Theme Parks Inspire Hope, can they Inspire Change?

Edited: August 15, 2017, 9:56 PM

In a world of increasing tensions, violence, uncertainty, division, and doubt, the parks of Orlando (and for others, the world) often offer us a feeling of escape. We enter the gates of WDW or UO and feel like we are transported to another place where "dreams come true."

As I enter the MK, I feel an optimism and a hope. It inspires innocence, family, stability, and imagination. EPCOT inspires hope for the future and the unity of the nations. Animal Kingdom stirs passions to care for the conservation and protection of our planet and our animals. UO and other parks tell stories of heroism, impossible accomplishments, and the triumph of good over evil.

Theme parks always leave me feeling hopeful. But when I reenter the "real world," I always have to struggle to maintain that hope for the future. Is it possible that the messages of the parks can actually lead to change? Does AK actually lead people to seek to care for the earth? Does Epcot actually open people's minds to other cultures? Does the MK really encourage people to dream up new possibilities? Or are they merely nice escapes that disappear as soon as people leave the parks?

I know this post seems sappy, but it is an honest reflection I have had. I am a seminary student who loves theme parks and I just found myself wondering if the messages of the parks could actually leave a lasting impact on the hurting world around us.

Replies (4)

August 16, 2017, 7:02 AM

Very interesting question. I'll start by stating the obvious- it's not easy to create something that will tangibly inspire and shape children as they grow up. It's a million times more difficult to inspire those that are already adults in our cynical world.
Because of this I do lean towards saying that it's more of a "nice escape that disappears" for most people. But I do think that Epcot's future world used to accomplish this very well. Unfortunately, the elements of Epcot that did are now outdated and the refurb of Epcot seems to be throwing edutainment out the window.
I think Busch Gardens Tampa and Disney's Animal Kingdom are the best instances currently. They do a good job introducing us to animals and their ecosystems while educating and inspiring us. The Seaworld parks should be lumped in with them too, but that's a whole mess right now.
Outside of your more sentimental approach, all these parks can and do inspire in a more practical way. Engineering is a huge aspect of theme park design and as we as a society move towards MST education you will already find parks like Six Flags hosting "science days" and "physics days" . I think this connection is just getting started and I hope parks continue to embrace it more and more.

August 16, 2017, 9:31 PM

Some of the best editorials I have seen on this website has been about EPCOT.

EPCOT needs to keep its soul. EPCOT shows the real life magic in the world and works to make the world a better and more understanding place. As Robert said once "no hero is going to save us, no magic wand is going to make it better. Only WE together can fix the wrongs". EPCOT shows the real "great big beautiful tomorrow". It shows the future, industry, and international cooperation. Is it 100% authentic? No, but its easy to fall in love with Mickey Mouse. The challenge is falling in love with science!

August 16, 2017, 10:13 PM

Great thoughts. Glad you both brought of the practical inspiration and EPCOT.

I am too young to remember the glory days of EPCOT. I have no memory of Horizons, Dreamfinder, etc. But even so the message of Illuminations stirs something in me (I was an intercultural studies major in college). I have been able to use EPCOT to help break down stereotypes among friends.

Might there be a reciprocal relationship to the change of EPCOT? Might the new direction be the result of people no longer believing in real hope, but rather desiring to be taken away into a fantasy? I know I am not the first person to think of this.

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