Thoughts on weddings and Disneyland while I get myself back in the game

content_DisneylandSorry for the silence today. We got home from our trip late last night and I’m never at my best the day after a trip, even a short one. The occasion for being out of town was a wedding in the family, followed by a trip to Disneyland. I have a few thoughts about both.

Regarding the wedding, it was, of course, lovely. The bride and her mother, both thoughtful women with very good taste, had put a great deal of effort into the wedding and it showed. It was a beautiful and gracious experience. The setting was lovely, the food delicious, and the company congenial. Family and friends came, not just from all over the country, but from all over the world. I really enjoyed seeing everyone.

It was especially great to see that, as my nieces and nephews leave childhood further and further behind, they continue to be truly good and decent people. I’m very fortunate to be part of a family that’s produced such a great generation of young people.

By far the nicest thing about the wedding was the bride’s face during the ceremony. Of course, she was beautiful, because she’s a beautiful young woman and her dress suited her to perfection. But it wasn’t the dress or the lovely hair or the makeup that stood out. It was her beaming smile throughout the ceremony. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a happy bride. And to his credit, the groom (whom I don’t know that well) seemed to appreciate her happiness and to be deserving of it. I can’t think of a better start to a happy life together.

Since the wedding was in the south-land, we naturally had to spend an extra day at Disneyland. I happen to be very fond of Disneyland, and that’s true despite the fact that I dislike Disney’s corporate ethos a great deal. It’s not just its little habit of firing all its American workers to get cheap foreign labor. That was a business decision and one can debate the morality behind it. What I really don’t like is its stealth advance of Leftist values and its denigration of family in its Disney TV shows. I have other issues, but I won’t address them here.

Having said that about the Disney company, I just love the Disney parks, and that’s despite the fact that you can easily go bankrupt at them, whether because of $99 admission tickets, $14 cafeteria food, or the endless merchandise shoved in children’s faces. Disneyland and Disney World are just wonderfully thought out places.

I love how immaculately clean Disney parks are.  I love how there is no detail too small to get the Disney magic touch.  I adore the clever crowd control, which starts at Disneyland with the best-designed parking lot I’ve ever seen. The parking garage can hold 10,000 cars, but is so perfectly executed that you will park faster there and leave it more easily at the end of the day than you ever would in a smaller (much smaller) lot. In the morning, the cars are funneled effortlessly into their spaces, one after the other, second by second. At the end of the day, no matter which floor you’ve parked on, a single ramp will take you all the way down and out of the garage, in the direction of the freeway. Talk about Disney magic.

Once in the Disney parks, the way Disney uses zigzag lines to keep people constantly moving (because people get restless only when they’re standing completely still) impresses me too. And because of Disney’s constant attention to detail, while you’re standing in line, you can admire how the ride’s theme is carried out everywhere — in wall decorations, music, the ground surface, clever vignettes, instructional videos for slightly complicated rides, etc.

It was while standing in line waiting for the Indiana Jones ride that both kids said to me, “That’s really good music.” This is the music that quite suddenly appealed to them:

Had I tried to get them to listen to Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade,, they would have run for the hills. Listening to it in the “set” of the Indiana Jones ride made the music natural and appropriate, so they were able to enjoy it.

The other thing I love about Disney is the people watching. I should preface this by saying that I never wear logo wear. My feeling is that, if I’m a walking billboard for someone’s product, that someone ought to be paying me. Disney guests, however, sure like their logo wear.

By far the greatest number were wearing Disney logo wear (some of it very creative and attractive), but people were also advertising their favorite schools, sports teams, bands, unions, life philosophies, foods, athletic events, etc. Americans seem to have a real yearning to use their clothes to tell the world about the things that matter to them. Perhaps I don’t simply because I’m hyperverbal and have a blog. I’ve already told enough people too much, right?

Watching people also makes one aware what an extraordinary cross-section of people want to spend a day in Disneyland. By rights, one would think that a Disney theme park would appeal primarily to families with children, but the attendance roster goes far beyond that. Biker types, gang-banger types, Muslim types, overtly Christian types (including a young married couple with the bride and groom looking about 17 years old), cool teens, dorky teens, newlyweds, workplace colleagues, older family groups with no young children, elderly couples, gay and lesbian couples (always in matchy-matchy outfits and always making a point of public displays of affection), high school and college friends — they were all there.

Languages? I heard Spanish, German, French, Tagalog, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, and a whole host of other languages that I couldn’t immediately identify from the mere snippets that came my way. Disneyland’s attraction may not be universal (I didn’t hear any Martian or Venusian), but it certainly covers the globe.

