walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Married to the Mouse_, Richard Foglesong

I bought this in February 2007. That is, before R. bought me a kindle that Christmas, after it was released in November. So I don't feel too bad that my copy is a very nice used copy, instead of the kindle version which is now available. That kindle version startled me: the publisher is Yale University Press and this really is an academic book. OTOH, it's about Disney; these things probably move pretty good as academic works go.

I bought this around the time we took a very long trip to Disneyland (yes, the one in California). I was buying a whole bunch of Disney Studies books, some of which I tried to read, and some of those I finished and loved (notably, _Tinker Belles and Evil Queens_, a fantastic and wonderful book in every way). This one I tracked down based on a sort-of recommendation from R. (he couldn't remember the details, so I only believe I found the one he was thinking of, which he had not read, but had heard author interviews around the time it came out, IIRC).

_Married to the Mouse_ is written by a professor of politics (that's what the blurb says) at Rollins College, which is located in Winter Park, Florida, a small town very, very close to Orlando with a very, very different set of ideas on how to manage growth. It shows. Foglesong is using the arrival of Disney and the development of the World in Orlando/Orange County/Osceola County as a case study in whether politics is driven by ideas/impersonal influence or more path dependent based on individual action. This would make more sense to someone who has more of a clue about political science ideas than I do. The title refers to the central conceit of the book: the relationship between the World and the Real World is like a marriage; the chapter titles start with "Serendipity", "Seduction" and include "Marriage", "Abuse", "Therapy" among others. Basically, central Florida was appealing to Disney because it had cheap land in all directions and was on the East Coast and Orlando specifically was great because a major N/S route and a major E/W route went through it, and it had good access to some other major feeders from the north as well. But Disney had other options at that point; Florida did a lot of what Disney wanted (to guarantee near total autonomy for the foreseeable future) in order to get Disney at all. The question Foglesong is exploring is why government in the area has been unable to level the playing field in the decades since then.

Foglesong is an advocate. He makes a very good case that the tax structure in the area is inadequate to mitigate the problems associated with the kind of growth that Disney brought -- and that the weak government of the area means that what tax money is in the area tends to get captured by Disney (and Universal, eventually) disproportionately for their own benefit. The problems in question (competition with Orlando's downtown, a very low wage population, huge traffic and other impact caused by the theme parks that aren't adequately balanced by revenues from the tax structure) are serious and long-standing. But the solutions he proposes are far from compelling, either from a is-that-likely perspective or from a would-that-even-be-a-good-idea perspective.

So there are problems: a weird central structure (the marriage analogy), a very political-sciency thesis (path-dependent or not) somewhat at odds with the overall thrust of the book (that the local governments are Doing It Wrong and Should Change and Here's How). But it is really an interesting book and this guy did some great research. As people writing about Disney, he's pretty balanced.

I posted earlier about a possible mag-lev from MCO to Epcot, and prior to that a Magical Express Monorail ditched because it was too slow. I didn't get into the political debates described by Foglesong in the Eisner-era and later, in which Disney's desire to get people on property and Never Let Them Leave interfered with public policy in a variety of ways; this is some of the best analysis in the book and worth thinking about, and thinking about whether similar things make it hard to develop public transit or public/private partnerships to develop transit in other areas as well.

Another tidbit: Florida subdivision developers in the 1970s would often develop a minimalist water/sewer package plant. It was beyond capacity and failing by the time all the houses were sold and they turned the plant over to the county, which was then stuck spending a lot of money to provide those services, often discontinuous with the rest of development. They knew they wanted compact development; they had inadequate governance to make it happen.

Amazingly stupid quotes: I already mentioned the minimum wage comment. On p. 105-6, "Said Aaron Dowling, assistant executive director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, in 1983: "A dozen years ago, we thought growth was good because it produced new taxes. We didn't consider the cost of the services that went along with it.""

Tantalizing side commentary: p 192, "in Orlando's branch plant economy [!!!], in which the newspaper, major banks, and largest employer (Disney) were all externally owned and controlled". Associated with that is the observation that the World is a huge chunk of Disney's money -- but that money isn't staying in the state.

In the back of my head, I couldn't help but think that if I lived in a part of the world where I had the choice of (say) working for Wal-mart or working for Disney, judging from what I've read from people who have held those jobs, Disney sounds like a better deal. And that may fundamentally be one of the toughest problems Florida is up against. As long as what Disney is offering is better than other regionally available choices, it is going to have a lot of defenders.
Tags: book review, disney, non-fiction

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