BEYOND GREATER: MUST-READ STORY WE DIDN’T WRITE–DEATH OF ‘DISNEY DREAM’By Dave Wielenga
Frank Rich, the former theater critic who has done as well as a mere mortal could in following the legendary Russell Baker as the best reason to read the New York Times on Sundays, notes that one of the not-so-notable deaths of 2010 was Robbins Barstow—the Connecticut suburbanite whose 1956 home movie about a family trip to Disneyland was admitted into the Library of Congress two years ago.
Rich acknowledges that the images on the Kodachrome film—you can watch it online—are campy and quaint, but makes the case that “the real power of this film is more subtle and pertinent than nostalgia.
“When the Barstows finally arrive at the gates of Disneyland itself and enter its replica of Main Street, U.S.A. — “reconstructed as it might have been half a century earlier,” as the narration says — we realize that the America of “Disneyland Dream” is as many years distant from us as that picture-postcard Main Street was from this Connecticut family. The almost laughably low-tech primitivism of the original Disneyland, the futuristic Tomorrowland included, looks as antique in 2010 as Main Street’s horse-drawn buggies and penny-candy emporium looked to the Barstows.
“Many of America’s more sweeping changes since 1956 are for the better. You can’t spot a nonwhite face among the family’s neighbors back home or at Disneyland. Indeed, according to Neal Gabler’s epic biography of Disney, civil rights activists were still pressuring the park to hire black employees as late as 1963, the same year that Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington and Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” started upending the Wonder Bread homogeneity that suffuses the America of ‘Disneyland Dream.’
“But, for all those inequities, economic equality seemed within reach in 1956, at least for the vast middle class. (Michael Harrington’s exposé of American poverty, “The Other America,” would not rock this complacency until 1962.) The sense that the American promise of social and economic mobility was attainable to anyone who sought it permeates ‘Disneyland Dream’ from start to finish.”
Later, Rich wonders:
“How many middle-class Americans now believe that the sky is the limit if they work hard enough? How many trust capitalism to give them a fair shake? Middle-class income started to flatten in the 1970s and has stagnated ever since.”