Disneyfication: An Icebreaker

Despite the fact that I grew up as part of a generation that supposedly learned digital literacy like, ya know, actual literacy, I don't really know how a blog works. It's probably easier if you're famous. But here we are and I've got a book coming out in the next couple months so we're doing this. The hope is that after this painful first post I can get into book reviews, pictures of food I make, and other things that include me getting through the anxiety of first reviews (look for a School Library Journal review next month) and apologizing for all the mean things I said because it was winter. 

When thinking about what to say first, I decided to revert to form and use a trick that gets me through uncomfortable social conversations: blurting out that I used to work in Disney World. This invites at least two follow up questions and we're all no longer sitting in awkward silence. No Disney's body is not frozen beneath Pirates, yes there are tunnels beneath the Magic Kingdom and they smell like garbage, yes there are alligators in standing water even in Disney World (one time there was one wandering Westclock--the MK cast parking lot--and they basically told us to keep an eye and maybe shoot them a social media update if we spotted it). So that's what this is about, I used to work at Disney and it taught me at least one very important thing that anyone can use in any part of life. And no, it's not that dreams come true (though they can). 

Look at this photo of college Mel engaging in an activity meant for literal children

Look at this photo of college Mel engaging in an activity meant for literal children

I worked down in Orlando in the winter/spring of 2014 as part of the Disney College Program, which plays it fast and loose with the term "internship." But, if you can get over being forced to work full time for the first time in your life, at a place where you come in contact with thousands of people a day and are expected to be the epitome of customer service, then you can handle it. Also you just have to really fucking like Disney. I worked at the Haunted Mansion which was perfect because it was one of two rides in the entire resort where you were actively encouraged not to smile. To give you an idea of just how perfect I was for this, by the end of the program I was called "Grumpy Cat" more than my actual name--at a place where no one was smiling, I was the best at not smiling. Years of practice kids. 

But when I wasn't doing my obligatory 35-40 hours at the park each week, I spent 4 hours in a course called "Creativity and Innovation" where the teacher handed us toys and Legos and Playdough every class to just dick around with while she lectured and had us examine companies like Lego and Google for their ability to maximize creative output from their employees. Our final project involved doing a case study on an innovator or developing our own concept for an attraction/invention/anything (my final project involved my roommate and I, who was in the same class, designing a storefront writing studio for teens). This class is essentially the first rung of Imagineer training. In fact we did a few Imagineer exercises, one of which involved rummaging in the trash and being timed on how many functional devices we could make out of what we found. 

So there's this term, Disneyfication. It's got two definitions and one is a lot more cynical than the other. The first is, of course, a condemnation of Disney's place in society, the way businesses parasitically leach Disney for ideas and practices, and the overall capitalism that has poisoned the well thanks to Disney. The other is a more personal and more inspiring definition of the word. It refers to the process of reshaping and rethinking about your reality to make it what you need it to be. In the class we also referred to this as a "seventh level change", an innovation whose implementation changes the entire system. According to this thought process, innovative ideas exist on a bell curve with the "level one" changes comprising the majority of thought processes all the way up to the last level which is considered "impossible" by the current standards of the environment you're working in. 

This is a brief look at Rolf Smith's chart of leveled changes

This is a brief look at Rolf Smith's chart of leveled changes

Disney has always done this. He turned his love of doodling and cartoon shorts into an entire art form. Since his daring and successful attempt at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, two animated features have been nominated for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast and Up), an entire category was added in 2000 to award animated features (the inaugural winner was actually a Dreamworks title, Shrek), the best selling BluRay disc of all time is an animated film (Frozen), and an animated film sits in the list of top 10 highest grossing films ever (again, Frozen). He invented a medium because it's what he wanted to see. When his artists needed a way to pitch their Snow White sequences and envision the film, he invented the process of storyboarding utilized across the film industry today. When he took his daughters to an amusement park and realized how boring and unfair it was for him to sit and wait for them to finish their rides, he invented the theme park so families could enjoy time together. 

There was no filter between "I want this" and making it happen. Now, granted, he had an armada of resources by the time he was doing full length animated films towards the end of the 30s but he started out as an Irish-American farm boy testing out animation in his backyard while working at a newspaper. 

There's this great quote from novelist Thomas Berger: "Why do writer's write? Because it isn't there." That's the entire idea. Say: well, no one is doing this, so I guess it's gonna be me. That's one of the biggest things I took away from my 6 months down there. 

So there we have it, we all got through my first blog post and no one cried. I'm going to do my best to make these a regular thing as we get closer to the publication date. Look for "The Rules of Me" this spring!