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No fan of the Country Bears

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I have always felt quite at home at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I mean this quite literally. On one side of my family, I am descended from Hollywood and 30 Rock, from both “the little people” in the rank and file, and also some who made significant contributions to the development and history of radio, film and television. So, when I wander down DHS’s Hollywood Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, I always have to smile at the loving caricatures of people just like my family. Melodramatic, hardworking, showbiz people, who made the spotlights glow and the credits roll.

On my other side, I’m descended from a very different corner of America: A less flashy, more home-spun world. A world of working the land, feeding the livestock before sunrise, and old school country music (Jimmie Rogers, anyone?). I grew up in the suburbs myself, but always understood that while I come from tinsel and spotlights, I also come from farmers, from chokecherry jam, from Lutheran church basements where “green salad” means lime Jello with cottage cheese and pineapple rings.

So, shouldn’t I feel just as much at home at The Country Bear Jamboree as I do watching Destry Rides Again? Well, no.

You see, when I visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the visions of tinsel and glitz poke gentle fun. The melodramatic starlet, the grandiose producer, the glitz that sometimes passes for substance . . . all are targets for satire, but I never feel the real people behind these caricatures are being mocked. Rather, it’s a humorous and lovingly twisted look at Hollywood’s glamour, and it works.

But somehow that gentle satire doesn’t come into play for The Country Bears. Instead, they’re wildly exaggerated, grotesque. Their teeth are bad, their clothes not just worn but ragged. Sure, they’re kindhearted and sweet, but they don’t seem too bright, and it’s not just the lack of formal education – you get the feeling their collective IQ was lost one year, much like a bad summer drought could kill off the fall harvest.

Now, I don’t begrudge anyone else their passion for the Country Bears. They’re a well-loved tradition in the parks, and I know there are plenty of people who love them as dearly as I love that chokecherry jam. But since there’s no lack of other quality audio-animatronic attractions at Walt Disney World, I can easily just walk on by, or maybe grab a bus over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to visit my brethren.