Crew Spaceship Earth with Aaron Wallace and the rest of humanity
In 2012, I basically spent the entire month of October and a good chunk of November at Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival. I was in the Disney College Program and had brought my car to Florida, so on the days I worked, it was easy for me to hit Epcot in the morning, grab lunch and head to the Sarasota Springs Resort. Or if I was scheduled for the morning, I could head over to Epcot after work, grab dinner and enjoy a concert. Either way, I was sure to stop by the Ghirardelli bar for a drinking chocolate and head over to the Disney Visa lounge for a free soda and, in the afternoon, to check if they had any priority seating wrist bands for the concert.
The point is: I spent a lot of time at Epcot… a lot of time.
However, reading Aaron Wallace’s essay on Spaceship Earth makes me feel like I missed something important about Epcot – like I never actually understood what the park was supposed to be about. I always thought of it as the poor, stepchild to the Magic Kingdom. While I adored it and enjoyed my time there, it just didn’t have the magic, and it wasn’t anything like Walt’s original concept.
Wallace’s deconstruction and analysis of Spaceship Earth brings to light exactly what Epcot is supposed to be. The attraction and his essay move us through the history of the development of humankind as seen through communication, but the emphasis isn’t just communication, it’s mass communication, which makes sense given that Disney is a media and mass communication business.
According to Wallace, before Gutenberg, Spaceship Earth travels several cultures. After the printing press is developed, it focuses on the West and then the United States. Wallace notices the religious aspects of the ride where Jewish and Islamic scholars work to preserve the writings of the world and monks copy manuscripts while Michelangelo paints the Sistine Chapel.
He writes about the epic narrative of the attraction and what it accomplishes that helps Spaceship Earth be one of the most popular and enduring attractions at Epcot.
“Narratives speak to us primarily because they help us process and understand information, and that in turn provides a sense of comfort. Spaceship Earth is especially comforting because it helps us understand so many things – important things, such as the way we relate to one another and to the world” (The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Epcot, p. 92).
He issues a warning about the attraction (and by implication, things like TED Talks) when he writes, “the danger of entertainment placating our sense of civic duty is that we might allow it to absolve us of our responsibility to be more than spectators” (p. 93).
Based on this one essay, I’d like to go back to Epcot to experience Spaceship Earth for the first time again.