Maybe we really needed Disney's America, after all.
If you don't recognize the name, Disney's America was the name of the proposed theme park that The Walt Disney Company wanted to build in northern Virginia back in the 1990s. You can learn a bit more about the proposal in our article, Theme Park History: Disney's America and the historian's dilemma.
Why does this matter, right now? Because Americans could use some history lessons to help guide them through a moment that, without doubt, will be taught in history books for decades to come.
As a non-fiction park themed to America's history, Disney's America could have taught some of those lessons to a broad audience who might not otherwise have sought them. Now, I say "could have" because we don't know how accurate or effective any of the history that Disney's Imagineers were looking to present in the park would have turned out to be. But the themed entertainment design industry offers powerful storytelling tools and talent that has been used to great effect in museums and historic sites around the nation and the world.
Ultimately, Disney did not build Disney's America. But I wish that someone in this industry would revive the concept and develop it for today's audience, employing all that we have learned over the past generation about honest, accurate, and inclusive storytelling.
Yes, a theme park's first priority must be to entertain. But history is where we find the greatest collection of stories to entertain us. Yes, history is filled with dark and difficult moments. But doesn't something always have to go wrong in a theme park attraction in order to provide us an opportunity to triumph?
We need an American history theme park because America's history is not as clean and positive as I suspect too many Americans believe it to be. A theme park might therefore turn out to be the best medium through which Americans might be willing to tolerate some difficult suggestions about our past.
Hard truth: America was founded by corporations and built by slaves on land stolen from natives. We are a nation of people - almost always good in heart and intent - who often live within systems designed to frustrate, exploit, indebt and even imprison millions of us. We have killed a great many citizens of color throughout our history for offenses - sometimes real but often just perceived - for which white people would never have been detained.
It's not "hating America" to point out its troubled past... and present. No, the people who love America most are the ones who care enough about their fellow citizens to demand that America do better. And it's those people whom an American history theme park should celebrate. (Want examples for inspiration? Try Rachel Carson, Louis Brandeis, W.E.B. Du Bois.)
A new "Disney's America" would show us the challenges of our past while inspiring us to rise beyond them to create a better future. It would not hide America's dark and difficult moments, but give us the light to look upon them without fear.
We need that light right now. And when we find it, we need to pass it along to future generations. Perhaps the storytellers of the themed entertainment design industry can help.
I hope so.Tweet
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