Sunday, July 25, 2010

August 12, 2009: Things That Scare Me: Case Study #7

In spite of (or, perhaps, because of) my adult infatuation with all things horrifying and horrific, I was scared of absolutely everything when I was a kid. A television commercial for a horror movie was enough to send me racing from the den in a sweaty-palm panic. In this ongoing series here on Psychobabble, I've been reviewing some of the things that most traumatized me as a child and evaluating whether or not I was rightfully frightened or just a wiener.

Case Study #7: The Haunted Mansion

Like so many other children raised in an amoral capitalist society, my first visit to Disney World was a formative experience. Oh, the colors and the sounds! The animatronic children of the world relentlessly squawking “It’s a small world after all”! The fat tourists in their pleated shorts! The slowly suffocating employees wearing giant Chip ‘n Dale helmets so they can be photographed beside fat tourists in pleated shorts! The relentless Orlando humidity! The endless lines leading up to rides that last all of four minutes!

All of this cynicism is hindsight cynicism, of course. I was utterly enraptured by Disney World and its weird rides in which you’d sit in a bucket that leads you down a mini-train track so you can gawk at various tableaux based on popular Disney films (some that had not even been made yet!). I marveled at the robot pirates firing robot cannonballs at each other in the Pirates of the Caribbean. I was so enraptured by the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea voyage that I didn’t mind that I could see the surface of the shallow pond through which the submarine traveled when I looked upward through the submarine window. I delighted in my own death during the head-on-collision-with-a-train illusion at the end of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Other features of Disney World did not so capture my fancy. I could do without the barf-inducing teacup ride and the various roller coasters. On a more primal level, I was terrified of the prospect of coming face-to-face with the wicked witch in Snow White’s Scary Adventure (took the ride; kept my eyes shut and my fingers in my ears) and witnessing whatever horrible horrors awaited me in the Haunted Mansion (ditto).

For those not in the know, the Haunted Mansion is one of the more elaborate and lengthy rides in Disney World and Disneyland (and Euro-Disney, where it’s called “Phantom Manor”). There are paintings that seem to stretch before your eyes, various projected and animatronic ghosts, an incantation-chanting head in a crystal ball, a mirror illusion in which ghosts appear to ride on your shoulder, a super-groovy tune called “Grim Grinning Ghosts” that blows away “It’s a Small World After All”, and the mansion’s very own mythology involving the seemingly cursed Gracey family (which you can read all about at the fantabulous In spite of all this cool stuff, poor, petrified little me could not bring himself to view any of it during my first visit to Disney World. Nor could I during my second. It was only when I’d finally traveled cross country to Disneyland that I kept my eyes open and my thumbs out of my ears in the Haunted Mansion, which opened 40 years ago today. I was dazzled by the ooky, spooky experience. I believe I was about twelve at the time, and since I have not returned to Disneyland (nor was I about to take the pricey trip solely for the purpose of this article), I had to settle for this walk-through on You Tube to reevaluate my youthful terror:

“No flash pictures, please!”

The Verdict: Hmm. That was pretty dark, but I think I was able to make out a couple of ghost elbows or something. In any event, I was clearly a weiner. I mean, there are a few fairly scary things in the Haunted Mansion (the medium in the crystal ball; the tiny, ghostly bride cooing “Hurry baaaaaack”), but I was too much of a wimp to open my eyes long enough to even know that any of these things existed. So, yeah, I was a weiner.
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