Historic Memory and Gender in Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress
LYNN Y. WEINER
THE WALT DISNEY corporation has been a major purveyor of popular history throughout the twentieth century. From cartoons to television shows, feature films to amusement parks, Disney has shaped and reshaped the presentation of the past for an audience of millions. With the creation of enormously successful amusement parks in California and Florida, Disney history became part of tourist itineraries throughout the world. Disney's interpretations of history, however, are not static. A look at one attraction in particular, the Carousel of Progress suggests how Disney has transformed the presentation of the history of women and the family over the past thirty years. Disney's "collective memory" of family life reflects a persistent nostalgia for a pleasant, highly controlled past and an equally well ordered future, in the context of an ever changing present.
The Carousel of Progress is a Walt Disney stage attraction that uses "audio-animatronic" robots to portray the evolution of technology in the American home. The Disney corporation claims that this show has entertained more viewers than any other theatrical presentation in world history ( Bierman223). After its introduction as a General Electric-sponsored attraction at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the show moved to Disneyland in California and then in 1975 to Disney World in Florida. An examination of four versions of the Carousel from 1967 to 1995 indicates how history has been interpreted and reinterpreted by Disney to tens of millions of people. 1 A comparison of each act of the play, looking particularly at the depiction of gender roles, should demonstrate not so much how gender roles have actually changed, but rather how those changes have been constructed as a kind of collective memory of the history of women and the family during the twentieth century.
The Carousel is a combination play, advertisement, and amusement park ride. The audience sit in seats that rotate around a stage to view an affluent white robot family in four different eras: the pre-electric turn of the century, the 1920s, the