Considerable debate has raged over the inclusion of Disneyland on this list—debate and some of the tragically hip posturing you're apt to get around here. "We can't include Disneyland," went the naysayers, "that's something the Register would do." Understand that invoking the R-word in situations like this is not only the kiss of death but it's the all-too-hungry embrace, awkward fumbling with buttons and self-loathing two minutes afterward of death also.
These people thought Disneyland was too obvious a choice, as if Trestles and the Nixon Library were somehow obscure, inspired selections. Their problem with Disneyland might be comparable to New Yorkers' problem with the Statue of Liberty, or Parisians' complaint with the Eiffel Tower: it's what every out-of-towner wants to see most. The locals reject this out of respect for other great and often overlooked features of their region—or because it satisfies that human yearning to dismiss another person's desires with a yawn or a "Trust me, you don't want to own a yacht."
Disneyland belongs on our list of the Best of OC because there is nothing—no thing—in Orange County that is better known around the world. Talk about the beaches, talk about the restaurants, the museums, the culture, and the rest of the world doesn't care. The rest of the world has far better beaches, restaurants and culture. What they don't have is the first Disneyland.
Disneyland should be on this list because when I tossed the question, "What's the best thing about Disneyland?" into a particularly hip corner of the office, what flew back almost immediately was, "Drugs!"
I thought they were kidding. They weren't, because there soon followed an explanation, impressively reasoned and detailed, about which specific drugs go well with which ride. Acid, for example, apparently meshes nicely with It's a Small World and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Pot, well, I was told with an incredulous snicker that pot goes well with just about everything. It's the drug world's beige.
When I asked why drugs and Disneyland go so well together, I was not met with tales of sticking it to the man or the delicious irony of doing something illegal in a place that espouses core American values. Instead I heard "it's safe," the way I'd hear that rationale from any parent. I was told "it's fun," the way I'd hear that endorsement from any 10-year-old. In fact, the person who recounted the ins and outs of acid use looked me square in the eye and in an utterly unironic tone said, "Steve, you know it's the happiest place on earth," and, I can not emphasize this enough, meant it.
Disneyland should be on this list because, like the Mona Lisa and George W. Bush, everybody sees exactly what they want to see in it. If you're one of those freaks who lives for the place and proudly displays all manner of Disneyland merchandise on your person and in your house, Disneyland is everything that America could be (clean, well-ordered, magical) and everything it has become (not quite clean enough, crowded and crass). Which is why your type is presently burning up the Internet with angry, desperate missives against Disneyland's plan to convert Tom Sawyer's Island into Pirates of the Caribbean Island—something you seem to believe ranks somewhere on the dastardly scale between Pearl Harbor and the day they stopped the spinning tea cups from spinning.
If you're one of those freaks that looks for little, sometimes pathetic ways to upset the status quo or state your displeasure with the way things are, Disneyland affords you the opportunity to thumb your nose by showing up dressed all goth, or looking all miserable and standing right next to the other freaks at Disneyland who are either wearing all their Disneyland crap or having a good time. You feel good about yourself while you denigrate them, especially the families who come for a good time because, hmmff, who can have a good time?
If you're one of those people who must find meaning in everything, Disneyland is the cross section of everything American, from its vulnerable immigrant newcomers to its rapacious power across the world. Disneyland is highly mockable in its optimism, worthy of criticism for its maniacal demand for control, frightening in its zeal, as someone once commented to me, for "buying up all the fun and selling it back to you."
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Disneyland deserves to be on this list—actually deserves to be No. 1 on this list—because more than any other place, thing or person in Orange County, it makes people happy, if only for their own smugness or paranoia.
Disneyland deserves to be on this list because no where else do you stand a better chance of seeing a child's expression of pure joy than while watching them walk through the entrance gates, catching their first glimpse of Sleeping Beauty's Castle or encountering one of the wandering characters. Disneyland deserves to be on the list because no where else can you see a look of pure joy on an adult's face than when they see that look in their child's face for the first time and know they were able to give it to them.
There is far too little happy in the world, and there is plenty of time and opportunity for us all to become angry teens, jaded journos and desperate adults clinging to the past; but Disneyland deserves to be on this list because it unabashedly, unashamedly reaches for happy. Does it always succeed? Of course not. Did you hear we all die in the end, too?
But happy is a wonderful thing to shoot for and there is no place in Orange County—this isn't even close—that makes people, especially children, happier than Disneyland. If you have a problem with that, fuck you. Grow a heart. 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 781-4565; www.disneyland.disney.go.com.