Globalization and the Walt Disney Company
Click to download
Global tourism is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of a shrinking world to the western citizen, allowing short term travel to almost any part of the world; ostensibly an avenue for greater social and cultural awareness and understanding. No longer the domain of the ultra-wealthy with increasingly cheaper flights, vacations may now last only a couple of days, rather than the month long tours of past centuries. Disposable income and increased leisure time have empowered the western citizen to travel beyond national borders cheaply and easily. Disney operates the world’s largest vacation resort: Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, as well as operating the top eight most visited theme parks worldwide (TEA, 2010), dominating the leisure tourism market. It is significant to recognise that of all the world’s offerings, so many choose to vacation at Disney resorts, perhaps betraying the cultural ambassadorship ideals of global travel. More dramatically, tourism is very often a luxury unaffordable to the majority, even in richer countries – especially regular international travel. Consequently, the few major trips people undertake, such as the religious pilgrimage, often solely reinforces one’s own culture. For some commentators, the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ vacation to Disney is “the major middle-class pilgrimage centre in the United States” (Fjellman, 1992, p.10) - the contemporary religious experience, reinforcing Western ideals of capitalism, consumerism and the nuclear family.
The withering of the nation-state, and the growth of the transnational manifests itself through globalization. Disney’s power is dramatic, able to pressure governments of even major countries. When Disney first decided to build a central Asian resort, the company negotiated sites in China, South Korea, Singapore and India before settling on Hong Kong (TNF, 2010). Disney was able to play off countries against one-another in order to secure the greatest financial benefit for Disney, a strategy previously exercised in Europe (primarily between France and Spain) for EuroDisney (Lainsbury, 2000), and before that in California between the city councils of Anaheim and Long Beach for their second California park (Blue Sky Disney, 2007). In Hong Kong, Disney was able to secure a 43% stake in the resort, despite contributing less than 20% of the constructing costs (Balfour, 2009) due to the enormous tourist boost Disney would guarantee (Hong Kong, 1999).
McDisneyization is the term directed at the proliferation of Disney resorts, each of which largely conform to the same design, share attractions and are rarely adapted for local culture . Disney’s exportation of it’s classically Americana parks have had varying reactions around the world, yet are coupled with regular financial success. Disneyland’s first international iteration, Tokyo Disneyland, began its concept design as something tailored specifically for the Japanese audience, only for this to be rejected by the Japanese client who, motivated by the Japanese fascination with America, wanted a distinctly American park (Fjellman, 1992). In the end, only one attraction, Meet the World, would be based on Japan. The second international resort however, EuroDisneyland, was subject to a number of directives given by the French government, fiercely protective of their French identity yet desperately requiring the economic boost Disney would provide. All language would be in French first; one attraction would be exclusively about France; and French influence would be seen throughout the design (for example a Statue of Liberty diorama portraying the historic links between France and America) (Littaye & Ghez, 2006). Nevertheless, America was dominant, seen through the inclusion of ‘Main Street USA’ and the Wild West based ‘Frontierland’. Hong Kong Disneyland received token influence from Chinese customs, such as the involvement of a feng shui practitioner advising design (Holson, 2005), yet no Asian influence can be seen in the product.
To read the whole piece, please click here to download it. Comments very welcome!