Viewing Main Street at Disneyland alongside its inspiration (Marceline, Missouri)

A number of sociologists have in recent years written about spaces where there is an attempt to build in nostalgia, to recreate an atmosphere from the past but with new materials and design. One of the places to see this is in Disneyland’s Main Street, the opening part of the park where Walt Disney attempted to produce a copy (or an improvement?) of the typical small-town downtown.

The Chicago Tribune has a short photo essay where they show pictures from Disney’s Main Street alongside pictures from downtown Marceline, Missouri, the small town that Disney claimed influenced his later Main Street. While this just a limited set of pictures, seeing these images side by side does reveal some things:

1. Main Street in Marceline looks similar to the Main Streets of many small towns: brick buildings, a little bit drab (probably partially due to the fate of small towns since the era when Disney was in Marceline), some “old-time” features (such as the clock on the stand at the corner).

2. In comparison, Disneyland’s version really does seem “hyper-real”: it is much more colorful (or is that just the sun in southern California?), the buildings feature extra features (more architectural touches, more flash than just the plain brick), and there are crowds of people walking through. While the buildings of Marceline are more functional, the buildings at Disneyland are meant to entertain and invoke feelings (such as nostalgia and consumerism). Disneyland’s Main Street looks like a movie set whereas as Marceline looks like dull reality.

3. Perhaps we could make a case that Disney took his pre-teen experiences and translated them into his Disneyland Main Street. Perhaps to a pre-teen, Marceline’s downtown was the height of excitement: different goods being sold, people from around the town (and area) gathering together, new things to look at. A more cynical take would be that the Disney Main Street is a glamorous (or garish) pastiche of real downtowns where people cared less about entertainment and more about maintaining community.

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