The opening of Disneyland on this day 60 years ago was an utter disaster: thousands of counterfeit tickets, a plumbers’ strike, still-wet asphalt, a gas leak, and other mishaps marred the big day. Three years later, The Nation published a piece by Julian Halevy, a screenwriter and novelist, on a journey to Disneyland and Las Vegas. His review of the amusement park is hilariously disapproving.
As in the Disney movies, the whole world, the universe, and all man’s striving for dominion over self and nature, have been reduced to a sickening blend of cheap formulas packaged to sell. Romance, Adventure, Fantasy, Science are ballyhooed and marketed: life is bright-colored, clean, cute, titivating, safe, mediocre, inoffensive to the lowest common denominator, and somehow poignantly inhuman. The mythology glorified in TV and Hollywood’s B films has been given too solid flesh. By some Gresham’s law of bad art driving out good, the whole of Southern California and the nation indivisible is affected. The invitation and challenge of real living is abandoned. It doesn’t sell tickets. It’s dangerous and offensive. Give ’em mumbo-jumbo. One feels our whole mass culture heading up the dark river to the source—that heart of darkness where Mr. Disney traffics in pastel-trinketed evil for gold and ivory.
But the overwhelming feeling that one carries away is sadness for the empty lives which accept such tawdry substitutes. On the river boat, I heard a woman exclaim glowingly to her husband, “What imagination they have!” He nodded, and the pathetic gladness that illuminated his face as a papier-maché crocodile sank beneath the muddy surface of the ditch was a grim indictment of the way of life for which this feeble sham represented escape and adventure.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.