“Mirror, Mirror” Reflects the American Narrative
“Mirror, Mirror: Reflections of American Stories in Disney Parks,” a bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibition, opens April 27 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Featured in the museum’s Albert M. Small Documents Gallery, this exhibition captures the excitement of the Disney parks with more than 45 artifacts and graphics while interweaving photos and personal stories collected from the public in 2022 through a crowd-sourced social media initiative. That initiative collected photos and stories from visitors to Disneyland and Walt Disney World to document and better understand the American public’s relationship with the parks.
“The experience of visiting a Disney theme park has become a kind of cultural touchstone, widely shared, compellingly nostalgic and vividly remembered,” said Bethanee Bemis, exhibition curator. “But while enjoying their visit, people are also absorbing Disney’s messages about America.”
Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett hat, early Disney Park fun maps and original concept art by Mary Blair are exhibited alongside contemporary official and fan-made Mickey Mouse-style ear headbands. Cases on park events, informal and official, feature former Disney Park ride designer Bob Gurr’s T-shirt worn at LA Pride in 2019 and buttons and images of ceremonies honoring veterans and the American flag, highlighting the breadth of the Disney Park experience.
The exhibition explores how Disney theme parks serve as locations of public memory, their relationship to stories of American history and how the parks and the public are adapting to new understandings of the American experience.
The Walt Disney Company has been telling historical stories for decades, and as time and values have changed, Disney theme parks have adapted in response. With research showing that 70–90% of Americans have visited one of the parks, Disney serves as an important location for American public memory. Key to the exhibition’s focus is how the narrative presented at Disney’s theme parks represents and shapes larger conversations about the American experience.
In presenting objects, images, maps and more, “Mirror, Mirror” looks at how Disney and the public are in conversation to create the national narrative of today and the future. The companion book, Disney Parks and America’s National Narratives: Mirror, Mirror For Us All, by Bemis was published in December by Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. The book takes a public history approach to situating the physical spaces of the Disney brand within memory and identity studies.
The National Museum of American History exhibit, “Mirror, Mirror: Reflections of American Stories in Disney Parks,” is not affiliated with Disney Enterprises Inc.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open daily except Dec. 25, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The doors of the museum are always open online and the virtual museum continues to expand its offerings, including online exhibitions, PK–12 educational materials and programs. The public can follow the museum on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to https://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.