Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Looking Back at Tomorrow

EPCOT Center is corporate-sponsored retro-futuristic Utopian propaganda.

On ExxonMobile's Universe of Energy, you can observe a robotic recreation of the dinosaurs last days in the primordial swamp. Learn about how continuing to harness their petroleum remains will guide us to a technological paradise.

Join a virtual reality expedition to Mars in Hewlett Packard's Mission: Space and experience the future while walking through elaborate late seventies architecture.
In Spaceship Earth (The 18 story Buckminster Fuller Disco Ball that looms above the park), AT&T brings you an animatronic lesson on the history of human communication from cave paintings all the way to the invention of floppy drives!
EPCOT used to have a ride devoted to past visions of the future. Horizons showed us Jules Verne's hopeful Victorian visions of the world of tomorrow, and culminated in modernist 1960's dioramas of Jetsons-esque mechanized maids and flying rocket cars that fly themselves. Horizons closed in 1999 when General Electric removed it's support for the ride and, as the rest of the park had aged, it could no longer be concealed that the whole park had become a monument to retro-futurism.

EPCOT Center is also totally awesome. We need to be reminded of a time just 30 years ago when there actually was a collective vision of the future. Michael Chabon laments this lack of a future in his essay, "Omega Glory" which begins talking about the Clock of the Long Now.

I don’t know what happened to the Future. It’s as if we lost our ability, or our will, to
envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the
fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too distant date. Or maybe we stopped talking about the Future around the time that,
with its microchips and its twenty-four-hour news cycles, it arrived. Some days when
you pick up the newspaper it seems to have been co-written by J. G. Ballard, Isaac
Asimov, and Philip K. Dick.
Under the gleaming chrome and neon of Disney's Experimental Prototype City Of Tomorrow, we can take a step backward to a time when technology was less entwined with our every movements, and was more of an ideal to be dreamed about. And this distance allows us to be hopeful again. Just as Disney's Magic Kingdom serves to remind adults of the lost impossible fantasies of their childhood, EPCOT serves to remind us of the lost fantasies that we once believed were possible.

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