My favorite ride at Disneyland is It’s A Small World. I’m crazy about its 1960s design sensibility, which starts with the exterior that dominates a huge, sunny plaza:

Small World Ride

Could anything be more 1960s than that? I also adore the smell of wed wood, wet cloth, paint, and chlorinated water, which reminds me of the water shows I was in when I was a kid in — yes — the 1960s. And that brilliant fluorescent paint used on the figures inside! It’s just so, so . . . 60s.

The Small World ride reminds me that Walt Disney had an unshakable faith in the future, something about which I’ve blogged before. Despite the Cold War, Walt truly believed that Americans had the ability to make the world a better place through their intelligence, ambition, creativity, ingenuity, and good will. I think I was one the last of that optimistic generation.

Today’s kids are being raised to believe in a completely apocalyptic future, not because of the scary reality that we’re facing off against an apocalyptic faith, but because of the provably false doctrine claiming that our earth is going up in flames. They don’t view the future with hope, they view it with fear — and for all the wrong reasons. If they’re going to be fearful, at the very least they could worry about ISIS and Iran, rather than hot weather.

Oh, and there’s one more thing I love about the Small World ride: That song. I think there must be something mentally wrong with me — maybe some dementia or other organic brain problem — but I never get tired of that song. I’m the one in the ride singing along to it, over and over and over and over and over and over. . . .

And that’s what I did on my weekend vacation and it’s why I haven’t blogged more today.

Considering how meaningless marriage has become, I hereby withdraw any opposition I’ve ever had to gay marriage

Playland at the Beach fun houseFor an almost 80 year run that ended only in 1972, Playland at the Beach was San Francisco’s Coney Island.  Beginning in 1928, and subject to a few minor changes over the decades, Playland settled into the form known to City residents through its final days:  it had roller coasters, the camera obscura, a merry-go-round, and the famous Fun House, home of Laughing Sal (who now lives at the Musee Mecanique).

At its peak, Playland was a vital entertainment hub. It was bright and shiny and fun and funny. The roller coasters and the Fun House were state-of-the-art entertainment. The latter boasted a giant barrel roll; rocking, moving floors; air vents to blow up girls’ skirts; long, wavy slides; spinning floors; wavy, distorted mirrors, and all the other accoutrements of 20th century amusement park culture. You can get a sense of Playland’s attractions from this clip from 1937’s Damsel in Distress, featuring Fred Astaire, George Burns, and Grace Allen:

I went to the Fun House several times in the late 1960s and very, very early 1970s. There was still a musty magic to the slides, mirrors, vented floors, and, of course, Laughing Sal, but mostly the Fun House was a drab, depressing place. For starters, it was filthy, clotted with five decades worth of grime, made sticky from a nice Pacific Ocean salt overlay. All of the attractions were rickety. I always had the lowering suspicion that the moving, rocking sidewalk would suddenly buckle, either throwing me into the air or dropping me into some damp, spider-ridden basement.

playlandfunhouse620x618The Fun House’s clientele was no longer made up of a cheerful amalgam of families, young couples, and children old enough to go there on their on. Instead, it was overrun by screaming, usually overwrought children. It wasn’t bright and shiny. It was less Disney and more Lord of the Flies. We children ran around frantically, evidencing a grim determination to have fun in this hallowed San Francisco amusement park, a bleakness captured nicely in the picture to the right, which was taken shortly before the Fun House closed for good.

I was always delighted with the offer of a trip to the Fun House (I really liked the idea of Playland at the Beach), but I was even happier when it was finally time to go home. I invariably left there tired, dirty, overwhelmed, and both depressed and demoralized. The only magic left was the patina of age, which I was too young then to appreciate.

Sara Gilbert And Linda PerryPerhaps because my brain is wired a bit differently, I thought of Playland at the Beach when I saw this headline: “‘Roseanne’ Alum Sara Gilbert, Rocker Linda Perry Wed.” I have no idea who Sara Gilbert and Linda Perry are, so I was unexcited by their wedding (although I naturally wish them many happy years together).

Thinking about it, it occurred to me that, even if I had known who they are, I probably still would have found the headline uninteresting. Looking at the state of modern marriage, I can no longer articulate a good reason to care about other people’s weddings and subsequent married life.

Just as the Playland I knew was a faded, dirty, broken-down relic of its past, barely hinting at its former grandeur, so too is marriage today leached of the meaning that once gave it such preeminence in Western society. Historically, marriage has been an extremely important event, both at the individual and the societal level, controlling as it did sexuality, paternity, and property.

Up until our very modern era, before a girl got married, she was (in theory, at least) a sexually uninitiated child under her parents’ care. Marriage was her entry into the adult world: she left her parents; her faith and her state both encouraged her to have sex (with her husband); and she began producing and raising the next generation. For centuries, even millennia, the wedding was the single most transformative event in every woman’s life. It marked a profound change in her standing in society, from child to woman.

