Professor Stephanie Takaragawa’s “Disneyland: The Anthropology of Space and Place” at Chapman University is no Mickey Mouse course. Students steep themselves in social theory, reading assigned articles before going to Disneyland to observe why people behave the way they do. They learn about Michel Foucault’s ideas of power and surveillance while discussing the Frankfurt School’s “Culture Industry,” then put theories to the test.
“On the first day of class that we go to Disneyland, they all have to bring a field notebook,” says Takaragawa, who has taught the class for a decade. “They have to sit in one place and observe a repeatable behavior.”
That could be people getting in line, buying churros or posing for pictures in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. One keen observation came when a couple trading barbs started causing a scene. The class tailed them as the pair took their dispute outside the gates and resolved it before returning. “You can’t be angry inside Disneyland because you’re ruining everybody’s experience,” explains Takaragawa.
On another occasion, the class read up on consumer capitalism only to be beckoned to the Emporium with wallets open after an announcement about rose-gold mouse ears being restocked.
Takaragawa’s isn’t the only Disney-themed class inside OC’s ivory towers. In addition to two others offered at Chapman, Cal State Fullerton’s Andi Stein teaches the graduate-level “Deconstructing Disney” for the Communications Department, and Roland Betancourt, an art history and visual-studies professor at UC Irvine, recently put together a “Disneyland: Art, Architecture and Operation” course.
However, Takaragawa’s class is positioned during the school’s month-long interterm in January, with once-a-week trips to the park. She ditches textbooks in favor of the cheapest annual pass—a cost-effective move—but shifting blackout dates sacked the class this year. The professor is hopeful it’ll be back on schedule in 2020 when students will have the opportunity to test whether the idea of Disney culture being something other than real life is valid or not.
“Our reality is socially constructed,” says Takaragawa. “As an anthropologist, I have to say that Disney is just more successful in making people participate in its culture.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!