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A Cranky Journal of Themed Design and Development

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The Resistible Rise of Mickey Mouse, Swampland Socialist

By Lawrence J. Lankershim

#14 // June, 2005
A Quick Socialist Fun Fact
Walter Elias Disney, born December 5, 1901, died December 15, 1966, was the product of good, solid, God-fearing American Agrarian Socialist stock.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Did the members of The Firesign Theatre know of Walt's familial Marxist connections? One never knows, but it's doubtful. In the mid-1960s, did they know what Walt and his merry band of Imagineers where doing vis-à-vis EPCOT and the capitalist / technocratic / socialist / golf fanatic post-swamp wonderland that was being planned in their converted perfume factory in Glendale? Again, one never knows, but it more doubtful still. In 1971, while the record-pressing equipment of Columbia Records was squishing out many copies of I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus, a psychedelic take on Nixonian repression and the more obvious historically revisionist elements of Disneyland, way down south, in the future 32830 zip code, it was being demonstrated that "Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world (even if we have to drain half the swamps in Florida to do it)."

1971: Welcome to the Future!
October 1, 1971, Orlando, Florida: at a wide spot along Interstate Highway 4, near Kissimmee, there opened the second Disney theme park, the Magic Kingdom, the centerpiece (friggit, then the only piece) of Disney World.

Through the combined talents of himself, his financial whiz brother, Roy, and the continued sweat-equity of those with whom he was smart enough to surround himself, Walt was, by 1966, at the top of an entertainment empire. And to follow in the remainder of the 60s and in the years beyond that? Why, bigger and better things where, of course, yet to come! Except not for Walt, who, before the close of business in that year, would light up his last Chesterfield. In passing, Walt would nevermore bribe, flatter, browbeat, terrorize, or inspire people to go beyond the ordinary, except by way of the personal legacy -- for good and for ill -- he left behind (and is still, if truth be told by the few remaining creative-types prowling the halls WED/WDI and about the only thing keeping their flickering lights from finally going out).

In 1966, Uncle Walt made some of his last appearances on film in an infomercial. Backed some nifty storyboards, Walt was the spokesmodel for something called EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (all upper-case in those days, when the initialism actually MEANT something) to the locals of Central Florida. Walt's proposal to the good and then still largely un-Disney-ed folks along I-4? Well, how's about . . . a great big, beautiful tomorrow designed and designed and, by design, re-designed by the same good folks who brought you themed queues as preshow and the robotic joys of Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln?

Can't you see it now, as if it were almost tomorrow? The best and the brightest that America had to offer living and working together in a community that was a living, breathing, evolving place where the most cutting edge of arts, technologies, and techniques for living and working taken from a wide variety of disciplines would go to reimagine (Reimagineer?) a society in which work, education, recreation, and home life develop together cooperatively, nay, synergistically! A pre-postmodern urban / suburban / techno-industrial monad rising from the fetid swamps of Florida! A dream come true for you and me! With easy access to The Waffle House! And with golf courses! Whoop!

Before that, however, just to make things more manageable and to clear the way (and the swamp) for nothing less than the future of America, how's about we ring up a few extra millions to actually get this EPCOT designed and built. How's about first a Disneyland, East?

Aw, yeah, but . . .

Having doffed his mortal coil and later died in late 1966, Walt missed the formal groundbreaking for Disney World by some nearly 30 months. Even by that time, Walt's Folly II, absent of its master planner, was already seeing the master plan concept for EPCOT changing from planned super-community into the permanent world's fair-like venue it sorta-kinda resembles today.

What of Walt's EPCOT? As is so often the case with such utopian (dare we say socialist?) imaginings? Well, gosh, you know, as it turned out there just wasn't much of a place for such a risky and possibly misunderstood endeavor in the reimagined Disney World.

That and it was possibly as dreadful an idea as it sounds now, a little more than the creative, "I wanna own a future I'll never see" hobbyhorse of a dying man with the chutzpah -- and the Imagineers on staff -- to get a pitch together.

But why bring up such a bummer of a note of reality?

Instead of building the original EPCOT, there was built instead the "happy face-ish "science on the march" meets "the nations of the entire world (who'll pony up enough dough to get a pavilion and restaurant and, hopefully, an attraction built)". In 1994, EPCOT, the uppercase initialism, eventually became Epcot, the upper- and lowercase worldwide edutainment theme park, thereby acknowledging the obvious: no experiments, no prototypes, no tomorrow. The end.

Except, of course, that it wasn't the end; not exactly. No, Walt's scary / exciting but doomed, idea was devolved decades later into a scary/bland and more-or-less successful, idea: Celebration, a sorta-kinda "planned" community, just like a jillion others across the length and breadth of the US of A. Sic transit gloria sorta-Socialist dreams . . .

An entire Disney community -- the prototype and vanguard for a way of life for entire country? -- run with the efficiency of, say, WED Enterprises, circa 1965? A dream come true for you and me, Mr. and/or Ms. Modern American? Or, after the inevitable Chesterfield-assisted fall of its creator, would it have become a future social and civic engineering nightmare and then, finally, a footnote, along with Altruria, Preston, and other Utopian commune/ities of America: just a bad memory, red ink fading on the Disney books, and a bit of cleaned up swamp to be redeveloped into yet another Disney park, say, one an immaculately themed faux-movie studio (or some other equally bizarre idea)?

Or, after the Fall of Walt, would it, could it have transformed into something else? Something sinister . . . Such thoughts are easy prey to a paranoid mind, especially in these "sliding toward the precipice of the American Apocalypse" times. A freeway-close Jonestown? An American Albania with alligators and churro wagons? Or a Firesigned I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus Funway with the Wall of Science the glowing weenie, beckoning to their doom the dreamless who emerge from the bus?

One never knows, do one?