Pictorial Souvenir Discourse Analysis

It’s amazing to me when I meet another Los Angeleno who has never been to Disneyland. Are the communists? Did they grow up with abusive and cruel parents who built a Carrie closet? Do they hate the idea of fun? Of course, they typically tell me “It’s not my kind of thing.” Or, “I don’t understand the attraction of contemporary mass market spectacle.” Boring, boring people.

When I was a kid, I had a copy of “Disneyland, a pictorial souvenir”. I know every detail of every image. The images paint such a nice story of a lazy day with family, rock and roll fun with teens, and exciting (but not overly exciting) adventures. When I looked through this recently, I began to decode the images. Yes, OCD, yes geeky, yes, too much emphasis on deconstruction in art school. I found several running themes.

1. Old people and People with hats.

Hats signify an exciting time. There are many matching hats on old people and kids. Old people let us know that Disneyland can be enjoyed by everyone. I know this is true. I've been there with my grandparents. Although they preferred that we visit each land in a counter-clockwise direction and never jump between sides of the park.

2. Nuns

There are nuns all over the place in the Disneyland visual landscape. They show up on preliminary sketches, and in souvenir books. I don't think there is any hidden religious subtext. This has more to do with the supposed cruelty of nuns who slam rulers on Catholic school children. Nuns are not thought of as carefree, anything goes, kinds of women.

 

3. Blurry motion

These say “speed.” Disneyland can be a crazed, fast paced, and thrilling place. Everything is fast: a hip dance scene in Tomorrowland, Rocket Jets, America the Beautiful Circlevision, the Peoplemover, and the Mad Tea Party Teacups. The Teacups are, and Rocket Jets (now the Astro Orbitor) were, indeed, too fast for me. All that spinning. But the Peoplemover and Circlevision were fairly slow paced. This was good. The Peoplemover had a hard fiberglass interior. I would not want to be in a Peoplemover whipping around the bend that fast, slammed against the hard seat, or in a Circlevision theater with guests throwing up.

 

4. Leg details

From a child’s point of view this must be what Disneyland looks like. These tell us that cast members are cleaning, the costume characters will interact with children, and there are horses. We also don't need to involve ourselves with details such as individual people.

 

5. Lingering

Many images show people meandering and lingering. They stare into a shop window on Main Street (why, I don’t know. The door is two feet away). Others look at unique items in the One of a Kind Shop, or watch the The Royal Street Bachelors in New Orleans Square. This tells us that there is time to relax, saunter, and discover stuff to buy. Unlike most of the stores I visit, here I can and linger and not be asked to leave. The downside of these images is the message that it's okay to walk really slowly down Main Street, 8 abreast. It's not. Some of us need lunch.

6. Darkness

Whether it’s real night outside, or simulated night in the Blue Bayou, these images are indicators that Disneyland is not just for kids. You can have dinner with your middle-aged friends or neighbors. You can take your spouse on a special dinner date while the kids hang out in Fantasyland. Or you can throw caution to the wind and get groovy with the young adults.

Numerology

I love numerals. I don’t know why, but I love the chance to use them. Maybe I like them because they are another language than letters that is pure and universal. Or, perhaps I just think anything looks better with a big numeral. This attraction leads me to photograph numbers around the world. As usual, while other people are photographing their families, I am taking photos of the gate numbers at the Honolulu Airport, or a street number in New Orleans Square. The title sequence for Lost in Space is a number lover's heaven. Last week, I worked on a spread of only numbers for the Academy’s annual report. That was a good day.

Big Art 1

Disneyland Matterhorn Bobsleds poster, circa 1959

Anyone who has been to Disneyland will remember the large silkscreen attraction posters that line the walls of the two tunnels under the Disneyland Railroad Main Street station. In the mid 1990s, we were working with Walt Disney Imagineering on Encounter, the restaurant in the spider like building at LAX. Eddie Sotto had a few of these posters framed in his office, and I spent most of our meetings not listening to him, but hypnotized by the posters. While Eddie did not let me leave with them, he let me know that they might be for sale at the Disney Gallery in New Orleans Square. And, yes, they were down there, but like cold medicine, not out in the open, but in a back office. My habit began.

When I have guests, I often think I should have serious art: over-scaled photographs of Danish apartment buildings, small minimalist color field prints, and non-representational abstract paintings. But I like the Skyway poster better. It’s not only the content, but the skill at making a story in one frame. The point of view from above on the Skyway poster is genius. How many of us would have composed this scene from below? The scale change on the Grand Canyon Diorama poster suggests incredible grandeur and mystery. There are odd choices that work incredibly well: the color of the water on the Frontierland poster is ochre, and the dinosaurs on Primeval World are purple in a lime green world. I love the use of foreground and background silhouettes to suggest distance or size such as the Matterhorn poster with the beautiful frozen waterfall. So if you visit me, don’t expect some high-falutin fancy art.

Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad poster, circa 1955
Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad poster, circa 1955
Disneyland Frontierland poster, circa 1955
Disneyland Frontierland poster, circa 1955
Disneyland Skyway poster, circa 1959
Disneyland Skyway poster, circa 1959
Disneyland Primeval World poster, circa 1960
Disneyland Primeval World poster, circa 1960
Disneyland Grand Canyon Diorama poster, circa 1960
Disneyland Grand Canyon Diorama poster, circa 1960
Disneyland Adventureland poster, circa 1955
Disneyland Adventureland poster, circa 1955