Teaching in A Company Town of Dreams
By Dorinda Fox
Orlando was once a company town and the company was Disney. The success of the Disney theme parks and hotels begat more theme parks and hotels. Nowadays, it would be more accurate to describe Orlando as a theme park industry town. It is possible on a given day when visiting Orlando to take the kids to breakfast with Sponge Bob at the Nickelodeon Hotel, drop by the Holyland Theme Park to see Jesus crucified in bloody glory that afternoon, and to watch fireworks over Cinderella’s castle at midnight. Jesus is crucified just right across I-4 from the Millenia Mall, so after tourists are done with that they can head over to Chanel for some overpriced perfume.
Many if not most of my students work for that theme park industry. I have yet to teach a Jesus (it sounds like a tough gig) in my class, but I have taught several Snow Whites, a Jasmine, and the showcased dwarf from Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. The manager of the Holyland gift shop lives across the street from me, and should I the atheist ever have a need for Jesus-related items then they are available at a discount.
Years ago there was a wonderful and almost mythical bar in Kissimmee called the Big Bamboo at which Disney or other theme park cast members hung out. That bar has since been torn down in the name of urban renewal—of which blighted Kissimmee is in great need. Disney cast members such as princesses, Goofy, and trolley bus drivers came in after work to listen to big band music—the only music allowed—and to drink only the bar owner’s favorite beer while discussing the the travails of working at the “happiest place on earth.” The beer was Miller, Michelob, or PBR. I just remember it was cheap and I don’t drink beer. The Big Bamboo was located in a nondescript building with tiki bar decoration inside. This is supposed to be an academic blog but it is not written by a robot. I fondly remember making out under the stars on the back porch of the Big Bamboo with a good friend who worked as a boat captain on the Jaws ride. I heard the stories of the cast members at the Big Bamboo and believe me — there is a dark dark side to many of the happy places at which my students work in Orlando.
Much like Hollywood, Orlando is a dream factory. The most iconic dreams Orlando produces are Disney princesses derived from fairy tales. When I teach the second half of composition focusing on the elements of literature as represented in poetry, fiction, and drama, I try to bring in pop culture to enhance student interest. Thus, when learning about the elements of fiction student’s revise a fairy tale several times—once for a change in plot, once for a change in setting, once for a change in point of view, etc…. After they do so, they share their revisions in peer review and discuss how the changes affected the elements of the tale. The real graded assignment the students produce after several weeks is an essay in which they examine their different versions of the story and discuss how the elements of fiction work together. What elements change when one changes a particular element? Do the elements work together or are there some that can stand apart? I could lecture a few hours on those subjects but having the students discover that one can’t change point-of-view without then limiting the plot elements presented on their own is more pedagogically sound and more fun.
This assignment is not particularly novel, because other authors have produced stories such as “Bitches of the Kingdom,” a one-hour play scheduled to run at the Orlando Fringe Festival this month. In this play/musical the authors debunk the life of happily after as various Disney princesses sing about the mundacity of royal life. And yes I know I made up “mundacity,” but it implies both mundane and mendacity and it was perfect for the sentence so I used it. The musical was rated 15 and up, but I took my seven-year-old daughter anyway because she is the susceptible target audience of Disney’s princess factory. I explained there might be some dirty words, but she could live through it. There would also be silly jokes like those on Spongebob Squarepants.
She asked, “Like when Spongebob farts in Patrick’s face?” and I told her she got it right.
“Bitches of the Kingdom” has a feminist viewpoint in that the emaciated Barbie-like princesses sing about their need to eat, as well as how their royalty came about in part because of having big breasts. My daughter’s favorite line for which I am sure I will be punished for letting her hear was by Beauty bitch of the kingdom who complained, “I have to pick up my husband’s poop.” There was much discussion of their prince husbands, none of whom were to be seen. The only princess without a man was Mulan, and she came out during her song as a cross-dressing lesbian.
The feminist viewpoint was best summarized by my seven-year-old when we were leaving the theater. She looked up at me with her wise little face and said, “Mom there are no handsome princes.” My work as mother is done on that point now. Disney’s princess factory creates fantasies that we then measure up to our own reality with which we find fault and displeasure. My daughter learned that there are no princes and sometimes you have to pick up poop.
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