perceived death, on some roller coaster, can we feel truly alive. Obviously, some basic element of human nature responds well to such an idea, because amusement parks generally, and Disney specifically, are popular attractions.

Disney has simply taken this idea and pushed it even further. Along with the thrill rides, Disney provides fantasy after fantasy, for child and adult alike, erasing the lines between real and perceived, alive and animated, artifice and actuality. Then they pile on a disturbing amount of commercialism. Nearly every ride, every attraction, at Disney World channels the long lines of guests into a gift shop on exit, so that we may take the experience home with us. This is illusion, too; Maria and I succumbed, in our state of high adrenaline, to more than a few souvenirs. Amazing how necessary they seemed at the moment, and how small, useless, and unimportant they seem now, tossed into a corner.

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