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Matthew Yglesias

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April 7, 2003

Steven Berlin Johnson has just returned from Paris, where, naturally, his first stop was EuroDisney’s version of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride:
I’ve probably gone on that ride 25 times in my life, but this time, an entirely new thought occurred to me. Forgive the flair for the obvious here, but those pirates are terrorizing that town: they’re firing on it with huge cannons; they’re setting fire to houses; they’re drunkenly chasing after local women, presumably to rape them; they’re shooting off weapons indiscriminately into open windows. If you think about people in the actual Caribbean towns hundreds of years ago, being attacked by pirates must have been just about one of the most terrifying things you could imagine. Pirates were the Al Qaeda of the 18th century. But on the ride, they’re not even supposed to be scary; it’s all played for comic relief. All of which made me wonder: in two hundred years, when we’ve all moved on to new fears (gray goo and sentient machines, no doubt) will Disney roll out a new set of rides? Suicide Bombers of the Middle East? Terrorists of New York?
On a different note, Johnson has this to say about the less sanitized BBC World coverage of the war, with its higher “overall threshold of permissible violence”:
The interesting thing was that having established a stronger connection to the Iraqi point of view made the broadcasts actually more sympathetic to the American cause, because you were able to get a closer look at Iraqi soldiers explaining how they didn’t want to be fighting, and how they were hoping that the Americans would arrive sooner rather than later.
[01:45 PM]
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Comments on Steven Berlin Johnson:

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 02:48 PM:

I've heard that Disney "cleaned up" the Pirates of the Carribaen a few years back, to make it look like the buccaneers were after food, not women.

I don't know if Al Qaeda will ever reach the Whimsical status that pirates have achieved. Perhaps they'll make it to the Violent but Wacky status enjoyed by the spherical-bomb-hurling anarchists of the early 20th Century. But only if things get so horrible that the monuments in downtown Manhattan come to be as quaint and forgotten as Grant's Tomb.

Jerry Kindall ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 03:22 PM:

America's First War on Terror was in fact against the Barbary Pirates.

pi ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 05:12 PM:

And here I thought it was against the Indians.
"1675 and 1676 went really badly for the Indians."

Or was it the *French* & Indians? (heyyy....)

I get hives within 20 M of Disney-anything, but don't they have some cutesy Injun stuff? Or has that all been cleaned up for post-racial America?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 06:01 PM:

You know, I've BEEN to Disneyworld, and I can't recall a single thing about "Frontier Land," where presumably any offensive Injun stuff would be found. It may have indeed been cleared up since Daniel Boone's reighn. (Or . . . was it Davey Crockett who was Disneyfied?)

Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 12:09 AM:

Yup. I remember once in an email exchange with sf author S.M.Stirling, he talked about the Pirates of the Carribean ride as a G-rated monument to murder, rape, theft and arson. It's amazing what a little historical distance will do.

Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 01:26 AM:

Just wait until the movie comes out...

Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 03:30 AM:

The rehab a few years ago of Disneyland's "Pirates" gave the women being chased by the pirates trays of food, switching from lust to gluttonry. The last, fat woman is now chasing the pirate's foot.

The "wife auction" scene is still there, and little else has been changed. "Show us yer larboard side, dearie."

You can still enjoy the dated ethnic humor in the Tiki Room at Disneyland. The Disney World version was updated with Iago from "Aladdin".

As for Frontierland, the Indian Village (where you could see Real Live Indians) is long gone. The other big attractions were

  1. Golden Horseshoe Revue. A dance hall show, now replaced by a shorter variety show.
  2. Nature's Wonderland. Desert and cavern scenes, which you could tour by train or pack mule. Replaced with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a mine train themed rollercoaster.
  3. Mike Fink Keelboats. These lasted as late as 1997, when one tipped over and ducked some tourists.
  4. Indian War Canoes. Now Davey Crocket Explorer Canoes. Surprisingly, these are still operating.
  5. Shooting gallery. This is the same, except the pellet guns were switched for light guns years agon.
  6. Tom Sawyer Island. Also the same, though the guns in the fort have been removed. That may have been because a kid injured his finger on a trigger, not directly due to anti-gun sentiment.
Probably the most fiddled-with item is the burning cabin on the far (inaccessable) end of Tom Sawyer Island. It has been
  1. Settler's cabin burned during an Indian attack
  2. Not burning, because such a waste of fuel during an energy crisis is irresponsible (1970s, and the cabin was actually a trivial percentage of DL's gas bill)
  3. Home to a sleeping moonshiner, whose still has set his cabin on fire
  4. A carelessly watched fire that's endangering a bald eagle nest
Yesterland has a great gallery of discontinued Disneyland attractions.

Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 03:32 AM:

Sigh. No, they didn't introduce foot fetishism. Chasing the pirate's food. FOOD.

Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 09:09 AM:

While I was looking up some Elizabethan history minutia, I found this BBC radio programme from last year asking whether British hero Sir Francis Drake was a terrorist and comparing his actions to those on 9/11:

A bearded figure lies behind a devastating and unforeseen attack on a great city, striking terror into the heart of a superpower85 seemingly without precedent, except that it happened before: on New Year's Day 1586, Sir Francis Drake took thousands of terrified citizens by surprise.

One of England's great heroes, Drake brought the city of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to its feet. Fewer lives were lost than in the World Trade Centre but the city was destroyed. Was it justified war in the name of the English cause, or an act of brutal and greedy terrorism?
Looks interesting, but I haven't had time to listen to the full story yet.
Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 10:42 AM:

Speaking solely to your different note, page 2 of yesterday's Financial Times bore a large photograph of a young boy lying in an Iraqi hospital with both of his arms blown off. The kind of news, other than reports of casualties flowing into Iraqi hospitals at a rate of a hundred an hour, or our leaders chortling over killing 2000 to 3000 Iraqis (presumably combatants) during their incursion, that doesn't seem to get as wide play over here.

I met a girl the other night who was weeping copiously. After I bought her a drink and asked if she wanted to say what was bothering her, she informed me she couldn't live with the thought that the Ku Klux Klan was chopping up her family.

Well, okay. But after later and further reflection, what bothered me wasn't that a disturbed person would be troubled by such thoughts. It was that the rest of us can live with thoughts of page 2 of the Financial Times.

This is a horrible, horrible war. Anyone who thought our troops could minimize civilian casualties while bombing a heavily populated capital with the same pinpoint precision that allows them to avoid bombing our own troops and their allies, is living in Yesterland.

And a free Iraq will be a peace-loving Iraq and no haven for terrorists. Hey, I thought the reason Hussein publicly rewarded the families of Palestinian suicide bombers was that it was one of the few things he did that bought him popular support.

Meanwhile, I'm sure the Brits will be popular (as always) in postwar Iraq for their staunch refusal to take action against looting.

This is a horrible, horrible war, and I don't know if the peace will be any improvement.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 01:21 PM:

Pictures of maimed Iraqis are virtually anathema o'er here, Richard.

Not censorship per se, but an hyper-sensitivity to ratings. Viewers are aggressive in their preference for pictures of GIs handing out bottles of water and tearing down Saddam statues.

Over in bOING-bOING, in the comment thread about a picture of a war protestor banged up with bean bags, the board founder made the "mistake" of posting a link to the picture you refer to. The jingo contingent leapt down his throat, suggesting he and all the other liberals didn't care about the Iraqis 25 years of subjugation. It was utterly vile.

Dustin ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 12:36 AM:

I doubt it will take 200 years! It's only taken 11 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall for plans to build an East Germany theme park to be made. See http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&cid=856&ncid=856&e=4&u=/nm/20030227/od_uk_nm/oukoe_odd_germany_east:

Massine Productions GmbH hopes to recreate a 10,000-square metre (107,600 sq ft) replica of East Germany, complete with surly border guards, rigorous customs inspections, authentic East German mark notes, and restaurants with regulation bland East German food.
If the suffering of millions under a system whose leaders considered the Soviet Union's brand of oppression soft can be disnified, surely the suffering of a few thousand terrorist victims can be as well.

Kip ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 11:38 AM:

Sorry to say, but the estimable Yesterland site has gone away. The material referred to can probably still be found on the huge web archive.

I still crave to see the original Disneyland. I understand I was taken there twice before I was a year old. It was early in the existence of the park, when Art Linkletter and other folks still operated franchises of their own inside. Spin & Marty made personal appearances (my sister met them when she excitedly toddled through a supposed barricade and was greeted kindly).

At around age 6, I was so ticked off at not remembering it that I made up my own fake memory. We had a Disneyland souvenir pencil (with four-colored lead) that I thought should be mine, and I claimed hotly that it had been given to me in Disneyland, by Yogi Bear.

Okay, I never fully believed it, but I had a strong mental image of the moment, with a much better Yogi (not a suit!) than any I've ever seen walking around a park.