By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Power and Paradise in Walt Disney’s World

By Dave Shute


By Jim Korkis

In my personal Disney library, I have an entire shelf devoted to books that I call “academic studies” of Disney. In general, they are filled with footnotes and, more often than not, reference other academic books in their bibliographies, rather than any Disney specific books other than a handful of the most familiar common books like Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas.

This book clearly falls into the “academic studies” category which is why I just recently discovered it even though it was published in 2014. It simply wasn’t mentioned or reviewed in the usual Disney communities, even those devoted to documenting all Disney related books.

The book includes twenty-six pages of small type footnotes and a twenty-six page bibliography (but little evidence in the actual text that all of these resources were consulted).

It is amazing how much additional material has been discovered and published about Disney in the years since this book was first released although I doubt whether any of it would change much of anything the author has written.

For instance, I just recently learned that the term “Imagineering” was actually coined by the Alcoa Corporation in 1942 where an advertisement in Time magazine proclaimed, “Imagineering is letting your imagination soar and then engineering it down to earth.” Later in the 1950s, it was used by Union Carbide.

Author Knight is a professor of art history at Emerson College, and has also written the book Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism. and is also co-editor of A Companion to Public Art and Museums and Public Art? None of the positive reviews for this book are from any Disney related source but all come from scholarly sources.

Knight considers Walt Disney World “a pilgrimage center, a utopia, a fantasy city and a technological and global microcosm” and proceeds to explore those comparisons in different chapters. There is a chapter where the author discusses the comparisons between WDW and Las Vegas where both “seem to transcend space and time, most especially in their retail outposts”.

Knight also spends time covering the “falsifications”, simulations and replicas (to make things more “palpable and potent”) that are used at WDW to create an unreal reality or “hyperreality” and its own moral universe. Basically, not duplicating the real, but fabricating the ideal for its own purposes.

Knight asserts that “Disneyland and the foreign parks are satellite shrines. Disney World is the seat of power. No Disney park fully replicates another and none of the others can rival Disney World in its wide-ranging themes and vast physical terrain. Disney World is where the company’s clout is most visible, accumulated in its most-concentrated form and implicitly consecrated by millions of loyal devotees. Walt spent the last years of his life planning for and fixated on Disney World; it represents not only his vision but also his heart.”

That is only one of several premises in the book that I feel are certainly open to debate. Another concern I have is the following premise.

Knight spends six pages near the end of the book intensively detailing a Keys to the Kingdom tour at the Magic Kingdom and finds it “refreshing” when the guide describes Walt as a “tremendous failure” saved only by his brother’s business savvy since Walt was only a dreamer but Roy was the do-er who made things happen.

I was also concerned that the book gives equal credence to Marc Eliot’s Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince as it does Bob Thomas’ Walt Disney: An American Original. Basically, as far as the author is concerned, all the books cited in the text are of equal accuracy.

Actually, despite some of the examples that I have shared, the author often states liking WDW and that it is a “whole dream” that delights the mind and heart. Those readers looking for new information may be disappointed since the familiar tales of Walt’s life story, his being influenced by World Fairs and more are once again trotted out with no original research or new insight.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.


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