Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tourism and Imagineering

Someone recently sent us a link to an article on the ACM Siggraph site titled "From Myth to Mountain: Insights into Virtual Placemaking" by a senior vice president and creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering. In it, the author discusses Disney's Animal Kingdom and Expedition Everest and the manner with which Disney has created places using story-telling methods. In introducing what he means by story telling, the author states:
Narrative space is theatrical space. What matters are not the functional realities of the buildings and landscape, but their use as language to communicate ideas. Theatrical space exists only in the viewer's imagination and is shaped only by story.

The experience of the space is described in terms of the conceptual narrative as experience, where "in the public environment of narrative space, the guests' real physical bodies are all moving inside the imaginary narrative space."
Of course, the narrative space being created is a very familiar one for Disney, and one that they've mined for countless stories - colonialism. The Animal Kingdom puts viewers in the role of a safari participant, now interested in preserving wilderness in the form of parks rather than trophy heads on a wall. It is less civilized people - poachers - against whom the Animal Kingdom must be protected.

Likewise, Expedition Everest is a "a high-speed adventure ride into the Himalayas to confront the yeti, the legendary abominable snowman." Yes, an abominable snowman. And yet again, visitors are put in the role of adventure seekers, this time, mountain climbers of course.
While criticisms of these narratives are perhaps too easy, after all, these are the narratives upon which Disney has built its empire, there is another kind of colonization at work - the very non-virtual colonization of space within which their narratives play out. As the author notes, the visitors (or as Disney calls them "guests") do not leave their physical bodies behind when they enter Disney's stories. Their bodies are moving, not just "through the imaginary narrative space," but also through the Disney-constructed environment. The food people buy at Disney is not imaginary, the people serving Disney's "guests" are not imaginary, the money being exchanged is not imaginary. And neither are the very real political and social impacts of Disney's narratives.

What are we touring when we tour a Disney version of the Himalayan Mountains, or a Swahili village constructed in a Florida resort for our amusement? How does this educate us (U.S) to think of the rest of the world in a way other than as a theme park?
pictures from happysteve.

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