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“AMERICAN BEATS AMERICAN” BY ROGER SHIMOMURA This painting is on exhibit at Greg Kucera Gallery through September 28.
  • COURTESY OF GREG KUCERA GALLERY
  • “AMERICAN BEATS AMERICAN” BY ROGER SHIMOMURA This painting is on exhibit at Greg Kucera Gallery through September 28.

My attempt to give up irony began and ended with an earnest woman. She lived in a Sacramento suburb that featured rows of meth motels along the freeway. Her car had a non-whimsical, synthetic black bra over the front bumper for the genuine purpose of blocking out bugs and other bumpers. She adored traveling on cruise ships, listening to Jimmy Buffett, and creating Norman Rockwell–imitation holidays. Her most cherished possessions were a collection of commemorative Tinker Bell ornaments. These fragile, fairy-straddled globes reinforced her slightly militant belief that Disneyland really was the happiest place on earth. She said that exact phrase. Often.

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I grew up one half day's drive from Disneyland. I hated the place, from the first time my family ditched me at the Swiss Family Treehouse when I was 6. I found them later eating burgers and shakes under the shade of Dumbo. By the time I was a teenager, I saw Disneyland as the epitome of everything false about American culture and about my particular wholesome and equally troubled American family. My perspective had also been twisted by the influence of a black-light poster popular in head shops in the 1970s. The poster depicted Disney characters having porn sex in various forest nooks. From the moment I first saw that darker version of Disney happiness, my fascination steered more toward the catacombs and prison cells beneath Disneyland than toward the bright perfection of its facades.

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