Wednesday, 10 June 2015

THE WILD WEST BROUGHT TO YOU BY DISNEY: MUSEUMS IN UNEXPECTED PLACES

EXHIBITION REVIEW

BY: MALLORY HORRILL

Sometimes I feel like I attract museums. Even when I am not actively pursuing a museum visit, I seem to stumble upon exhibits and displays. I am sure the more likely explanation is that I am just hyper aware of the museum experience.

This past weekend I had one of these occurrences at Disneyland Paris. Why was I at Disneyland Paris you may ask? Well, I am interning in the UK this summer and naturally have been indulging in a fair share of travelling and site seeing. This past weekend I decided to take a bit of a break from the traditional historic and cultural tourism to satisfy my inner child. 

Wooden sign stating the exhibit title 'Legends of the Wild West'. Made to look old fashioned.
Entrance sign to Exhibit
Source: Mallory Horrill
While venturing around the park, getting my fill of rollercoasters, Disney characters, and park treats, I stumbled into an American Wild West exhibit. For those who are unfamiliar with the Disney Parks, the company divides their attractions into different ‘lands’, such as Fantasyland, Adventureland, Discoveryland etc. The exhibit being of a Wild West genre was of course located in Frontierland. Frontierland itself boasts Western attractions including the ‘Big Thunder Mountain’ rollercoaster, the ‘Rustler Roundup Shootin’ Gallery’ game, and the ‘Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing’ boat cruise. As I'm sure you can gather from reading the titles, Frontierland is a rather romanticized depiction of the American Wild West. 

Wax figure male (Davy Crockett) posed in a wooden cabin after shooting an opponent.
Wax Scene, Davy Crockett posed after firing at opponent
Source: Mallory Horrill
The exhibit, “Legends of the Wild West”, is housed in a recreated American Civil-War era fort. Visitors walk through the fort, both upper and lower levels, peering in on five scenes of frontier life, portrayed through wax figures. The scenes are explained on panels, posted beside the tableaux. The scenes and panels express general points in American Western history. For example, one panel read “With a cry ‘Eureka!’ Gold was discovered in California, and the historic ‘Gold Rush’ of 1849 began. Hundreds of Thousands of dreamers from America, Europe, and Asia travelled west, expecting to find streets paved with gold.” The accompanying scene featured a wax male figure discovering gold!

The exhibit and Frontierland are a carefully crafted atmosphere that makes the visitor feel as though they are transported to the clich├ęd Western world of cowboys, outlaws, gold, and saloons. Despite the sentimentality that Disney uses to enhance their park experience the exhibit does provide nuggets of truth. In addition to each panel giving one or two facts, if the visitor looks closely a real historic photograph can be spotted in each of the wax scenes. 

Wooden fort, two levels, a cart out front, some of the walls are adorned with animal skulls from hunting.
View of Exhibit
Source: Mallory Horrill
So the question is, does the simplicity of the exhibit perpetuate the romantic view of the American Wild West? Or does it inspire visitors to learn more about the period?

What unexpected places have you seen exhibits? Do you think exhibits can be successful outside of the museum setting?

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