Disney discourses of self and Other: animality, primitivity, modernity, and postmodernity

Shona Bettany, Russell Belk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


We need Otherness to define self. As our world widens in an age of global commerce, travel, and entertainment, we encounter a sometimes bewildering array of Otherness delivered at an ever‐increasing pace. In light of postmodern diversity and hybridity, we need increasingly fundamental Others against whom to construct ourselves. In the theme parks typified by those of Disney in Orlando, Florida, we find several discourses that offer us a perspective on who we are vis‐à‐vis the Other. The particular Others (and sometimes the particular selves) of these discourses often come from the non‐human animal kingdom as well as from other human animal groups. The animal self/Other is not new and can be traced back to Aesop’s Fables and earlier. But in the controlled and carefully planned world of Orlando theme parks, supplemented by films, cartoons, animatronics, and other “imagineering” techniques, the possibilities of representation are greatly expanded. Nor is offering human Others a new thing and the “human zoos” of some of the early North American World’s Fairs brought pseudo‐villages full of “natives” for spectator amusement and contemplation. In addition, various depictions of human Others in film, print, and art can be seen in earlier eras, ranging from William Rice Burrough’s Tarzan to Pablo Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon. But in a postmodern, post‐colonial, degendered era of self‐commoditization, global environmentalism, and multiculturalism, sensitivities are quite different from those that prevailed during earlier attempts at stylized presentations of the Other. Chauvinistic doctrines of superiority no longer go unchallenged with the human animal Other, and the non‐human animal Other presents a somewhat less contentious alternative. In this paper the authors seek to understand the Otherness crafted in Orlando theme parks, the messages they convey, and the broader societal discourses invoked and mobilized. The contrasts offered in these theme parks and that facilitate an understanding of our selves and our place in the world include not only us and them, but also a conflated array of here and there, now and then (past or future), human and animal, primitive and civilized, he and she, good and bad, and responsible and irresponsible. The authors do this by presenting auto‐ethnographic accounts of their own engagements with two Orlando theme parks, Disney Animal Kingdom and Anheuser‐Busch SeaWorld.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-176
Number of pages14
JournalConsumption Markets and Culture
Issue number2
Early online date11 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


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