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It’s one of the best-kept secrets at Disneyland: the theme park is a favorite spot to scatter the ashes of loved ones. The Haunted Mansion is the most popular place to deposit cremains, but human ashes have been spread everywhere from the flowerbeds of Main Street USA to the waters of Pirates of the Caribbean. Former custodians who have had to vacuum up the cremains have nicknamed the ash cleanup: “Code Grandma.”
Death in all its forms is banned at the Happiest Place on Earth. If a guest dies inside the park, s/he must be taken outside its confines before being declared dead. Ashes are forbidden. The company went so far as to remove “in memory of” from commemorative bricks so as not to remind guests of death. In other words, the simulacrum that is Disneyland is a space outside and beyond death. It provides a fantasy of immortality to all within.
My paper explores the uneven borders between life, death, and imperial simulations. I draw connections between the animatronic subjects featured at Disneyland today and the Völkerschauen (people displays) of colonial exhibitions in the early twentieth century. Since Disney’s roots can be traced back to the exposition, specifically world’s fairs, I ask how imperialist dynamics continue to permeate the theme park. Specifically, I explore how they constitute hyperreal subjects, how those subjects blur the borders between life and death, and what consequences exist for the actually existing people who are caught up in the binds of imperialism and simulation. The Disney empire has so effectively harnessed the power of both, it controls how to make live and let die—it lets no one die—challenging the very definition of the biopolitics understood to define our modernity.