• Dave Stanley

English 876: Week 12 - Occupy & Decolonize

Discussion Question: There was a lot of input in this past week. We continued to look at the force of contemporary “occupying” space, from the ZAD to the Occupy Movement, and including its roots in not only indigenous struggle but the late 19th Century Paris Commune, where the modern city was put under siege due to unmet political desires and general disenfranchisement, similar to conditions today in Paris and other global, urban spaces. Reflect back upon Debord’s ideas about psychogeography and the poetic and personal power of subjectivity within massive abstract systems that depersonalize and alienate. How do we empower ourselves within such contexts? What forms of world-making inspire you towards engagement and agency? Feel free to reflect broadly, but also try to be specific and concrete in your response.


Answer:

I find myself somewhat skeptical of the work of Guy Debord, and his concept of psychogeography. Perhaps it has to do with the time I spent working near and around architecture students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Or it could be my understanding of how capital effects the value and design of a building. Everything feels so very intentional. And this is perhaps Debord's very point. He seeks to highlight how these spaces, both in terms of their intended design, and in terms of the very unintended events that come about as a result of so many humans working, playing, living, and interacting in the same urban space. When asked to reflect upon this I think the most obvious mode to me is to contrast two spaces that I find create different psychogeographic effects on people for very different reasons.


Disneyland's central square. Image Credit to The Walt Disney Company.

Disneyland is "the happiest place on earth." It is designed, in every conceivable way to be a space that minimizes hassle, maximizes spending, and keeps people caught up in "the magic" of the park. I love Disneyland. Its particular design is incredibly effective on me. The music is upbeat, playful, changes across the day, and loops distantly enough to never be annoying or noticeably repetitive. The spaces are kept clean, with frequent trash pickups, constant care and repainting. Every Employee, or "cast members" as they are called, smile and greet you endearingly. They intend to ensure that any request, any problem you might have is dealt with in some way. The effect is that the individual, despite being surrounded by thousands of other people, feels at the center of their experience. You are the center of the magic, and all of it is on display, just for you. The vast, innumerable systems in place to keep this effect going constantly, from a simple logistics standpoint is totally staggering. How then can can the individual maintain their subjectivity and personal power in the face of such organized force. Disney wants you to spend money. They want you to buy things. How do we resist? Is it possible inside the very park they control to such a detailed level? While this is a personal aside, I find that even simply steps, like packing a lunch, and walking the park in a different order than I typically do, or even following another set of patrons around the park distantly, can help to invent and create new spaces of possibility. Further more, interactions with others can drastically change ones response to the space. Taking a friend to the park for the first time can reinvigorate the sense of primal joy to be had at discovering the space all over again. And yet this all seems to intentional upon the part of Disney, so designed to compel you to return, and to SPEND MORE MONEY.


To step back out of my personal experiences and into something with a bit more foundation, I turn to the article "The Psychogeography of Disneyland" by Dan Howland. It was published in the Journal of Ride Theory, and its stated goal is to "compare Disneyland to the ideal city of the Situationists" (found at Lulu.com). The article uses Excerpts from Ivan Chetcheglov's essay "Formulary for a New Urbanism" in which Chetcheglov remarks on the ideal situationisit city, with surprising prescience, that this city would be built of several Quarters: the Bizarre Quarter, the Happy Quarter, the Noble and Tragic Quarter for good children, the Historical Quarter, the Useful Quarter, and the Sinister Quarter. These do align themselves in some interesting ways with the separated "lands" that Walt Disney utilized for his theme park. Chetcheglov comments that such a city would be economically infeasible, and would rely heavily on tourism, and that real cities already designed to emulate the "free play," instead create greater systems of control, identifying the gambling centers of Monaco and Las Vegas as prime examples.


Chetcheglov goes on to say that the point of such a city would be to completely disorient the landscape and allow all the inhabitants of the city to revel in "CONTINUOUS DERIVE" which Howland likens to the famous declaration of Walt Disney's that Disneyland was a place "where children can go to have fun together." Even more interestingly, Chetcheglov seems obbssedd with the poetic power of castles, and the meaningful place they have in fairy tales, and that they be represented in surreal and magnified ways. Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland is constructed in forced perspective to create the illusion that it is taller than it actually is. It is substantially smaller than Cinderella castle in Walt Disney world, and yet does not look so from any sort of distance in the park.


The castles compared. The portcullis on the left is almost twice as tall as the one on that on the right. Image credit to Disney Dining

I find then the various attempts that Walt Disney made to build actual communities, such as the long term residences that once occupied Disneyland, to the original plans for Epcot in Florida, which were to build some sort of future city, that could simultaneously break the chains of modern demands of design, and be a corporate honeypot for the rich and powerful to spend their money in eternally. I wonder how we reconcile the situationalist desire for freedom from systems, and the fact that the closest thing to an ideal city by this design, is a closed loop or corporate power. This weeks prompt asked me to consider how we reclaim agency, and I fear that I have muddied that question further than I have answered it. Perhaps I will find some form of answer in my peers blogs. Hi-Ho Hi-Ho its off to work I go!

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