In honor of Memorial Day, I’m taking a break from my Danger in Suburbia series, and am digging into the archives for this Memorial Day-related post.
Twenty years ago, on May 23, 1985, the LA Times ran this article, reporting on President Reagan’s plans for Memorial Day. The headline reads “President to Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney World.” This paratactical pairing–Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney–is surely one of the greatest juxtapositions to ever occur, ironically or not, in newsprint in the free world.
Yet somehow, it’s very fitting, very Reaganesque.
Both the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery and Disney World theme park in Orlando are products of the same cultural impulses: ritualized nostalgia and the allure of fantastic (an anonymous soldier who dies so that we may live, whose death, because it is no single, identifiable soldier’s sacrifice, memorializes all soldiers’ deaths…how different is that from the idea of a Magic Kingdom whose monorail whisks individuals away from their lives in the parking lots into a world of talking mice and space mountains?
Well, okay, quite a bit different…but I still think both concepts represent two key cultural phenomenon which define America. And Reagan, as always, embodies both at once. War and entertainment, patriotism and consumerism, memory and fiction.