Slate posted its most-read articles and most-viewed slideshows of 2008, and to my surprise there were a few treats in there that I had neither read nor viewed this year.
The most entertaining article is one adult’s childless, five day tour of Walt Disney World — a tour de force through the 47 square mile anesthetized, utopian reservation.
I’ve been to Disney World many times. We’ve gone on multi-day tours and one-stop day trips to individual parks, largely while visiting my aunt in Tampa. I think my familiarity with the parks makes Seth Stevenson’s pilgrimage particularly enlightening, a sort of snarky reminisce through my childhood.
I couldn’t help but feel a little embarassed at Stevenson’s characterization of EPCOT (by far my favorite park, even as a kid):
Though I was only 8, I still remember the day Epcot opened in 1982. The TV networks treated the event as news, airing live coverage. Every kid in my third-grade class was desperate to see this wondrous new place.
Once the fanfare faded, though, we began to sense that Epcot was a slightly odd duck. Disney had purposefully designed it to appeal more to young adults than to their offspring. It was bound to disappoint all but the nerdiest of children.
I hadn’t realized I was among the nerdiest of children. That’s harsh. On his second day, during a visit to the Animal Kingdom, Stevenson makes a pretty concise assessment about how the Disney crew chose to deal with live animals, a constituency completely at odds with the animatronic, controlled Disney atmosphere:
Their response was to make the animals into a sideshow. In many cases, you don’t even get to watch the animals from a static viewing point, as you would at a regular zoo. Instead, there’s a “ride” with a silly narrative structure (about, for instance, chasing poachers), during which you get quick, oblique glimpses of the animals as you speed by. The true stars of Animal Kingdom aren’t the lions, apes, and elephants. The stars are the precision-crafted environments you walk through.
The Howards, of course, have a long running joke about the poacher’s on the Safari Ride, although we heard of late that the ride has changed somewhat.
I was pleased to see that Stevenson’s final takeaway from Disney World was more positive than his initial thoughts from the first few days.
Ultimately, Disney provides a safe and happy place for families to visit, where people feel free to unleash their inner children and their hidden happiness. For all of the scary negatives that accompany a universe that’s completely santized, people leave happy.