Never Never Land
Ever contrarians, the Derbyshire family arrived in Los Angeles last Tuesday and headed straight for … Disneyland. We were long overdue for a vacation and had friendships on the left coast in need of maintenance. The friends had to wait a day or two; at the insistence of a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old, Disneyland came first. So we spent Wednesday hobnobbing with Alice, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Winnie the Poo and Mister Toad ("Mish'teru Todu" to Japanese tourists, if I eavesdropped correctly). I soon found myself sinking into theme park reflections of the lesser kind:
- How many grossly obese people there are; and how many of them are willing to stand 45 minutes on line for the opportunity to jam themselves into fiberglass models of Dumbo to be spun slowly round on a vertical axis.
- How few black people patronize Disney. At other theme parks, about one face in eight is black — just the proportion of blacks in the U.S. population. At Disneyland, it's less than one in fifty. What do black people have against Disney?
- How superior in quality and durability have been the fruits of the imaginations of conservative, bourgeois English gentlemen like Dodgson, Barrie, Milne and Grahame, by comparison with anything any bohemian counterculture has ever turned out.
- How much physical discomfort attends the slightest of human pleasures; and how slight and repetitive indeed are those pleasures that have no esthetic, intellectual or hormonal content.
Back at the hotel evenings, guilt drove me to the TV. As a Contributing Editor of a political magazine, I was nagged by the thought that I really should be doing my due diligence on events over at the Democratic Convention. It was tough to keep concentration, though. Coming from Peter Pan's Never Never Land, where a boy never needs to grow up, to a replay of a speech by Bill Bradley in which he asserted that the Republicans want to "spend" the surplus on tax breaks for their rich pals was … not much of a journey. The rhetoric of the Democrats has never grown up. Republicans — party of the rich! In which case, how to explain their success in getting all us un-rich people to vote for them? We must be stupid, I guess.
I was, in fact, suffering from cognitive dissonance. Having spent ten hours negotiating my way through Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland and so on, I was trying to find similar signposts there in the Staples Center. Bill Clinton: "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow." Obviously we were in Tomorrowland there. Joe Lieberman: "The New Frontier is no longer in front of us; it is inside of us." Oh, this must be Frontierland. And down there on the floor, all those schoolteachers, ambulance chasers and municipal bureaucrats, so carefully quota-ed you keep expecting to spot a face that's 70 per cent black, 30 per cent white, to bring his delegation to the required degree of race-conscious precision: Critter Country!
Somehow this stuff resisted being watched. Must be the vacation spirit, I thought. I turned to the newspapers in hope of more adhesive coverage; yet here, too, my eye kept getting caught by items far, far more interesting than Senator Lieberman's designs on my inner life. Conventionland proved as unsatisfying at last as Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The news that held me was out there in Realityland:
- The late Tsar of Russia and his poor children have been canonized. This is heartening. I have no idea whether the Romanovs genuinely deserve sainthood, but this is at least one more step towards recognizing the Bolsheviks for what they undoubtedly were, as Winston Churchill pointed out at the time: wild beasts.
- Beijing has said "Jump!" and Clinton has asked "How high?" in the matter of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's visit to the U.S. Doesn't China realize how badly she needs America? Without us in Asia, China will be alone among other Asians who all hate and mistrust her, and who collectively far outnumber her. Isn't anybody in the U.S. administration willing to mention this to them?
Meanwhile, in the cold dark chambers of the sea, brave men were dying for their country.