July 1, 2016

FROM THE WORST PLACE ON EARTH TO THE BEST:

Elie Wiesel Visits Disneyland : The Holocaust survivor's underappreciated journalistic work for 'The Forverts,' unearthed--including a dispatch from The Happiest Place on Earth (Menachem Butler, June 27, 2016, Tablet)

From the $1 entrance-fee to Disneyland--in contrast, Disney announced several months a ago that a single-day ticket is now $99--Wiesel takes his reader on a tour around the park, where "before your astonished eyes unfolds a magical realm, where daily worries and troubles have no place." From Main Street, U.S.A. and Frontierland "as [the Western City] would have looked years ago," with its "colorful tramways, pulled by horses [that] traverse the main streets; outmoded taxis; affable, smiling policemen turn around, seemingly having just jumped out of a very old film; and just over there is a store where they sell everything from 'revolvers' to bags of gold, gifts, and cowboy hats." He then boards the train "through a desert where skeletons and Indians look at you with their dead stares" before disembarking to get his ticket for the Mark Twain Riverboat and travel down the giant Mississippi River, remarking "the ship is terrific, the river formidable."

Wiesel finishes his travels through America's past and heads now to "take a stroll through the land of the future, which is also a province of Disneyland" and describes the (now-closed) House of the Future shortly after it opened in the Summer of 1957: "Futuristic man will live such a wonderful life! Everything will come to him so, so easily! If someone knocks at the door, you won't have to go to see who it is: He will appear on the screen of your television. If the telephone rings, you'll be able to see the person you're speaking with and not just hear his voice. And a thousand other such conveniences will turn your house into a royal palace and transform you yourself into a lazy, fat, lonely king."

Several times in the article, Wiesel reflects on his appreciation of Walt Disney--"the person who created this land, this universe, must be a genius, a rare genius"--and then shares the anecdote that he was told of how Walt Disney often walks around Disneyland in disguise. Wiesel understands why: "If one wants to calm his nerves and forget the bitter realities of daily life, there is no better-suited place to do so than Disneyland. In Disneyland, the land of children's dreams, everything is simple, beautiful, good. There, no one screams at his fellow, no one is exploited by his fellow, no one's fortune derives from his fellow's misfortune. If children had the right to vote, they would vote Disney their president. And the whole world would look different."

Wiesel concludes his description of visiting Disneyland with a story from four years earlier, when he was a journalist covering the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera and had the opportunity to interview Walt Disney in person after the latter had been awarded the French L├ęgion d'Honneur in honor of his cinematographic contributions. (Wiesel would himself later receive this same award in 1984, two years before he won the Nobel Peace Prize.)

At a ceremony that was flowing with champagne, surrounded by screenwriters, producers, and film personalities from around the world, Elie Wiesel approached Walt Disney and asked: "The whole world loves you; your children's films have brought you honor, renown, and anything one could wish for. I want to ask you: What is your goal? What do you want--what would you want--to achieve with your film work?"

Wiesel then writes:

"Disney thought for a bit, fixing his large eyes on a far off, invisible point in space, and answered:

'Childhood. The goal of my work has always been to awaken a sense of youth in men, in adults. Because--the best part of man's life is his childhood.' "

Wiesel's ending places the Holocaust survivor next to Mickey Mouse, in a way that feels at once jarring and profound and that Walt Disney would certainly have appreciated:

"Difficult as it is to admit, I did not understand his words at the time. I do understand them better now, however, having been to Disneyland.

"Today, I visited not only Disneyland, but also--and especially--my childhood."

Posted by at July 1, 2016 6:07 PM

  

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