Trump’s Wall: Protecting Frontierland and Tomorrowland in 21st Century America
“In Disneyland, clocks and watches will lose all meaning, for there is no present. There are only yesterday, tomorrow and the timeless land of fantasy.” — From promotional materials hyping the opening of Disneyland.
It’s quite simple. The origins of Trump’s Wall and 21st Century America were prototyped in the worlds of Disneyland, where Frontierland (the past) and Tomorrowland (the future) would be purified and protected by entering a theme park reality surrounded by a wall. Take a closer look at the map of 1955 Disneyland above. Note the park is surrounded by a “berm,” a raised embankment that functioned as a wall to block out the rest of the world. Of course, all of this sounds utterly absurd. Let me explain: with evidence and theory to provide the meaning.
President Donald Trump is not a one-off anomaly of sexism and racism who became president merely because the Alt-Right reality-TV stars lined up. As I explained other essays in Medium, President Trump is situated on a long and complex trajectory in American popular culture, where Revelation and Disney meet Fight Club on the Planet of the Apes. As art, science, and technologies proliferate, counter-ideologies seek to reverse cultural progress by retreating into the past, often in the name of protecting the future of America, as foretold in the so-called sacred texts. Manifest Destiny must be protected at all costs. That’s the deeper meaning of “Make America Great Again.” That’s why ICE is the security force for a Revelation Disney vision of America, circa 1950s, where the myth of Frontierland masks the near-genocide of native Americans. And that myth is the foundation for racist fans of the Wall.
As in Disneyland, as in the great American theme park of “freedom,” many will stand in long lines to enter and some will be tossed in cages and prisons at the borders. America’s “Manifest Destiny” begins in the annihilation of native peoples and ends in Disneyland and Trump’s Wall.
Why “Frontierland” Was Needed
After World War II, American pop culture went into overdrive to protect the dominant ideologies and worldviews—especially the visions of the past and future. This was effected via television, Hollywood, and Disneyland. America had heroically helped defeat the Nazis in World War II and the world soon learned the horrors of the Holocaust. Back at home, America was now forced to confront its racist and bloody history of slavery and the near-genocide of the Native Americans in the pursuit of “Manifest Destiny”—the supposedly preordained expansion of Euro-American Christian culture from coast-to-coast, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was all backed by bullets and bibles.
So Hollywood and television cranked out endless “western” movies and TV shows that presented an overall vision where American cowboys and settlers were the God-fearing good guys, the patriotic forces of Christian-capitalist civilization. In contrast, the Native Americans were usually depicted as little more than savages on horses needing to be shot, bewildered peoples needing to be civilized, or subservient sidekicks learning about justice and the American Way (such as “Tonto,” pal of the Lone Ranger). Of course, it was racist propaganda justifying conquest and Christian-Catholic colonization.
With Hollywood deploying directors like John Ford and megastars like John Wayne, the Hollywood machine transformed the American west into the heroic myth of “the Frontier”—precisely because the west was the dual site of “rugged individualism” and racist annihilation. It was complete hypocrisy, then and now. If America is “God’s country,” as we’re contantly told by creationists and fundamentalists, then this God must have approved of the annihilation of Native American peoples to make way for His country, even if it is simulated in Disneyland. For the American future to make any coherent sense, especially during the Cold War and the battle for tomorrow with the Soviet Union, the American past had to be protected and purified. After all, much of Ametica’s suburban sprawl was built on the ruins of Frontierland and Manifest Destiny.
So Frontierland was presented as an uninhabited wilderness, where white people traversed the lands in wagons, stagecoaches, and trains—very much the exact idea in the 1872 “American Progress” painting by John Gast. There was also a “western” town in Frontierland. Of course, this view is oblivious to the 10,000 years of humans living in the desert southwest, including the Desert Archaic peoples, Ancestral Pueblans (a.k.a., the Anasazi), and the Native Americans, all having lived there before the bloody arrival of Catholic conquistadors, Christian settlers, and American soldiers. Frontierland’s purified past is the aesthetic foundation for Trump’s Wall and the raison d’etre for border patrol operations in the southwest. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is the security force protecting and purifying America’s Disney-Frontierland mythology. It’s all an utter disgrace wrapped in a revisionist yesterday that produces a police-state tomorrowland.
The Frontiers of “Tomorrowland”
For Walt Disney, Disneyland was a model for a new American frontier, a future enthrall to both modern technology and the mythic past. For Cold War families living in the specter of the Bomb, Tomorrowland presented a safe and secure future for their homes in suburbia (the location of many Trump supporters). Tomorrowland was a descendent of the 1939 New York World’s Fair — which was named “the World of Tomorrow.” According to the 1955 dedication plaque, Tomorrowland was to be:
A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man’s achievements . . . a step into the future, with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrowland offers new frontiers in science, adventure, and ideals: the Atomic Age . . . the challenge of space . . . and the hope for a peaceful unified world.
Atomic science, space adventures, ideal unity — this was the modern frontier simulated in Tomorrowland. It’s logo was the swirling atom, celebrating atomic power for nuclear families. Tomorrowland opened with three completed attractions: Autopia, Space Station X-1, and Circarama. Others were soon added later, such as Monsanto’s Hall of Chemistry and 20,000 Leagues Exhibit.
