Ever heard of Celebration, Florida, the Disney made and owned town that is often compared to The Truman Show and The Stepford Wives? To me, this town is both appealing and frightening for the same reasons. In many ways, the pleasing senses of ordinance and of togetherness within the community are a result of panopticism.
The “Big Brother” is no longer the government, but rather a combination of the media and the order and control created by Celebrationites simply behaving in a way that they feel is expected. Citizens follow the rules and meet the standards that they may or may not realize they’ve fashioned themselves. This model of social order has each individual playing his or her role in becoming a part of the community. In Andrew Ross’ The Celebration Chronicles, a Celebrationite says that she always cleans up to go into town to “represent Celebration in a good light.” I’ve always wanted to be a part of a community where most people are involved and collectively work towards bettering the town. In this sense, I’m intrigued by Celebration. However, this idea of New Urbanism that is the product of planning, designing, and creating a town, like Disney did Celebration, is unnerving to me. It feels as if the good qualities, such as the sense of community, are not real. I imagine the town and its people seeming staged much like a performance.
Since this genuineness (or lack thereof) is what seems to bother me about a town like Celebration, I’ve taken a stab at designing a new city for Disney that follows the same concepts to help evaluate whether this sense of “real” vs. designed and imitated actually matters.
So here it is:
This town will be called Merriment. It will be in Florida, nearby Celebration. We can consider it an extension of Celebration and it will be designed to perfectly replicate Disney’s original town. The sales pitch will be the same, perhaps with a motto like “The next best thing to living in Celebration!” However, unknowingly to the residents (initially) it will be “haunted.” The haunted-ness will be simulated of course with fabulous actors and crazy horror effects. It would have to be executed flawlessly for the townspeople to actually begin to believe that their perfect town is haunted. The goal here would be to make the town so frightening that it induces unquestionable fear within the community.
Alright, I recognize that this city plan is perverse and cruel and immoral, and even more so unrealistic. Why would we want to make people go crazy with fear? It could potential lead to chaos. However, the point here (that I’m trying to convince myself of) is why does the realness of a place like Celebration even matter? The people are still real, the houses are still real, and it is still real even though it is a production. A sense of community is a sense of community whether it is molded by expectations or truthfully highly esteemed by the town’s people. Right? (I’m asking myself – I’m not so sure.) Like in Merriment, the sense of fear is real whether or not the reasons to be scared are actual or rational. Fear is often not rooted in facts and is so intangible in relation to reality. Does it matter if the core of Merriment is a performance if everyone believes it and more importantly responds to it as truth? Feelings are real no matter what (il)logical or (un)verifiable conditions they are under.
Okay, my mind is already blown, so you tell me: do we qualify the tangible, material world as “real” or our feelings and our perceptions of this world?
Either way, while it has its appeal, I’ve pretty much decided I wouldn’t want to live in Celebration and definitely not in Merriment.
*Actually a picture of Celebration
Image Sources: constitutionalcampaign.org, dramaticarts.usc.edu, celebrationtowncenter.com, en.wikipedia.org, venturegalleries.com