Daily Figment 158 – Book Review: Inside the Mouse

Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World, The Project on Disney. 1995, 250 pages.

Did you ever have a book that you were loathe to finish? One that you didn’t want to spend time with?

Let me tell you about one. I was excited when I got my copy of this book. It has been around for a number of years, but not many people have talked about it. Now I know why.

I’ve seen the terms pompous, boring, irrelevant and “ivory tower” used to describe this work. I agree.

The authors (all academics) take on Walt Disney World, but they never look beyond the ends of their noses. They land smack dab in the middle of the Disney Decade and all they see is mass consumerism and an idle shift in corporate values. They also see us, the visitors to Walt Disney Word as a heard of brand-induced and crowd-mentality fodder for the turnstyles, gift shops, restaurants and hotels. In all of their interviews and anecdotes, it is apparent that they never talked to anyone that had a inkling of what a Disney vacation is supposed to be.

The book did have three redeeming chapters: Working at the Rat, Public Use / Private State and Monuments to Walt. Working at the Rat consists of interviews with castmembers that connote that working for Disney is tantamount to forced, temporary labor. No chance for advancement and every chance of being let go before you get permanent status. Granted, the tone is pretty negative and it is obvious that only the “lower echelons” of Disney castmembers were interviewed. Looking at this chapter, one would surmise that working for the Mouse is extremely cut-throat. Public Use / Private State made me step outside of my normal tourist pursuits and see how we interact with the private (re:corporate-owned) areas like the theme parks. Even though they are private, we are expected to use them as public spaces, i.e. a park, mall area or town square. Disney champions what most other businesses can’t: use us like you were at home, albeit a care-free and safe home. The chapter I enjoyed the most was Monuments to Walt. The author looked at current architectural motifs and themes and discussed how Disney was using them to gain a means. A means of continuing the storytelling to the resorts and eateries. There is still some lambasting, but mostly to the end that the author believes that what exists today is because the leadership of the company, until Eisner, constantly prayed at the altar of “What Would Walt Do.” The author proclaims that Epcot is merely a necropolis dedicated to Walt. That is why it fails.

Those sections, mentioned above, were the highlights of the book…and that ain’t sayin’ much!

The most thought-provoking section is entitled, The Alternative Ride. The author questions how we deal with images incongruent with what Disney presents: kissing, hand-holding, angst (think teens) and other images that aren’t white, middle-class, middle-American “values”. How they can shock us and force us to step outside of our vacation experience.

The Bottom Line: This book is not worth reading or adding to your collection. I hate to post such a negative review, but for us Disney Geeks, there are so many better titles out there.


6 thoughts on “Daily Figment 158 – Book Review: Inside the Mouse

  1. Wow… Don’t hold back… Tell us how you really feel.

    Actually, very helpful review. You’ve actually saved me some cash…

    I loved the interviewing of underlings concept. Its one of the strongest ways to get your negative idea passing along like a virus. Talk to people who’d rather not work anyway and ask them how they’re company management is… Surprise! They have plenty to complain about… and they do… Crass idealism at its worst.

    Thanks for the lookout.

  2. I think the key thing to remember here is The Project on Disney group set out to make a clear statement, an academic one at that, regarding postmodernism and American consumerism.

    This book has been in my library for many years. More than anything, it helps me remember that not everyone ‘gets’ WDW or the ideas Walt and Co. wanted to turn into a living, breathing experience. The book was conceived from a negative ah-ha moment (as evidenced by Susan Willis’ comments on pg. 2) and ideas surrounding pleasure. While the immediacy of pleasure i.e., the fact that our culture demands instant satisfaction and/or gratification, is her main point this is not what makes most of us, who consider ourselves ardent fans of the parks, think of as pleasure. No, we look at things a bit differently – the look of a building, the clever use of a visual gag or aural motif, the way in which a queue line holds our attraction, the history of a particular place or attraction within the parks, the look a small child – young adult – elder family member has when they first see a park icon. These are the things which evince our viewpoint and these are completely antithetical to The Disney Project’s point of view.

    I love this book because it underscores the uneasy way in which academia examines cultural phenomena deemed sentimental or out of context. To me, it epitomizes the classic faith vs. science argument. I’ll take faith any day but it’s helpful to see why others consider the mouse a rat.

  3. For every person that thinks something is the greatest creation since sliced bread, you’ll find another person who thinks it’s the most vial evil thing ever conceived.

    I guess this book could be used as a tool to help people who “get it” understand those who don’t and why they don’t

  4. Postmodernism…hmmm…interesting application. Yes, postmodernists like to attack the denigration of moral fiber into a materialistic society, but a true intellectual would apply fair and balance critical and ethical reasoning. Relative to its intention, Disneyesque things are not intended to be analyzed for their intellectual value. The root is this…In all things that you love and respect, it must have intrinsic value to you. It must be relevant to your life value.

    I think the book fails to provide a balance otherwise it would not have such disparity in the views of its value

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