Nothing left to chance in Disney World. People can’t get enough of pre-planned living.

I was just speaking with a new friend, Harold C, about the plastic quality of middle American living. “Kimi, Disney’s like a religious experience for a lot of my friends,” he said. And so it is. A completely guided experience where people can live in simulations of the illusions they are accustomed to watch in the comfort of their living rooms on TV screens all across America. Disney World makes it possible for an American parent to take his/her spouse and children to a place which is actually a ‘sovereign country’ not ruled by American law and still not need to deal with foreign accents or foreign languages, driving on the wrong side of the street, calculating currency exchanges or having to decide whether to drink plain or mineral water. I told Harold about this National Geographic article which describes in detail the Disney World phenomenon, how it was achieved and in what ways it’s meant to affect American society. Here is a teaser of the contents . . .

He set out to create an Adventureland where nothing was left to chance. Arriving visitors would not be permitted to choose their own parking spaces; smiling Disney characters would do that for them. In this new, bigger, better Magic Kingdom, water could not be the tannic brown common in central Florida. So Bay Lake was drained, the sludge removed, and clear water pumped into the resulting lagoon. Even dry land would be turned into another Disney illusion: As you traverse the theme park, you are actually walking on the roof of an immense, underground control building from which the operation is run, staffed, and supplied.

Disney’s new empire in central Florida would be marketed as Disney World. Its official name was, and remains, the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Thanks to a sweetheart deal with the state legislature, the lands Disney purchased were detached from the rest of Florida to form a Magic Kingdom, above and outside the law. Even now, Disney World’s rides are exempt from state safety inspections. Democratic process is excluded, too. Power remains in the hands of a board of supervisors composed of Disney allies. However much you pay for a time-share condo in Disney World, you cannot buy property outright, and therefore establish official residence, and therefore vote for the board. Celebration, Disney’s residential community themed to evoke pre-1940s small-town America, has a city hall but no actual municipal government.

The most telling theme park in Orlando isn’t even Disney’s. SeaWorld is populated with sharks and whales plucked from the ocean and transported 50 miles (80 kilometers) inland. (Marineland, Florida’s original aquatic attraction on the Atlantic coast, is a fossil of its former self.) Every year, hundreds of thousands of people drive down the Atlantic coast of Florida and turn inland to visit America’s premier saltwater attraction. SeaWorld bespeaks the essence of Orlando, a place whose specialty is detaching experience from context, extracting form from substance, and then selling tickets to it.

In this place of exurban, postmodern pioneers, the range of choices is vast even when the choices themselves are illusory. Here life is truly a style: You don’t want to live in a mass-produced, instant “community”? No problem. Orlando’s developers, like the producers of instant coffee, offer you a variety of flavors, including one called Tradition. Structurally it may seem identical to all the others. Only instead of vaguely Mediterranean ornamental details, the condos at Tradition have old colonial finishes. In Orlando’s lively downtown, it’s possible to live in a loft just as you would in Chicago or New York. But these lofts are brand-new buildings constructed for those who want the postindustrial lifestyle in a place that never was industrial.

One Reply to “Nothing left to chance in Disney World. People can’t get enough of pre-planned living.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *