Crafting Culture: 'Tradition', Art, and Music in Disney's 'A Small World'
Department/School (additional, if any)
Sociology and Anthropology
This article constitutes a critical discourse analysis of Disneyland's 'Small World' ride, both of its visual 'text' and of its music. That ride famously carries boatloads of park visitors through various 'countries' in which they are serenaded by costumed animatronic figures designed to represent the world's children. These 'children' all sing the same endlessly-repeating song. This reinforces the American cultural notion that all people are alike, once you get past the accidents of language, costume, skin color and so on.
The article shows how this message is delivered, both visually and musically -- but also how it is shaped to treat English-speaking America as the valued norm. Visually, the ride uses clichéd 'traditions' to depict other cultures: a bagpiper for Scotland, flamenco dancers for Spain, hula dancers in Polynesia, and so on. (Africa and Australia get animals, not people -- a cliché of a different order.) Musically, the song begins in a harmonious major key (Europe), moves to minors and exotic dissonances (the Near East, Asia), then voiceless wild drumming (Africa): the song deteriorates as we go farther afield. Harmony returns, however, as we reach the last country: an equally clichéd American corn field. The ride then presents us with a massed angelic chorus singing in unison while erasing their cultural differences beneath white choir robes.
The message is one of cross-cultural unity. However, the ride presents some of the world's peoples as being less proficient at this unity than are others. In the end, the ride leaves us with the impression that some people are still learning to sing what is essentially a very American song.
The Journal of Popular Culture
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)