Unless you’ve spent the last decade meditating in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet, far away from the reachings of the French and international press, you absolutely must know what’s happening in Greater Metropolitan Paris on April 12, 1992.
Number One American expatriate (and patriot) – Mickey Mouse – gets his Carte de Resident. Euro Disney opens its pearly gates to the flocks of impatient French and neighboring Europeans. And, as economic realities worsen in the world, the attraction of a fantasy park only becomes increasingly enticing.
Excitement for this vast pop-culture mega-event has been felt on both sides of the Atlantic, with nearly every French monthly magazine devoting major articles and often cover stories to the new American on the block. Similarly, as soon as shares of Euro Disney were made publicly available in the US recently, they were gobbled up in a goofy rage that sent premium prices skyrocketing higher than Donald’s tower (Trump).
There is, however, another side to the story that has received practically no press coverage. The presence of this larger-than-life symbol of debatedly modern America’s greatest contribution to the history of civilization – namely the ability to escape from the mundane, rational trappings of daily mercantile concerns that characterized 19th-century life – is creating a larger cultural confusion among the permanent expatriate community in France, those Americans who chose to live in an aesthetic landscape and popular culture void of such plastic icons as Mickey, Donald and Goofy.
Americans living in Paris feel their larger cultural identity being strong-armed by the impressive false positivism of American mass-entertainment executives. Essentially, there is nothing “expatriate” about the Disney presence in France, and some Americans here don’t know how to disassociate from the corporate imposition of a huge national stereotype. The Liberator image that characterized the French vision of Americans in post-war France, replaced briefly by the warring image of the American military machine in the ’60s and early ’70s, has now passed into the “Mickey the Great Cultural Common Denominator” mode. And Americans here find it challenging to distance themselves from the mode of worn-out themes couched in overwhelming state-of-the-art technology.
Euro Disney, with all its conceptual and technological greatness, nonethelessm is dominantly driven by the propagation of a mythic America and the rest of the world’s insatiable appetite for this myth. The theme park, despite its marvellous “stay against momentary confusion,” derives its commercial existence from an image of American experience and concerns that no longer corresponds to the reality of contemporary American life.
The Disney organization, whose infrastructure is so well drawn that even the internal dress code for employees enforces and externalizes the company’s image of itself, often hires local French nationals whose knowledge of American culture, habits, and language is limited to these already exported images and the indoctrination of well-made training programs. Additionally, hundreds of Euro Disney employees, brought over from the United States and elsewhere in Europe, often have only a cursory, neophyte’s understanding of the local French culture into which the largest theme park in Europe has been carved. And the emotional effect on the permanent American community in France is considerable in that the meaning of both its culture of origin and its adopted culture is being bulldozed with benevolent arrogance into Orlando-conceived forms.
The power – both economic and socio-political – of this history-effacing, image machine is so overwhelming that the national rail system has created a line and special station for this private enterprise. Soon, holiday-makers in England will be able to vacation in France by taking the TGV from London, pass through the Eurotunnel, and arrive directly in the Val de Marne Vatican of Entertainment in a paltry three hours. Coming to the Continent may now mean a weekend engulfed in the American-exported Magic Kingdom.
Of course, to find fault with Disney characters is as blasphemous and Scrouge-like as you can get. No one wants to be negative, especially at the brink of a new European dawn. And, admittedly, Americans here can also feel some pride in the dynamic and creative nature of American industry, management and project development carving its face into this new Europe; but when the product is a symbol that cloaks an entire culture, the tiny and ignored dissenting voices from within that culture need to scream back.