Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy Haunts Materialize

"You son of a bitch, you left the bodies and you only moved the head stones! You only moved the head stones! Why?! Why?!"

In the fall of 1999, about the time that word came down from Accountaneering that every corner of the Disney Theme Parks had to show a profit, Epcot’s Leave a Legacy program began.

The once gorgeous and inviting entrance breezeway, punctuated by colorful floral planters and a gentle fountain, gave way to what can only be described as an enormous War Memorial; 35 polished granite monoliths covered with the names and faces of several thousand Disney guests, each etched onto tiny one inch steel squares.

The base of Spaceship Earth, originally just a simple reflective column, was now festooned with tent poles, tarps, signage, video kiosks and cast member hucksters panhandling for the $35-$38 necessary to become ‘part of the legacy’; all this hitting guests barely two minutes after entering the park.

And just exactly what was so wrong about this new addition to Epcot?

For one, Leave a Legacy was never more than a bald faced money-making ploy. P.T. Barnam would’ve been proud of the several thousand suckers that fell for this scam. You can be assured Disney couldn’t have cared less about your legacy. They wanted your money.

Leave a Legacy is an element of the Disney Parks that divides guests rather than unites them. Those with enough status, bearing and disposable income can proudly shout, ‘I’m part of the legacy!” while those strained by the already steep entrance fee and unwilling to participate can’t help but be reminded that they’re not. Isn’t Epcot, indeed every Disney theme park, supposed to celebrate our common humanity rather than underline our differences?

Leave a Legacy degrades the original entrance plaza. After waiting in tight lines and cramped spaces at the ticket booths it was a delight to burst into this open, uncrowded urban garden. The pylons that held Spaceship Earth aloft gave way to generous inviting ‘arms’ that embraced guests and beckoned them forward. The only focal point then was the dazzling geosphere itself, gleaming under the Florida sun. The only monolith present was the gorgeous clear lucite spires at the center of the courtyard’s fountain, aimed skyward and inscribed with the park’s distinctive interlocking circles logo; a logo that ironically celebrated unity of cultures, ideas and people from around the world. Today the maze of hard granite slabs that make up Leave a Legacy, some as high as 19 feet, compete with Spaceship Earth for attention, block views and congest the entrance to Future World.

Leave a Legacy has absolutely no resonance in a park dedicated to the romance of the future. The markers are a cold hard reminder of the past and as Epcot’s Millennium anthem ‘We Go On’ attests, this is a park meant to celebrate the promise of tomorrow, not look back to previous visits.

By far the most repellant aspect of these granite roadblocks is that they’re just downright ghoulish. There’s just no escaping the fact that when you attach names, dates and etched faces to the side of a giant polished granite slab you’re making a powerful iconic statement. No matter how hard Disney marketing may try to spin it, Leave a Legacy is still a compelling evocation of war memorials, tombstones, crypts and death.

All the more creepy is that, though intended as a tribute to the living, in the eight years that passed since the program began a substantial swath of faces enshrined on these markers have passed as well, turning the evocation of a tombstone into the real deal. What better way to start your latest Epcot Adventure than Leaving a Tear at Grandma’s Legacy marker?

At Disney, where understanding the effect of imagery on the subconscious is an art form, one wonders how the ball was dropped so vigorously on this aggressive display of bad taste back in 1999.

As it is a new era at Disney Imagineering, rumblings underfoot suggest that serious lessons have already been learned from this giant misstep at the Mouse House. As of June, 2007 the Leave a Legacy program was discontinued and the tarps and banners at the base of Spaceship Earth removed. As for whether the monoliths will soon follow, word on the street is...