The Engaged Life #8: The Disney Syndrome


TLDR warning: this is a lot more dense than my usual posts.

Disney. The media superhouse known as Disney. It’s crazy to think something that started as a simple animation studio has become the behemoth it is today. It’s still crazy to think that since they own both Marvel and Lucasfilms, they basically have a monopoly on millenial nostalgia.

But that isn’t the point of this post. I want to talk about Disney itself and about the perception of reality.

Older generations often criticize the millenial generation as being too idealistic, as being too grandiose in their goals, or as being almost delusional in seeking purpose. I’m in my 30s and although I suppose I fit into the age group of millenials depending on who you ask, I have to agree with this assessment. Many of my peers struggle with their perceptions of reality. There seems to be this disparity that exists between intellectual progressivism and reality as it comes.

I call those afflicted with this skewed, fatalistic ideal as those having the Disney syndrome, mainly because when I noticed this I was living in Anaheim, the home of the original Disneyland. Thus, I’ve seen this affliction on a much more ubiquitous scale than perhaps the most astute observer anywhere else in the country. Disneyland itself is a monument to this ideal, as evidenced by the thousands who go there, seeking a partial escape from reality. It’s not unlike alcoholism, except that it is much more permissible. Are there people who go to Disneyland solely for fun? Of course. This is not a slight against them. But there is no denying that this need/want to be in Disneyland is indicative of a deeper psychological issue within my peers of this generation.

I’m definitely not the only one that thinks this way. Author, Kurt Anderson, was featured on Big Think essentially putting his twist on it. He clearly has trouble condensing his thoughts on the matter, but that’s a testament to how much there is to say:

So first let’s break down a few of the main symptoms of Disney syndrome.

  1. Inability to comprehend the unfair nature of reality.

  2. Thinking that all ideas are created equal.

  3. Feeling entitled to certain rights and privileges.

  4. Sadness in the face of adversity.

There are more, but I feel like this rounds up the most characteristic qualities of the syndrome.

My theory is that having been bombarded with fairy tales on a massive scale from basically time of birth has led to a generation of people that come to expect that said fairy tales will one day come true for them. On a side note, I believe this is why American wedding culture is out of control. People are spending upwards of $20-50k on a single day of celebration to essentially make a blissful envisionment of their fantasy come true. Pair that with the 40-50% divorce rate (with a good portion of that being 2nd and 3rd marriages) and I think you can quickly surmise that there’s something cyclical about how this ends up playing out in reality. They want a fairy tale, they get it for a day, then they can’t possibly maintain this level of idealism, and subsequently give up and try again.

The same can be said about the millenial workforce.They were shown and told from an early age that as long as you work hard to be kind to others, you can accomplish anything and be anything you want. Then, they get into the workforce in a less than optimal position, and they quickly become dissatisfied. Unbeknownst to them, a majority of the people that came before had to just deal with the grind for a long time before they started actualizing any semblance of their dreams, if they even got that far.

Why do I think that this type of thinking is dangerous? It’s for many reasons.

Since the podcast focuses primarily on relationships, let’s start there. People that have this extraordinary sense of idealism when it comes to relationships will most likely have a much harder time finding happiness. You hear about it all the time, the hopeless romantics. While it seems sweet and everyone dreams of meeting someone like that, you have to realize that that kind of attitude has to be incredibly taxing on a person. It’s great for the recipient, but not great for the gifter. There are a few people that can pull it off. Kudos to them. For the rest of the people with less than perfect mental acuity, it can actually lead to depression.

Mental health is also a hot button issue in today’s world. Lately, we’ve heard a lot about celebrity suicides and troubled youths. I can’t even begin to try and figure out motive, but I feel like everyone would be remiss if they did not think that part of the reason for these actions had something to do with reality vs expectation.

So what’s the moral of the story? Reality is always there, waiting for you to become its friend. The sooner you become friends with reality, the sooner you can have a healthy appreciate of life and what it has to offer. Idealism isn’t bad. It’s when you conflate idealism with expectation that things will go awry. Furthermore, screw fairy tales. Screw antiquated ideals made up by people you may not even personally know. Live your life as your own and create your own tale, for better or for worse. Any story that you write with this attitude will be better than anything that Disney can come up with.

If you have any thoughts on this yourself, be sure to leave a comment below!

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