Monday, October 22, 2012

Epcot Angst...

As I surf Disney-themed blogs, I read a lot of angst about that fact that Epcot today is not what it was supposed to be, or what it could be, or what it used to be.  It's probably true:  the Epcot of today doesn't really seem to educate, or inspire, its guests.  I have to take it on faith that it did this in the past, because I've read so many excellent blogs that lament the loss of their favorite park.  The latest entry I've read, An Epcot Generation Manifesto at the always informative Passport to Dreams Old & New, comments on the changes in the park, and in the mission itself for the park, saying that "What's really missing from EPCOT today isn't just Horizons, it's the whole package of information, of inspiration, the message of hope which cumulatively moved us all."

Epcot doesn't inspire anymore.  That seems to be a common lament.  So why doesn't it?

I never visited Epcot before 2006.  My only visit to Walt Disney World was in 1975, as a member of my high school band, and, well, you know how high school kids are.  Especially 15 year old male high school kids, when released in the parks along with other high school band kids (read that as "GIRLS!") from other parts of the country.  I took a few pictures, but basically I have few memories from that visit.

Epcot wasn't an option in 1975.  It wasn't built yet.  I was in college when EPCOT Center opened, and it didn't register on my radar.   Too busy majoring in chemistry and hanging out with my friends and playing rock and roll music and trying to get into dental school.  (I succeeded in all of them...)  Did I need inspiration?

I did not.  I grew up in a time where men were launching rockets to the moon.  Neil Armstrong stepped onto that world when I was 9 years old.  I found the SF of Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke at around 12 years of age, and moved on from there.  Brin, Card, Benford, Sawyer, Bear, and many others made me think a lot about what was possible.  The shuttle program began, and I wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune after the Challenger disaster.  (The link brings you to a blog post with the link to the piece, not to the piece itself.)  If you read it, you will read the thoughts of someone who had been inspired by a lot of stuff.  But not by EPCOT.

Foxxfur states in her excellent piece that "We can argue semantics about Walt Disney's original vision for E.P.C.O.T., the political and cultural reasons these were transformed into a theme park, so on and so on but the fact remains that the guiding principle behind E.P.C.O.T. and EPCOT Center remained the same; like Captain EO, it was here to change the world.  And EPCOT did change the world, actually. This is no lie."

It may have.  I think it changed the way that science centers and museums around the world present their information to their visitors.  I remember, as a kid, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and being inspired by it back then.  I loved the place.  (So many buttons to push...)  Today, however, it presents its information and its stories in much different fashion.  It's much more interactive, much more entertaining.  I might hazard a guess that a lot of this change in the way that information is presented is due to EPCOT.  I could be wrong; after all, I never went to EPCOT before 2006 so I'm not sure how things were presented back then, but from everything I read, it sounds like EPCOT's presentation of information inspired museums to do a better job of presenting what they were trying to show.

I'm sure it changed the world in other ways as well.  But I can't enumerate those ways.  I'm not sure Foxxfur can, either.  (I looked for some specific examples but didn't find them.) 

Foxxfur makes this statement:

But every child of the eighties or early nineties who passed through those wide turnstiles and squinted up at the glare of the Florida sun off that big geodesic sphere left the park permanently marked with its message. Those catchy theme songs, so easy to dismiss as irritating simplifications, got into our DNA. They became homilies. How many kids eventually discovered the name Buckminster Fuller and connected his writing to the social concerns espoused by the theme park just because Disney name-checked one of his most famous ideas as the title of the park's iconic attractions? How easily we can come up with phrases like "nature's plan will shine above", or "the future world is born today", or "if we can dream it, then we can do it", or "one little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation" - all genuinely good advice, and all from EPCOT? These sound like notations not from a theme park, but from something like "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth".
 I agree.  But these things are still inspiring our kids, I think.  I know that when we walk through the turnstiles today, we are wowed by the view of Spaceship Earth.  We listen to music at home and find ourselves saying, "That sounds like something that we'd hear at Epcot!"  My kids seem interested in all sorts of things because we've encountered them at Epcot.  "Living with the Land", "The Living Seas", "Mission: Space" - the consensus seems to be that these things are sort of lame.  Maybe they are, but they still inspire.  They still can connect to kids of today, a video game generation that, no matter what we might wish, need a lot to "wow" them.  At least if I judge by my own kids, it does inspire.  The video-game-ish "Mission: Space" might be a little basic for their own video game skills, but it got them interested in space travel in a concrete sense.  "Living with the Land"'s greenhouses are still interesting enough that they talk about the methods of growing exotic foods on occasion, and they compare every aquarium exhibit we come across to "The Living Seas".  They may connect in a different way, but they do connect.

It will be interesting when I read a blog (if there is one) by a Disney fan who has grown up with this incarnation of Epcot.  I've only experienced this version, but I'm old.  "Pong" astonished me when it first came out.  Technology today is light years further advanced than what I grew up with, and I got to see it all.  I'm not saying that Epcot can't do a better job of inspiring its guests.  I'm just saying that it still does inspire, by its very existence.  And that's harder than ever to do, with the way things are in our world and nation today.


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hgh said...
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