What’s a Disney Ride?

Recently some friends were out sailing with us in Boston Harbor; as we sailed homeward we approached an extremely dark cloud — just one all by itself.  The light was dramatic behind it and under it the sea and outlines of distant objects were nearly obscured. As we passed under the cloud, the winds suddenly picked up dramatically to 40 knots or so. We tried to pull in the sails, but the winds were too strong, so we motored on, lines and canvas snapping fiercely. There were some adrenalin-shot moments and then the winds abruptly died and the sun came out as we passed from under the cloud. As we tidied our sails and lines and realized all was well, one person joked, ‘can we do that again?’  We all laughed and someone else replied that we’d have to wait in line again and get a ticket – an E-ticket.

There’s a lot of cultural information packed into the term ‘E-ticket’.  The origin (I believe) comes from tickets purchased at Disneyland and Disney World; different classes of amusement rides in these parks have different classes of tickets associated with them — E-tickets are the priciest because they are for the best and most interesting rides. The lines for those rides can often be very long, too. Referring to a real-life experience as involving an E-ticket implies that the experience can be compared to a Disney ride — this is an instance of a trope, a figurative/metaphoric use of a term. It’s one that requires some fairly specific cultural knowledge about a specific society and a specific era in it. Consider a second case of using this particular trope.

I was waiting at a bus stop yesterday in a pleasant, affluent community west of Boston. While I waited a group passed by: two thirty-something adult women followed by eight or nine preschool-aged children, with one adult female bringing up the rear.  What was striking and unusual was that the children were all tethered together on a long line as they walked, their wrists tied to the tether. It was certainly an efficient way to keep them in tow, and they didn’t look unhappy, but they behaved less boisterously than what I’ve observed other times with young children on outings and field trips with adult supervision. A lady who was also waiting for the bus seemed surprised by the setup as well, and we discussed it after the group was out of earshot. I said to her, ‘Are children now just supposed to be living a Disney ride?’  She nodded, she knew exactly what I meant, and mused on the potential downside of never letting children experience dangers around them in their world, of not letting them develop intuitions and judgment based on experience confronting such things. Is that what was going on with these kids — were they being kept on a Disney ride? (It’s possible the tether was some sort of game or learning experience.) The point is that using the trope ‘Disney ride’ in this context was not intended in a positive sense as it was in the boat situation described earlier.  The expression still refers to an amusement ride, but is highlighting not the attributes of ‘fun’ and ‘excitement’, but the attributes of ‘unreal’ and ‘controlled, circumscribed’.  I didn’t have to explain myself to the lady at the bus stop, she knew exactly what I meant by ‘Disney ride’ in that context.  So, ‘Disney ride’ can refer to a potentially dangerous situation in a praiseworthy way, and an overly-protective situation in a pejorative one.  It illustrates the dynamic nature of word usage and meaning.

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