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Immersiveness*

Immersiveness*
Amelia
  • On March 31, 2013
  • http://ameliajune.net

It’s a word now!

I just got back from my nearly-yearly pilgrimage to Disneyland. As usual, I arrived home exhausted and brewing the Disney plague that is now eating me from the inside out. Starting with my brain and sinus cavity. My immune system just can’t hack the non-stop fun and excitement and carbohydrates and also germs.

I’ve heard all the criticisms of Disney and I can’t disagree with any of them. Their corporate culture is scary, their business ethics are questionable, their entire reason for existing is to get me to pay 4 dollars for a churro, their movies carry misogynistic and heteronormative messages (among many other race/ethnicity/class/history rewriting issues), etc. etc.

Those churros are dang expensive. But I love them.

I was thinking about why Disneyland makes me so happy. It isn’t the problems listed above, to be certain. Or the crowds, the hot sweaty lines or the sort of creepy fact that a college kid in a fur suit is hugging my child. It isn’t even why some people do like it–it does not evoke in me a sense of nostalgia for better American days. I don’t walk down Main Street and wish we were still in the 1950s when Walt Disney opened the park but barred anyone with hippy long hair and tattoos from coming in (and also maybe hated Jews, but that isn’t as clear). I still maintain that if he knew they served alcohol in his parks he’d take a crap. Either that, or he’d be thrilled with the extra income. Dude was a capitalist through and through.

All that said, I do walk into that park and light up like a six year old mainlining churro dust.

I blame the immersiveness. IT’S A WORD. I don’t know anything about Disneyworld, but at Disneyland, you walk in there and suddenly that’s the only place you are. You’re not in Anaheim, you’re not even in the real world anymore. The layout of the park is genius. You feel like you’re walking into different worlds depending on which land you’re in. Details as specific as the poles that support ceilings, the ground beneath your feet, the landscaping, the food served and the music playing all work together to create an experience. The Jungle Cruise river, for example, butts right up against Main Street but you’d never know it from inside. You feel like you’re in a land far away from Main Street when you’re cruising.

My bff and Disney buddy tells a story she learned in her quest for all the Disney knowledge. According to her, one day Walt buys a snack. Probably a churro. He eats it while walking, and when he’s done, he measures the distance. To this day, that’s how far apart the trash cans are at Disneyland. There are billions of them, and they’re basically never full. There are also very quick and efficient employees (cast members) who constantly sweep and scan for trash. The park never feels dirty or run down–repairs are made quickly and often whole rides are shut down for renovations and repairs to keep things looking fresh.

Food is always fresh and hot and ready to eat (not to mention salty, sweet, and addictive). People talk a lot of trash about park food but let me tell you–I never eat badly at Disneyland. There are four and five star experiences everywhere. And you know, hot pretzels and cotton candy. It’s all guilty pleasures (well not all, there are fruit stands with abnormally large fruits for sale too). I don’t have to work for anything, it’s all there and utterly believable. And often in my mouth.

The employees are near-universally friendly, helpful and cheerful on a level I cannot comprehend. How anyone can wear lederhosen all day in that heat and keep that kind of genuine smile on their face is beyond me. It might involve beatings in the off-hours. The happiness infects you, sort of like Disney plague, and you’re smiling all the time too. You are treated like people are glad you’re there, and let’s be honest–how often do we feel that way?

Each ride in Fantasyland touts the triumph of good over evil. The shows are full of swelling music, effects and a crecendo that lifts the heart. Love conquers all. Everyone is really pretty or cute except villains. The princesses switch out hourly so that their makeup never looks melty and they never look as tired as they have to be in those gowns and dresses in 100 degree temps.

The cumulative effect is one of story, and that is my point here (it was coming, don’t grouse). Disneyland tells you a story from the moment you walk into the park to the moment  you stumble out, exhausted and significantly broker. It’s like Vegas casinos, except in Vegas things are seedy and smell like cigarettes. Disney smells like candy and the rush is from roller coasters. The money loss is far less obvious in the moment.

The elements of story are all there: setting, scene, characters, growth, happy ending. Everything is flawlessly and relentlessly managed to make you, the consumer, feel happy and spendy. Tell me you haven’t been suckered in by a book in the same way. I myself just bought all five Fever books (see a later post) back to back because her cliffhangers are so compelling, her world is so perfectly immersive, that I couldn’t resist.

I figure my end goal is to  make my writing as tempting as Disneyland. I want readers to stay and play as long as possible. I want you to have no idea how close the Jungle Cruise river is to Main Street. I want to hide the structure behind clever scene dressing and I want readers to feel like they never want to go home. Or at least, when they do, I want them to be tired, sore and ready to come back the next day.

It’s all about immersiveness.

(Check out the wiki on the Jungle Cruise ride. The water is artificially colored to hide the boat mechanism, and some of the plants are upside-down orange trees with vines growing on them to make them look exotic. Amazing attention to details, is what I’m saying.)

*article originally published at ameliajune.net on 3/7/12

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