Op-ed: An open letter to Epcot about its outdated vision of the 'future'

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PHOTO COURTESY EPCOT
  • Photo courtesy Epcot
Dear Epcot,

My friends and I just spent a pretty penny attending your theme park yesterday and I have to tell you how appalled I was by the fake news you’re spreading about science, “progress” and the future. Indeed, future is your key word: You invoke it at every turn, embellished by superficial invocations of imagination and self-realization while peddling an endless stream of overpriced stuff made in China promoting Disney’s portfolio of brands as well as collecting biometric and consumer information on your visitors.



Your very name — EPCOT — is an acronym standing for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, characterized as a utopian city of the future.

Your “Spaceship Earth” ride presents an astonishingly retrograde version of human history that is essentially a mythical neocolonial Western Civilizational narrative racing from the Big Bang to cavemen to Egypt to the Phoenicians to the Greeks to the Romans with a passing nod to medieval Arabic civilization for having transmitted (not contributed!) ancient Greco-Roman knowledge onto the Renaissance, which hastened “our” journey toward the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, further accelerating into the Industrial Revolution followed by the Computer Revolution — we’re in America now, of course, where a white nuclear family is cozily seated around the electronic hearth — hurtling us into the future, and concluding that “together, we form a super-network that glows with billions of interactions, and once again, we stand on the brink of a new age — after 30,000 years of time, there is a single global community, poised to determine the future of this: our Spaceship Earth. For the first time in history, all of us have a say about the kind of world we want to live in — the choices we have made for the past 30,000 years have invented the future one day at a time, and now it’s your turn.”



That’s it. No climate change; no Anthropocene. Only the progressivist fairytale. Never mind that Homo sapiens have been evolving and making strides for more than 10 times longer than you claim. But then again, that’s back when we were sustainable and hadn’t become a geological force intervening in the trajectory of the planet’s litho-, geo-, hydro-, cryo-, eco- and bio-atmospheres.

No, instead of taking the opportunity to educate the public about the most pressing scientific research of our time and the epic dilemmas we face that profoundly and irrevocably undermine the cherry-picked corporate “future” you peddle, your Spaceship Earth riders are presented with their very own, personalized, techno-utopian future on an individual touchscreen that offers everything one could possibly ever want — satisfying, even anticipating our every desire. Such as the perfect party outfit! Custom-manufactured clothes that magically arrive after pressing a button. No labor; no payment. I’m not joking. This is exactly what was promised to us in our Spaceship Earth-car screen during our last few moments onboard.

Meanwhile, at the end of the day, everyone gathers around your World Showcase lake and is offered an impressive fireworks-and-light show accompanied by moving soundtrack and commentary played omnipresently, culminating in this self-congratulatory climax: “Epcot is and will always be in a state of becoming. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future.” WOW. Really? Not even close; big fail, in fact.

I’m going to use you as a case study with my students in the new course I’m teaching in the spring on the Anthropocene. If you are offering a blueprint of the future, it’s a thoroughly unimaginative and regressive one that upholds the status quo, not truly grapples with our probable and possible futures that can only be imagined in light of the realities and dilemmas of the present. You’re doing us all a profound disservice.

So I’m taking this opportunity to call you to task and demand that you live up to your words. If you really want to be an “EPCOT,” you have some serious rethinking and work to do. Do you dare to really dream big? If so, get some real scientists onboard. Get your anthropology in order. Think about the future and not your bottom line. Stop hoodwinking everyone. You have an estimated 32,323 visitors per day, which means that you temporarily colonize the attention and headspace of almost 12 million people a year! With this kind of reach, you have a responsibility — one that you are currently shirking.

Sincerely,
A concerned Earthling.

SCREENSHOT VIA DISNEY / YOUTUBE
  • Screenshot via Disney / YouTube
PS: This letter was written on Dec. 10, 2019, pre-Coronachaos. Since COVID-19 hit — the novel coronavirus that is in actuality SARS-2 — you’ve experienced epic closures, catastrophic profit losses, cut and furloughed huge numbers of workers, and earned the characterization of being “one of Disney’s biggest coronavirus headaches” by Orlando Weekly. COVID-19 is not only SARS-2, but it is also an anthropogenic zoonotic disease, hence a product of the Anthropocene: a scourge of carbon-based capitalist civilization’s own making, similar to anthropogenic climate change.

I wonder if you’ll finally now change your Spaceship Earth shtick. Coronachaos certainly isn’t the future it promises. Yet this is an opportunity to actually educate people about science and the real history of humanity, not bilk consumers with your faux-science mythology. Whose turn is it to craft the future? How about that experimental prototype community of tomorrow? So even more now more than before, I dare you to live up to your namesake. And why not? I mean, your business model doesn’t fit the present, much less the future, so you might actually make some money again by not serving up more of the regressive status quo. I know some peeps who could help you with that.

Keith E. McNeal is an associate professor of Anthropology in the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies at University of Houston.

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