Cowboys and Roller Coasters: Frontierland's Misrepresentation of the Old West

The American frontier may have been declared closed in 1893 by Fredrick Jackson Turner, but the era of the Old West still lives on today. It can be seen in modern life, in everything from video games to theme parks. There is a romanticized myth surrounding the frontier that has become an important aspect of the American identity. The frontier myth revolves around stereotypes like that of the hyper-masculine and noble cowboy, the savage Indian, and the rags to riches gold miners and fur trappers. While based on real characters, their roles on the frontier have been highly glorified, yet these stereotypes are what permeate in the minds of Americans as they imagine the frontier West. This paper focuses on the how the myth of the frontier is portrayed in Disneyland, California's Frontierland. Walt Disney designed Frontierland to be an accurate representation of the frontier West that would immerse guests into an interactive glimpse of that iconic era. Through the examination of Frontierland's accuracies, inaccuracies, and blatant misrepresentations, this paper argues that Disney's representation of the American frontier West represents the current romanticized cultural view of the frontier, and that this portrayal is harmful in several ways. The most prominent and harmful discrepancies lie within Disney's misrepresentation of indigenous peoples and their cultures. This, combined with the exclusionary and romanticized portrayal of the frontier as a whole, creates a falsified narrative that is seen by thousands of park visitors every day.