Victorian wedding photoWhile men weren’t necessarily the sexual innocents their wives were supposed to be, marriage was an equally life-changing event for them. They might not have been virgins, but their previous sexual relations were illicit, carried out with prostitutes or lusty widows. Any children that resulted from these relationships were not supposed to be acknowledged. They were bastards without legal rights, and the man’s obligation to care for these children was a personal decision, rather than something mandated by law or religion.

By marrying, the man got unfettered access to sex, with his church’s and his state’s approving imprimatur, and he got children that were presumptively his, with all the legal and moral responsibilities that entailed. The man’s carefree bachelor days were over, and his days of maturity and responsibility began. If he wanted to be assured that his wife’s progeny were indeed his, he’d better be a good husband.

Marriage’s centrality in pre-21st century society wasn’t just about questions of sexuality and paternity unique to heterosexual relationships. It was also an important economic relationship. For rich people, it meant the blending of fortunes or even of nations. For poor people, it meant that the man and woman formed an economic unit, with the man laboring outside of the house to bring in food or goods, and the woman laboring inside the house (and in the garden), to enable the man to work and to do whatever it took to stretch his earnings as far as possible.

In America’s past, a healthy society depended on the marriage partnership. It regularized sexual relations (and paternity issues), creating social stability and slowing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It also increased men’s economic opportunities, thereby enhancing America’s potential economic growth, which operated to everyone’s benefit.

No wonder marriages were celebrated, not just by the participants, but by society at large. Add in the fact that traditional religions sanctify marriage, elevating it from a social and economic relationship into a covenant before God, and it’s easy to understand marriage’s preeminent position throughout Western history, generally, and American history, specifically.

Nowadays, every one of those reasons for marriage is gone. Sex is unrelated to marriage. Childbearing is controlled by birth control, abortions, and fertility rituals . . . er, fertility treatments. Paternity is determined by genetic tests. Economically, marriage is a good thing, but the state will step in and help the mother and children out if the father decides that all the responsibilities that flow from impregnating a woman are just too burdensome and too little fun. Only people who have a middle class aversion to poverty and welfare enter into marriage for economic reasons. Religions still support marriage’s importance, but many congregants seem more interested in the party than the sacrament.

Sexy wedding dressAnd of course, there’s modern divorce. Marriage isn’t a permanent commitment; it’s a relationship experiment that is easily shucked. It’s a very good thing that we no longer live in a time when only death would part a couple, leaving married people (usually women) at the mercy of abusive, insane, or absent spouses. It’s not so good a thing that we now live in a time when people divorce simply because they’re bored and want the thrill of a new relationship. (And yes, I have known people to divorce for just that reason.)

Modern marriage no longer serves any of its necessary societal functions. It’s a relic, just like the Fun House I knew as a child was a relic. What once was shiny and central to American life has become a peripheral excuse for a frenetic party. The couple standing at the altar have already had sex (with lots of people), they (with financial help from taxpayers and employers) are controlling the woman’s fertility, and they’re making financial decisions irrespective of their marital status. Societal changes, mass media, and the vast wedding industry have ensured that modern American wedding is primarily about the right dress, the beautiful cake, and the most viral wedding video.

All this means that the LGBTQ crowd is arriving at the party when the party’s already over. Looking back on my Fun House experience — high expectations in advance, followed by a disappointing reality when faced with a dusty ghost from the past — I actually feel sorry for those same-sex couples rushing to take part in an event that’s long past its heyday. As a society, we haven’t quite reached the point of Miss Havisham presiding over her long-gone wedding feast, but the decay is setting in.

The end of Playland at the Beach

The end of Playland at the Beach

Modern American marriage has become a form without substance . . . a Fun House without the fun. Given that reality, why should we care that the LGBTQ crowd is flocking to catch the tail-end of the party? Let them have their last dance as the lights dim and the tables are littered with dirty plates and half-filled glasses.

For those Americans who have a religious commitment to marriage, they should go and have that religious ceremony and live their married life in accordance with God’s commandments. And for those Americans who subscribe to the belief that the children’s well-being is best served in a stable, heterosexual relationship, they should get married (in a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, or before a registrar) and they should stay married for the children’s sake. For everyone else, the caravan has already passed on and it’s probably long past time for the dogs to stop barking.

A nice break from politics, as we look at dating today

Today’s young people don’t date.  They hang out.  A relationship is lasting if the couple is still together after a week or two.  Hook-ups (i.e., casual sex) are normative.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for long-term relationships?  Do people know each other better than they did before or less well?  And where does the wedding fit in when it comes to these New Age lead-ins to marriage?

Good questions all and the Anchoress points to some answers.  As for me, I’ll say only that I think that it’s impossible to have a happy marriage unless it is premised upon mutual respect.  I further believe that, while traditional dating doesn’t guarantee mutual respect, a hook-up, hang-out culture makes that respect even less likely.