Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Perfect Intersection of Time and Place


It started with a question on the Discussion Kingdom forums:

“I've been checking out the site for a few hours. I see a lot of love for EPCOT . . . I just want to know why are so many people so passionate about EPCOT”

So I got to thinking: why is there so much affection for old-school EPCOT Center? I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, and I’ve formulated a theory. Tell me, what goes through your mind when you see this picture?

OregonTrailScreenshotBesides dysentery, I mean.

If you belong to the generation that grew up playing Oregon Trail on Apple II series computers in school, you’ll probably react with recognition and nostalgic fondness. “I remember that game!” you’ll say. “It was fun!” If you don’t belong to that generation, though, such fondness would be hard to understand. For a child of the 21st century, it’d be downright inexplicable. Only someone who grew up in the 1980s, when Oregon Trail and Apple II computers were state-of-the-art could really understand it.

And so it is with EPCOT. The Future World of the 1980s, where you could talk to a robot via telephone and use a computer touchscreen to make restaurant reservations or color a picture, was a wondrous place because it was the only place you could do those things. Today you can do them all with an iPhone and access the sum total of all human knowledge from almost anywhere.

In the early 80s, our perceptions of what the 21st century would bring were shaped by the nascent personal computer revolution and the brand-new Space Shuttle program. EPCOT Center was perfectly calibrated to showcase the future as we envisioned it then. When things went in a different direction, in many ways the park was unable to adapt. Unlike the experiences at the Magic Kingdom, which are basically timeless and can continue to appeal to new generations with only minor upgrades, many of the experiences offered at EPCOT Center’s Future World resonated best with kids in the 1980s, and their appeal does not translate to successive generations.

I’m not saying that the stuff that replaced Horizons, World of Motion, or CommuniCore is better. But when someone outside my age group scratches their head and says they just can’t fathom why some people would rather watch a Horizons ride video than ride Mission:Space, I’ll understand where they’re coming from.


  1. You said everything I feel about 1980's Epcot. There IS something special that the Epcot vision holds that I think many of us can agree on and relate to, thanks for putting it into words. May the Horizons memories live forever.

  2. I agree, but I think there's also a different tone to the original EPCOT Center that has been altered and re-imagined, if you will. The emphasis on a Future World was the heart of EPCOT's theme, whereas nowadays it's refocused to be a "Science Fair" or "Discovery Park," and the promise of a greater future, a new approach to tomorrow is a thing of the past. One can say that our world has less wonder and more cynicism than the world of the 80s, but back then there was a lot of cynicism too. It seems after the years of hearing people's negative views of a future world, Disney decided to abandon their headstrong futurist EPCOT Center and make it Epcot, the noun, the quirky Disneyified World's Fair, adding thrill attractions and trying to make it unique. And even though they still call it Future World, it's not really an emphasis on the world of tomorrow anymore. That's what I miss the most.

  3. Agreed. But remember, too, that it was considered the "adult park" by many. I remember the passion that my parents felt when going there for the first time. I didn't understand at that age what the fuss was about a park that was more sophisticated. Then I went to JII, The Land, SE, etc. Learning was FUN, and kids were not talked down to, something lacking in many of today's children's programs.

    And, I have to emphasize what @Oddley Rhetoricle also said. The theme of hope for a positive future via technology and world relations was very realistic then. I seriously couldn't wait for the futuristic ideas on display to actually happen.

    I hope kids of this new century who were too young to experience EPCOT can at least understand it and become a fan from all the online info and videos.

  4. I just want to bask in this post for a while because it does give me that 1980's Epcot feeling, although I didn't visit for the first time until the 90's. Even though I was an adult by then, that experience gave me the same feeling I had as a child in the 70's in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. People often lament the absence of Horizons, World of Motion, If You Had Wings (myself included), but the (sad) fact is - today's audience would be bored to death with those attractions. We'd enjoy them for the sheer nostalgia, the feeling of possibility, but most folks would jump right out of the ride vehicle and head for the nearest exit. I often wonder what new attractions today's Epcot should present - whether in place of Wonders of Life or in the way of refurbing. Does today's audience want to learn or do they want to experience? I think we all know the answer to that. And what exactly is our vision of the future? Ot is it that the future is already realized, so now we want to experience it? Do we want to launch into space, test an automobile, fly, float... Maybe 21st century man wants to experience firsthand all these things that human innovation (innovention) has brought to fruition. Maybe that's the need Epcot will satisfy. But, hey, a little Circle-Vision wouldn't hurt!

  5. That's the main reason I don'tlike the new touch screen things on Spaceship Earth - it's nothing I can't do at home by logging on to JibJab.

    I totally understand the need to update, especially in a place called Future World. But if there is a new vision to the park, I honestly can't see what it is. It seems like so many of the new things have just been crammed in haphazardly, without any plan, theme, or thought for visual design.

  6. I grew up in Florida and visited EPCOT Center in the mid 80's shortly after it opened when I was in elementary school. Thereafter it was my favorite park and I went as often as I could afford through my teen years. But I didn't make back during college in the mid 90's when many of the changes came along that would sweep aside the old vision and bring about something else that less resembled that optimistic vision of the future.

    I visited once again with my fiance' and parents around ten years ago. Horizons was closed. I was crushed. Sure, so many other rides were still there and we had a nice time, but the differences were more than apparent.

    Now I live at the opposite corner of the continental states and I really miss EPCOT Center...but I don't mind if I never go again since THAT park is gone. As soon as I saw the lead photo for this post I set it as my desktop background....although I may have to take it off since it evokes such a powerful sense of melancholic nostalgia. EPCOT at dusk...

    Ditto to watching a Horizons vid. My 7 year old wished that time travel was possible so that we could go ride it. I got all choked up, held back the tears, and just said, "me too".


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