Friday, July 08, 2005

World Showcase

Epcot is built around the concept of cultural diversity and universal togetherness. The centerpiece of the park is the World Showcase, which is supposed to function as a series of countries writ small. So you can walk through Mexico and into Norway, have lunch in Japan, etc. The whole showcase contains like 12 or 13 countries, and is about 1.5 miles long, in the shape of a circle. In the center of that circle is a lagoon, over which a spectacular fireworks show- IllumiNATIONS: Reflections of Earth- takes place every night, where more fuzzy "togetherness" is secularly prayed for on a nightly basis.

Disney actually goes through quite a bit of trouble to create authenticity. The architecture is not only native to the home country, but is often built and designed by nationals of the country. All the employees from that section are from that country. And the chefs at the restaurants are as well.

But sometime last night, I was set to thinking, "so what"? In the Disneyfied conception of a nation, differences are boiled down to a few exterior features: the food, the buildings, the clothing, the various accents used when speaking English. When countries are defined as variations built upon the same theme, it's easy to dream of the day that we can all hold hands and sign showtunes together, regardless of nationality.

Now, I'm assuming that the nations of the showcase, which was built in the late 70s and designed in the early 70s, were handpicked either because of their relative mildness or because they couldn't be ignored. So most of the countries are European or European derivatives- Canada, Britain, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Norway. Mexico is included as the representitive of Latin America. Japan is featured as well. There is a generic "Africa" area that, while not an actual country, is still meant to represent aspects of African culture (I think that the powers-that-be decided post factum that it would be Malawi, and hence you can purchase Malawian money). Also included is China- which I've always fealt uncomfortable about. Sure, if your giving an uninhibited portrait of the globe, China is high on the list. But China is a medium-security prison writ large, the spot of one of the worst democides the world has ever seen, and where the same regime that murdered 40 million of itz own citizens remains to power.

And then there's Morocco. Presumably, Morocco was chosen because 1.) people are more familiar with Moroccan food that other sorts of Middle Eastern food, 2.) people would remember "Morocco" from Casablanca, and 3.) It's one of the few predominantly Muslim countries that wasn't a complete basketcase. Well, it has slowly become one, and indications are slowly accumulating that the attackers in Great Britain on 7/7 were Moroccan nationals.

It's easy to love "restuarant Morocco", the Morocco I bought a crude wooden flute from 2 years ago. It's not so easy to love hotbed-of-terrrorism Morocco. Especially when one recognizes that if your going to represent the world, you need to include the Middle East or North Africa, and Morocco is one of the least affronting countries to one's sensibilities. I mean, what are the other options? Libya? Iran? Syria? Saudi Arabia? I guess you could have Egypt and then cover up all remnants of the last 3000 years- just make it pyramidland. But you still wouldn't really have a normal country, because you can't call it ancient Egypt. It's still despotic Egypt.

We're not being honest with ourselves. So here's my litmus test- any nation where you could expect to find a Disneyfied version of "the world in harmony" is, in my estimation, a normal country. I could easily see something like Epcot existing in every nation but China and Morocco. And at least China is still a Communist basketcase, but they still might be able to pull off the "whole word in harmony" crap, with a few jabs thrown in at the decadent West. But would such a display pass muster in Morocco, or Jordan, or Saudi Arabia? Cultural equivalency only works as a philosophy when everybody is willing to play by the same rules.

And that's the center of the dissonance for me. The average Joe American sees world harmony and togetherness a public service announcement, people of every color holding candles together at night in such a way that from overhead it forms a heart or a peace sign or the word "together". The average Abdul Morocco sees it slightly differently- eventual world peace, but on Islam's terms. Everyone will be unified when the great Islamic Dar-es-Salaam has been established. and chances are that they're version is more compelling and more fightworthy to them then ours is to us.

The Western left is banking on the idea that Iran and Saudi Arabia have reached the point where "live and let live" will lead to peace. Who wouldn't want to live in a world like Epcot? Well, the Islamofascists for one. And pretending that they do, or asserting that their vision is as valid as ours, is dangerous to the point of deadliness- to the count of about 42 so far yesterday and counting.

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