Date of Award:
Master of Arts (MA)
Department name when degree awarded
Lynne S McNeill
As fandom studies are becoming more popular and important, one fandom yet remains largely unstudied: the fandom surrounding Disneyland. The Disneyland fandom is unique in a number of ways, chief among them the fans’ relationship to the content creators: unlike many other companies in similar positions, Disney seeks to put boundaries on fan participation and to discourage or stamp out behaviors it deems unacceptable. And yet, in spite of this official meddling, the fandom continues to thrive.
I propose that the reason for this unique dynamic is the Disney “Magic”—that is, fans’ recognition of a unique emotional experience inherent in visiting the park, composed of a mix of nostalgia, immersion in the park experience, and the unique Disney atmosphere, all of which is often described using quasi-spiritual language. I posit that the Magic is what keeps fans coming back: they feel that something is special about the park, and seek to engage with it more deeply through various fan activities—activities which, paradoxically, seem to threaten that same Magic that inspires such dedication in the first place.
In this thesis, I look at three specific fan activities, both to explore this concept of Magic further, and to learn more about this understudied fandom. The first topic is urban legends of ash scatterings in the Haunted Mansion ride, which appear to simultaneously be a commentary on harsh working conditions inside the park, and, more importantly, a perhaps-misguided attempt to pay respect to the deep connections fans have to Disneyland. The second is pin trading, which functions both as a folk activity guests can use to build their public identities, and also as a market for cheap fakes that tarnishe the Magic. The third is Disneybounding, a costuming activity that expresses fans’ love of the park, while carefully stepping around Disney’s regulations preventing such activities.
Even in the diverse and fascinating array of fandoms, the Disneyland fandom deserves some additional attention. Disney Magic, and its resultant fan behavior, has no clear parallel elsewhere. Understanding what makes Disneyland fans tick will lead to a better understanding of how fandoms work in general.
Giles, David, "The Magic of the Magic Kingdom: Folklore and Fan Culture in Disneyland" (2017). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 5728.
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