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Social Studies

A Whole New World

By Vincent Williams | Posted 2/3/2010

About a year ago, my family and I were in Florida for a short business trip. While we were there, on a humble, we went to Disney World for a few days. My then-4-year-old daughter made us promise to bring her back for her birthday, and, being the good parents that we are, my wife and I planned it out, and a couple of weeks ago we spent her fifth birthday at Disney World. But even though I've been to the Magic Kingdom and the surrounding parks half a dozen times, in 2010, Disney World was an entirely different experience than it's ever been.

First and foremost, I had to deal with the princess situation. Real talk now: This was never really an issue in my house because I have a little black daughter. All the information you learn in that Woman's Studies 101 class you took as a freshman about the dangerous messages of fairytales for little girls and the passivity of characters like Sleeping Beauty and the insidiousness of telling our daughters that some knight in shining armor is going to come and take care of them? Completely a non-issue since my daughter was born. Oh, my mother and mother-in-law and sister and wife are all fierce, career-having warrior queens, and my daughter has got dozens of aunts and aunties that are doctors, lawyers, bankers, educators, mathematicians, and, dammit, Cinderella don't look like you and that's Some Other People's Stuff.

But then, Princess Tiana entered our world. Yes, I know I popped all that shit about The Princess and the Frog some months ago ("Once Upon a Time," Social Studies, April 1, 2009), but did I somehow seriously think my daughter wasn't going get involved in the hoopla? Oh, I grumbled but, if there's something more powerful than her big brown eyes, I don't know what it is. I'm not saying she's running things in here like little Billy Mumy, and I'm not worried about getting wished into the cornfield, but . . . yeah. The fact that all them Zulu lioness Amazon warrior women I just talked about melted into goo and purchased every piece of Princess Tiana merchandise in the tri-state area doesn't help either.

So, instead of chilling like I've always done and seeing how many times we could go back and forth between It's a Small World, Space Mountain, and that cool race track, we were some of those people running around the Magic Kingdom with my daughter dressed up like Princess Tiana looking for the "real" Frog Princess. And, oh, that was some bullshit. Hunting down the various princesses is like looking for Sasquatch or the Jersey Devil or something. Them girls are never where they're supposed to be. My wife called ahead and we scheduled lunch in Cinderella's Castle, and all the princesses showed up except Tiana. I damn near had to bribe one of the staff to find out where she was so we could stand in line for an hour to take a picture.

All pissing and moaning aside, the line to see the Frog Princess was a fascinating tableau. There were, of course, a bunch of little girls, mostly but not all African-American, dressed up like princesses with their autograph books and digital cameras ready. But there were also about a dozen older black women, visibly moved, waiting. And it completely bugged me out how these 60-year-old women would go up to this 20-year-old woman who's just dressed up like a pretend character and share how they had been waiting their whole lives for her. I felt so bad for the woman in the costume. I figure Oprah Winfrey or Diana Ross or, hell, Anika Noni Rose could handle it, but this poor girl is just trying to make money to pay for her school books and suddenly she's a Great Moment In Negro History.

Which brings me to the other part of the trip that was totally different than any other visit to Disney World. I have been to Orlando about a half a dozen times, and for the first time in 30 years I went into that dry-ass Hall of Presidents exhibit. Oh, it was so boring, and Morgan Freeman's baritone voice-over didn't really help. It started with that Revolutionary War flute music, moved into a rag to show it was the 1920s, flashed some grainy civil-rights movement footage--in other words, it was exactly like every stereotypical overview of American history you saw in the sixth grade. But then, the main event came, and Freeman announced the name of each and every president, culminating with the curtain opening on Barack Robama, our Mechanical President Overlord! And, I have to say, considering the conservative crowd in the auditorium--Ronald Reagan got the most applause by far--I was pleasantly surprised by the respectful applause that, not only President Obama, but Clinton and, hell, Carter also got. In fact, every president up until the Hope-O-Tron 44 was treated with the dignity of the office. Maybe some of that princess magic rubbed off on the whole park.

Correction: The original version of this column incorrectly referenced an episode of The Twilight Zone starring Ronny Howard. The actor in question was, in fact, Billy Mumy. City Paper regrets the error.

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