half a billion visitors worldwide last year, earning hundreds of billions of dollars for their owners. People are willing to spend that kind of money because theme parks deliver powerful emotional, physiological, and psychological experiences that connect and engage them. But the adoration of millions of fans still hasn't been enough to win theme parks the respect they deserve from all others who work in the creative community.Major theme parks welcomed more than
Academy Award-winning film director Martin Scorsese last week responded to a question from Empire magazine about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which he managed to disparage both Marvel movies and the theme park industry.
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
The most charitable way to view Scorsese's response is as a sharply targeted clapback against Disney. Unique among major studios, Disney shies away from producing the type of stand-alone film stories that Scorsese has built his universally admired career upon. While Disney CEO Bob Iger now has promised to support such filmmaking within the Fox Searchlight division that Disney obtained in its deal to buy Fox, before that acquisition, Iger famously declared that Disney would be looking only to produce films that were part of, or could be developed into, multi-media franchises such as the Marvel films.
By dismissing Marvel and theme parks, Scorsese takes on two of Disney's most visible products, perhaps implicitly criticizing Disney for not supporting filmmakers like him. That said, if someone as blunt and honest as Scorsese has been over his career wanted to call out Bob Iger, he would have done it by name.
So let us instead take Scorese's words as he said them. To me, this seemed a generational issue — an industry veteran complaining about others making entertainment in different ways. Scorsese's work has earned him the right to say whatever he wants in forums where people actually listen. But that doesn't mean anyone has to agree with him.
I never get upset when an artist enters the "old person shouting at clouds" stage of their career, for there is always a new generation of artists emerging to create wonderful and engaging things for us to consider. Never allow old voices to keep you from hearing the new.— Theme Park Insider (@ThemePark) October 4, 2019
Indeed, some of Scorsese's younger colleagues in filmmaking simply would like him to extend them the courtesy of watching their work before dismissing it.
That said, I will always love Scorsese, be grateful for his contribution to cinema, and can’t wait to see The Irishman.— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) October 4, 2019
Ultimately — as fans have come to expect from him — Disney's Joe Rohde offered a defense of theme parks' ability to engage with their audience — despite Scorese's dismissal of that connection.
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On the concept of escapism. Theme parks, tourist spots, movies and other forms of popular entertainment are often referred to as escapist. Very often this is a pejorative term. As if all of us are meant to remain in a constant state of existential awareness perpetually involved in the struggle of life. Some of this attitude is just a survival of Puritan attitudes from the 17th century, some of it is Marxist theory, some of it is snobbery. But here’s what’s interesting about unusual environments such as one finds in theme parks, tourist destinations, and the fantastic worlds presented by films. The truth is that you are probably more alert and more aware and therefore less escapist in these environments than you are walking down your own street. Because our brain works by referring to existing scripts and models, familiar places and familiar experiences require very little brain energy, because we are barely actually experiencing them. We are experiencing our pre-existing model. That means we are not really there… which is kind of ironically, escapist. However, when we are in an environment that is novel, unusual, challenging, strange, we must be fully alert because our brain has fewer existing models to use. It has to pay attention. We have to be there, in the moment, for real,…sort of the opposite of escapism. You know how the sky seems bluer, the food tastier, the sights more amazing when you’re on vacation? That’s a function of brain activity...of really seeing, really tasting, etc because of increased awareness in a novel environment. So rather than thinking of a make-believe environments as being escapist, we should think of the make-believe environment as being experientiallist. Sort of a supercharged version of reality instead of an escape from reality.
For more on this issue, watch Rohde's defense of theme parks as an art form from the 2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo.
Rohde is perhaps the best in the business at not just creating themed entertainment but also being able to analyze and place into broader social and artistic context his work as well as that of others in the field. By doing both, he has demonstrated that he can function as an artist and a critic of art — a combination that few in either side of the field have been able to master.
If you don't like theme parks, fine. If you don't like Marvel movies, fine. If you want to craft a well-documented argument as to why specific themed attractions or Marvel films fell short artistically, well... welcome to my world. That's the work of a critic.
But it's not fair to the people who put in the hard effort of creating this art to dismiss their work with lazy criticism by saying, in effect, 'I didn't feel a connection, so no one else must have, either.' Half a billion fans around the world say otherwise.Tweet
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