[The key in this story, I think, is the cultural shift in the last 50 years. The subtext, explored only superficially, is the economic shift in the last 50 years. The economics of the fifties allowed for an expansive view of what was possible. The economics of today, bred by the decline of the value of labor power, leads inescapably to the conclusion that people are superfluous. Under those conditions, how is it possible to have access to a "frontierland" or a "tomorrowland," even granting that those entities are worth achieving. There are a number of barely spoken problems with this story, primarily that, except for noting the lack of black faces in Disneyland Dream, Frank Rich nearly ignores the civil rights context in which the trip to Disneyland took place, ignores the conditions of life that made Langston Hughes write "life for me ain't been no crystal stair." That contradictory moment both undermines his argument and confirms it -- the Civil Rights movement, an outgrowth both of the post war economic revolution and the post war consciousness that black GIs brought back home with them from the fight against European fascism, could not have developed without the hope to escape the desperate economic and political conditions that African Americans found themselves in.
I don't share Rich's admiration for Sorensen or for Holbrooke. Both are enmeshed in the reprehensible imperial designs of post war America. One can quibble with a bit of Rich's understanding of history too. He alludes to the bathrooms in fantasyland, marked "prince" and "princess." From this he concludes that America of the fifties guaranteed people the dream of becoming royalty. This of course flies in the face of the constitution itself, which denies royalty any place in America. But then again, how can one quibble with the de facto royalty that made up the corporate capitalist class then, even more now, and the imperial reach of the government of, for and by the corporations?
One can quibble some about his ending as well. The important thing is to recognize the direction of the shift that is taking place. Too many of us still believe in the possibility of becoming Bill Gates. That is one reason why polls showed the numbers supporting the tax cuts for the wealthy. Surely a good number of folks saw the inevitable “compromise” on the horizon and opted for tax cuts for all versus no tax cuts at all. But the numbers are diminishing, the ground is being cut out from the center and indeed the center cannot hold. This is not a question about the excesses of the financial markets and their greedy manipulators. This is a crisis in the system of capitalism itself.
In 1957 I lived in Connecticut, like Barstow, the maker of Disneyland Dream. I didn’t enter the contest his family did, did not praise the magic of “Scotch Tape,” did not get a free trip to Disneyland. Instead, my father took an unpaid vacation from his job and paid for 3 tickets on one of those TWA planes with a refueling stop in St Louis to get us to visit my sister who lived in Buena Park, California, a stone’s throw from Anaheim and Disneyland itself. I still remember the “prince” and “princess” bathrooms, which my family saw with a kind of amusement more than aspiration. The ride I remember today more than any other is the mad tea party ride, an Alice in Wonderland metaphor, cups swirling so rapidly the centrifugal force drove me against the side of the cup, my head hanging over the side, unable to bring myself in until the ride stopped. Capitalism’s had us on a whirl like that for the last 30 years, through dem0cratic and republican administrations. The ride is coming to an end. What replaces that ride depends on the riders; either the riders replace the corporate control with a cooperative society, or those controlling the switches will find a worse game in which we may be allowed to be pawns — Lew Rosenbaum]
By FRANK RICH
Published: December 25, 2010 in the New York Times
OF the many notable Americans we lost in 2010, three leap out as paragons of a certain optimistic American spirit that we also seemed to lose this year. Two you know: Theodore Sorensen, the speechwriter present at the creation of J.F.K.’s clarion call to “ask what you can do for your country,” and Richard Holbrooke, the diplomat who brought peace to the killing fields of Bosnia in the 1990s. Holbrooke, who was my friend, came of age in the Kennedy years and exemplified its can-do idealism. He gave his life to the proposition that there was nothing an American couldn’t accomplish if he marshaled his energy and talents. His premature death — while heroically bearing the crushing burdens of Afghanistan and Pakistan — is tragic in more ways than many Americans yet realize.
But a third representative American optimist who died this year, at age 91, is a Connecticut man who was not a player in great events and whom I’d never heard of until I read his Times obituary: Robbins Barstow, an amateur filmmaker who for decades recorded his family’s doings in home movies of such novelty and quality that one of them, the 30-minute “Disneyland Dream,” was admitted to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress two years ago. That rare honor elevates Barstow’s filmmaking to a pantheon otherwise restricted mostly to Hollywood classics, from “Citizen Kane” to “Star Wars.”
“Disneyland Dream” was made in the summer of 1956, shortly before the dawn of the Kennedy era. You can watch it on line at archive.org or on YouTube. Its narrative is simple. The young Barstow family of Wethersfield, Conn. — Robbins; his wife, Meg; and their three children aged 4 to 11 — enter a nationwide contest to win a free trip to Disneyland, then just a year old. The contest was sponsored by 3M, which asked contestants to submit imaginative encomiums to the wonders of its signature product. Danny, the 4-year-old, comes up with the winning testimonial, emblazoned on poster board: “I like ‘Scotch’ brand cellophane tape because when some things tear then I can just use it.”
Soon enough, the entire neighborhood is cheering the Barstows as they embark on their first visit to the golden land of Anaheim, Calif. As narrated by Robbins Barstow (he added his voiceover soundtrack to the silent Kodachrome film in 1995), every aspect of this pilgrimage is a joy, from the “giant TWA Super Constellation” propeller plane (seating 64) that crosses the country in a single day (with a refueling stop in St. Louis) to the home-made Davy Crockett jackets the family wears en route.
To watch “Disneyland Dream” now as a boomer inevitably sets off pangs of longing for a vanished childhood fantasyland: not just Walt Disney’s then-novel theme park but all the sunny idylls of 1950s pop culture. As it happens, Disney’s Davy Crockett, the actor Fess Parker, also died this year. So did Barbara Billingsley, matriarch of the sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” whose fictional family, the Cleavers, first appeared in 1957 and could have lived next door to the Barstows. But the real power of this film is more subtle and pertinent than nostalgia.