The experience of visiting Disneyland, aka The Happiest Place on Earth, has a tangential relationship to the experience of genuine happiness -- a common disconnect in the devil's bargain we make as participants in a consumer economy. It is a three-faceted rift: what we are sold, as opposed to what we think we are buying, as opposed to what we actually receive. How better to explore these facets than through the global brand that practically invented modern consumerism?
There are undeniably moments of delight during a Disneyland visit. I have observed these to be far outnumbered by other emotions. Which is probably in keeping with our day-to-day experience in most of our lives -- long stretches of the mundane, punctuated by sporadic peaks of joy and troughs of despair.
I visited Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure theme parks in search of moments that show life in Disneyland as no different from life anywhere else. The only catch is that by the time we're strolling "Main Street, USA" or cavorting through "Storybookland," we've not only been promised capital-h Happiness, we've paid handsomely for it.
Fueling this transactional dynamic is something deep, hit upon by Walt Disney when he first made cartoons, and relentlessly pursued by the corporate entity bearing his name. It is among the most powerful human motivators.
As journalist John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote in the New York Times Magazine, "There is deep yearning at Disney. What you feel when all of your emotional pores are wide open is yearning. There is something at stake... in terms of that knife edge between joy and disappointment."
And, as evidenced in these images, with yearning comes expectation, delight, frustration... and every emotion in between.