Autopia mirrored the miniature highways of Futurama at the 1939 Fair, with cars moving smoothly into the interstate tomorrow—“the freeway of the future.” The visitors to Space Station X-1 were given a “satellite view of America,” a far-seeing preview of Google Earth. The Circarama was a most unusual movie experience, for it used circular projection to surround visitors with films on a 360-degree screen, anticipating a future lifestyle surrounded by electronic screens and nonstop images. Ultimately, the attractions prophetically celebrated the future 21st century America, a nation of accelerating science and technological progress, along with satellite communication, total surveillance, and the 24/7 electronic media spectacle.
From Disneyland to the White House
Disneyland was also born from Walt Disney’s fascination with 3-D animation, which he believed could overcome the limitations of 2-D cinema and television. Disney wanted to create a three-dimensional realm, where people could literally enter the worlds of cinema and television. In Disneyland, reality and media no longer existed in separate exisential domains. To complete the special effect, Disneyland was surrounded by a berm (a raised embankment) to block from sight the rest of the world.
Walt Disney saw Disneyland as “a living set for television.” The grand opening of Disneyland was televised nationally by the ABC network and was treated by the American media as an event of national and cultural significance. The ninety-minute show was broadcast in prime time to millions of households in America. Featuring numerous Hollywood celebrities among the twenty-five thousand guests, the show was hosted by a TV personality, Art Linkletter, and two B-movie actors, Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan. Reagan also hosted the long-running TV series, Death Valley Days (1952–1970), a popular TV western that furthered the mythic version of “the Frontier.”
So let’s get this story straight. Reagan was a B-movie star, host of a show about “the Frontier,” and host of the show that introduced Disneyland to America. Should we be surprised that Ronald Reagan went on to become president of the United States, a 1980 America where reality—especially the past and future—were almost completely understood through television and movies? No wonder Reagan is an icon of conserativism, for he projects the myth of Frontierland merging with Tomorrowland. The opening of Disneyland marks the beginning of the trajectory from President Reagan (B-movie star) to President Bush (baseball team owner) to President Trump (reality-TV star).
The Deeper Meaning of Disneyland
To fully grasp the connection of Disneyland to Trump’s Wall, we must turn to philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Many readers might consider Baudrillard a bit esoteric, but his insights are key to understanding the full meaning of Disneyland in our culture and consciousness.
In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard argued that the “real world” has disappeared, having largely been displaced by models and simulations — what Baudrillard termed the “hyperreality” now indistinguishable from the original reality being displaced. This is the cumulative effect of Disneyland, Hollywood, television, and the proliferation of electronic media. As if anticipating the power of Facebook and Twitter, Baudrillard wrote:
“All metaphysics is lost. No more mirror of being and appearance, of the real and its concept. . . . The real is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control — and it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times from these. . . . It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real . . . Never again will the real have the chance to produce itself — such is the vital function of the model.”
In effect, Baudrillard is saying that electronic media have departed on their own trajectory of reprogramming or reproducing the world, as embodied in the world of Disneyland. We like to think of media as maps for our world, as suggested by Google Maps and Facebook status updates. But, in many ways, the situation is reversed — the media maps are generating the territories to which our culture and consciousness conform. Rather than represent reality, the media, Hollywood, and Disneyland anticipate and generate reality. The real and the fictional are no longer dualities, but rather cloned models in an endless series of reproduction, thus blurring distinctions between the fictional and the authentic — between the symbol and what it stands for. We live in a world where the signs and symbols of the real have largely replaced the real. That’s the real meaning of Disneyland (and its berm) in our mediated culture and consciousness. That’s how we get a reality-TV star as president and police-state in the land of “freedom.”
“Disneyland Will Never Be Complete”
Disneyland and Disney World are much more than theme parks with sites around the world. Disneyland rescues our comfortable notions of reality by covering for the fact that the surrounding “reality” is no longer fully real, for it is being absorbed and reprogrammed in the hyperreality. Baudrillard viewed Disneyland as the expression of the new hyperreality:
“Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America that is Disneyland. . . . Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation.”
Compare this with Walt Disney’s own description of Disneyland:
“You know the fantasy isn’t here. This is very real. . . . The park is reality. The people are natural here; they’re having a good time; they’re communicating. This is what people really are. The fantasy is — out there, outside the gates of Disneyland, where people have hatreds and people have prejudices. It’s not really real!”
Not unlike Trump’s supporters, Disney saw a dystopia outside the park and beyond the berm, where wild nature and Cold War culture were too chaotic and too terrifying for humanity to remain “natural.” In his dedication speech opening Disneyland, Walt Disney declared: “Disneyland will never be complete.” He was right. Trump’s Wall is just another part of the ongoing Disneyfication of America.
Keep it Up: Make America Fake Again
In President Trump’s delusional ideology, mighty industrial America merges with fully mediated America to take on the world. Trump symbolizes the lost vision of American industrial power and the new code of the media, geared toward the endless production and consumption of image, information, and entertainment — the fake behind which (the original or authentic) reality disappears. That’s the biggest wall.
This is a future far different than the nation Trump’s follower’s were supposed to rule — an industrial America ordered under God, consumption, and entertainment. Now they are desperately clinging to the past, to a “great” America now found only at Disneyland, Sunday school, the shopping mall, and football stadiums.
For supporters of this version of 21st Century America, the only choice left is to build a wall — to build a berm to block out the rest of the future. For those against the Wall, you’ll need to overthrow Disneyland, too.