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"Disney is so good at being good that it manifests an evil; so uniformly efficient and courteous, so dependably clean and conscientious, so unfailingly entertaining that it's unreal, and therefore is an agent of pure wickedness. . . . Disney isn't in the business of exploiting Nature so much as striving to improve upon it, constantly fine-tuning God's work." --from TEAM RODENT TEAM RODENT How Disney Devours America "Revulsion is good. Revulsion is healthy. Each of us has limits, unarticulated boundaries of taste and tolerance, and sometimes we forget where they are. Peep Land is here to remind us; a fixed compass point by which we can govern our private behavior. Because being grossed out is essential to the human experience; without a perceived depravity, we'd have nothing against which to gauge the advance or decline of culture; our art, our music, our cinema, our books. Without sleaze, the yardstick shrinks at both ends. Team Rodent doesn't believe in sleaze, however, nor in old-fashioned revulsion. Square in the middle is where it wants us all to be, dependable consumers with predictable attitudes. The message, never stated but avuncularly implied, is that America's values ought to reflect those of the Walt Disney Company, and not the other way around."
Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in South Florida and presently lives in Tavernier, smack in the middle of the Florida Keys. He is currently Metro columnist for the Miami Herald, where his award-winning columns on rapacious development, egregious business practices, and corrupt politicians have helped clarify issues for the Florida citizenry. Hiaasen turned his hand to fiction in the early eighties. His first novel, Tourist Season, was published in 1986 and named "one of the ten best destination reads of all time by GQ magazine. He is the author of six other bestselling novels, Double Whammy, Skin Tight, Native Tongue, Strip Tease, Stormy Weather, and Lucky You.
Three decades after it began bulldozing the cow patures and draining the marshes of rural Orlando, Disney stands as by far the most powerful private entity in Florida; it goes where it wants, does what it wants, gets what it wants. It's our exalted mother teat, and you can hear the sucking from Tallahassee all the way to Key West. The worst damage isn't from the Walt Disney World Resort itself (which is undeniably clean, well operated, and relatively safe) or even from the tourists (although an annual stampede of forty million Griswolds cannot help but cut an untidy swath). The absolute worst thing Disney did was to change how people in Florida thought about money; nobody had ever dreamed there could be so much. Bankers, laywers, real-estate salesmen, hoteliers, restauranteurs, farmers, citrus growers--everyone in Mickey's orb had to drastically recalibrate the concepts of growth, prosperity, and what was possible. Suddenly there were no limits. Merely by showing up, Disney had dignified blind greed in a state pioneered by undignified greedheads. Everything the company touched turned to gold, so everyone in Florida craved to touch or be touched by Disney. The gates opened, and in galloped fresh hordes. The cattle ranches, orange groves, and cypress stands of old Orlando rapidly gave way to an execrable panorama of suburuban blight. One of the great ironies upon visiting Disney World is the wave of relief that overwhelms you upon entering the place--relief to be free of the nerve-shattering traffic and the endless ugly sprawl. By contrast the Disney resort seems like a verdant sanctuary. That was the plan, of course--Team Rodent left the park buffered with thousands of unspoiled acres, to keep the charmless roadside schlock at bay. As Orlando exploded, business leaders (and therefore politicians) throughout the rest of Florida watched and plotted with envy. Everyone conspired for a cut of the Disney action, meaning overflow. The trick was to catch the tourists after they departed the Magic Kingdom: induce them to rent a car and drive someplace else and spend what was left of their vacation money. This mad obsession for sloppy seconds has paid off big-time. By the year 2000, the number of tourists visiting the Orlando area is expected to reach forty-six million annually. That's more than the combined populations of California and Pennsylvania storming into Florida every year, an onslaught few places on earth could withstand. Many Disney pilgrims do make time to search for auxiliary amusement in other parts of the state. High on the list are the southernmost chain of islands known as the Keys, where I live, and where only one road runs the length of the archipelago. Maybe you can appreciate my concern.