The power of Disneyfication: a sociological analysis of the Disney phenomenon.
Remarks and Review on: Dario Bonifacio, La disneyficazione. Dimensioni e registri di un linguaggio universale, Mimesis, Milano 2022. ISBN 9788857583846
The construction of Disneyland (1955) and Disney World (1971) represented an important step in the affirmation of an aesthetic and structural model that will be replicated worldwide. This model is based on the construction of a cultural imaginary materialized on a large scale through an industrial project. The Disney theme park represents a place isolated from the real world, where an aesthetic code based on the simulation of an imaginary world that does not exercise any liberating potential compared to reality prevails. In this space, the celebration of technology and the nostalgia for an idealized past emerge, which have become pillars of modern mass culture. The park is designed to be continuously traversed, but along predetermined paths that leave no room for individual choice, and control over the movement and behavior of visitors is almost absolute. Furthermore, the park is organized as a small city on two levels: the one visible to visitors, where the staging of the fairy tale world takes place and the one hidden, where the behind-the-scenes preparation takes place. Employees are forced to behave according to strict rules and to continuously perform the script of the festive welcome, but the real mechanisms of personnel management reflect the criteria of the most advanced liberalism, with an excess of exploitation and surveillance. In summary, while work is presented as fun to the eyes of visitors, the reality behind the scenes is much more complex and problematic.
Disneyfication, understood as an aesthetic and structural model linked to the production of the Disney Company, has evolved into a model of urban development that has spread throughout the world. This model is based on the architectural theme of environments, the differentiation and hybridization of commercial offerings, performative work, and the cultural power of merchandising. Its spread is linked to deeper economic and social dynamics, but the attraction exercised by Disney has had a strong influence on the imitation of the model. With the advent of the new millennium, the theory of Disneyfication has evolved, becoming increasingly evident that it develops in the intersections between different dimensions such as mass culture, economy, and communication. Furthermore, with the expansion of the Corporation towards new markets and the increase of neoliberalism, a global process of urban and cultural transformation has occurred, with a greater focus on Asia and Europe. In this context, Disneyfication has also been associated with gentrification, that is the transformation of urban areas to the detriment of original residents, in favor of a more affluent social class and a more refined commercial offer.
In Italy, urban Disneyfication is mainly manifested in the transformation of the centers of cities of art and tourist districts. These places are transformed into spaces similar to large theme parks, with a specific theme and a differentiated and hybrid commercial offer. The phenomenon is particularly evident in the centers of historic cities, where the historical and cultural heritage is transformed into a tourist attraction, with a focus on a sensory immersion in history. This process leads to the displacement of certain categories of residents and certain functions, and the spaces are mainly dedicated to tourist services (hotels, B&B, Airbnb, souvenir shops and major brands, restaurants and commercial chains, new themed museums). The access to these beauty perimeters is limited or closed to traffic, monitored by security cameras, and it is very likely that soon there will be the establishment of an entrance ticket (the tourist tax already works as a kind of entrance ticket to art cities and tourist locations), and Venice could be the first city to establish it.
In these spaces, everything is organized to ensure that the visitor has a sensory immersion in history, where the charm exercised by art or memory is no longer important compared to the desire to escape reality. History is presented as a perfect reproduction of an objective reality, rather than as a critical or philological narrative. The prevalence of typical product shops or crafts and tourist restaurants, the increase in historical atmosphere through costume events, the birth of new theme museums, and the emphasis on the visual and sensory aspect of the tourist experience are all elements that contribute to the Disneyfication of the centers of art cities in Italy.
The sociological analysis of Disneyfication, conducted by Dario Bonifacio in this book, represents a pioneering and well-documented contribution to understanding this global phenomenon in Italy. His critical-theoretical study of the object provides important material for reflection on a theme that has hitherto been marginal in the Italian essayistic landscape.
Disneyfication, as analyzed by Bonifacio, refers to the cultural impact of the Disney company and its philosophy. The author investigates the reasons and structure of this phenomenon, highlighting the entire ideological apparatus that supports the company and its cultural impact.
Walter Benjamin, in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1935-1936), dealt with the phenomenon of Mickey Mouse and Disney cinema. Benjamin argues that cinema is accustomed to the masses the presence of figures representing the collective dream (Mickey Mouse) and that it exorcizes, in some way, the psychoses and individual hallucinations caused by the dangers that threaten individuals daily. The single pathology of the dreamer is sublimated in the creation of a common imaginary world that faces, surviving victorious, the catastrophes that it encounters.
Bonifacio expands this analysis by emphasizing how the interweaving of comedy and horror, the result of the adventures and misadventures of Mickey Mouse presented in his films, shows how technicization has made it possible for a “psychic vaccination” through which mass psychoses are experienced through the sadistic fantasies or masochistic deliriums of the protagonists of this collective fantasy. The dangers and grotesque events that follow in those films are a clue to those that threaten humanity and that through the films are removed to ‘save’ and ‘conserve’ the ideological core of civilization.
From a historical point of view, it can be noted how fascism has taken advantage of these “revolutionary” technical innovations for itself and how the film technique, of which Mickey Mouse is a protagonist, has generated a tension between technical rationality and irrationality of capitalist economy. However, Bonifacio’s analysis highlights how the Disney Company has taken advantage of these innovations in a different way, creating a new form of control and manipulation of the masses through the use of technology and the creation of a fantasy world.