Disney and Disavowal: Escaping from Tomorrow

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In January 2013, Escape from Tomorrow, Randy Moore’s directorial debut, premiered at the Sundance film festival. The surrealist fantasy follows Jim White (Ray Abramsohn), a newly-laid off, sexually frustrated father on a family trip to Disney World, as he encounters the darker side of “The Happiest Place on Earth” and subsequently suffers a mental, and eventually, physical breakdown. Touted as a feat of guerilla filmmaking techniques, the film was shot almost entirely inside the gates of Disney World in Orlando, Florida as well as Disneyland in Anaheim, California without the permission of The Walt Disney Company, a fact that has brought it considerable media attention. While Escape from Tomorrow was not destined to garner the box office figures achieved by the blockbuster hits that opened the same weekend, it nonetheless achieved the purpose set forth by Randy Moore, who describes the film as his “personal attempt to make sense of what felt like a very artificial childhood, brought on by our cultural obsession with these fake, manufactured worlds of so-called fantasy" (Carey, 2013). This vast and intricate network of goods, services, experiences, and ideas that constitute “Disney” fit Zizek’s (2003) definition of a master-signifier, one that refers to an underlying concept that defies comprehension or demonstration. It is impossible to know “Disney” it its entirety, not only because of its enormity and pervasiveness, but also because it is experienced by many different people in an immeasurable number of ways. Similarly, Disney has become a signifier of the vast collection of parks, corporations, and consumer products. In spite of the fact that no one has ever seen the “whole” of Disney, all that it entails, the intricate details of its histories, or the inner operations that have long evoked myths of corruption and deceit, the signifer stands. “Disney” is a signifer without a signified because it holds different meanings based on one’s identifications with others. Though we may assume elevated that self-awareness and cynicism are hallmarks of the Information Age, Zizek (1989) contends that “cynical reason, with all its ironic detachment, leaves untouched the fundamental level of ideological fantasy, the level on which ideology structures the social reality itself” (p. 30). We, the authors, as lifelong consumers of Disney’s goods and services, are ourselves are not exempt from the ideological fantasy, but Zizek asserts that through critical-ideological analysis we can recognize the conditions of our “naïve ideological consciousness” and acknowledge the social realities it distorts. Our goal is not to unearth a definitive state of distortion as the ideological analysis is necessarily situated in the particular cultural and historical context from which it emerges, and in this case, the particular text through which it is explored. Thus, the release of Escape from Tomorrow presents us with an opportunity to examine this particular cultural moment in order to read “Disney” in a new way.


American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (AERA)


Chicago, IL