Greetings All! During my recent visit to Disney’s Epcot in Orlando Florida, I managed to catch a glimpse of the future, which I’d like to share with you.
Now, Epcot isn’t your average no-tech, smells-of-grease-and-stale-popcorn theme-park. Rather, it is nothing less than Disney’s projection of what an idealized future might look like. Epcot doesn’t just give visitors a chance to jump ahead in time; it also includes the functionality of sending a postcard from the future back to your present-day self. (Ok, the photo of my future self had a giant hole in his head, but I’m chalking that up to a minor backwards-compatibility issue.)
So you ask: “If you could really see the future, Daniel, what would the future hold for me?”
Well it depends…
For those of you who are white, the future is clean, bright, metallic, polymer, automated, digital, and completely Energy-Star compliant.
It’s a little different for us minorities. See, we don’t have a future, or at least one in which we’re represented in any way more significant than say, soylent green. Sadly, somewhere, before the monorail gets to Disney’s “Future,” there’s a stop where we all get off (or maybe the monorail doesn’t stop).
To those who haven’t been there, Epcot is divided into two halves separated by a lake. At the entrance to the park is the “World of Tomorrow,” where all the high-tech future-oriented rides and attractions are. Across the lake is a collection of period sets collectively referred to as “The World.” This is where you can stroll through exotic locales like China, Japan, and Morocco without even leaving the park. .
Visiting “The World” was actually one of the best parts of my trip. Disney gathers people from different countries and brings them to Epcot to crew these destination sets. At first, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was touring a zoo for humans (one where I was part of the exhibit). But once I got over it, I found that talking with people from around the world and getting their perspective was very much worth the price of admission.
Midway through the day, I crossed the lake to continue my visit in Epcot. And then it hit me. “I’m going from ‘The World of Today’ to ‘The World of Tomorrow,’” and boy did tomorrow look different.
In The World of Tomorrow, I crash landed on Mars in “Mission Space,” failed a brake test at “Test Track,” and glided over the Golden Gate bridge in “Soaring.” I even took a 30 second ride on a Segway. I thought to myself, “I kind of like this future.” That was, until I climbed aboard “Spaceship Earth,” located in the iconic Epcot Ball.
Spaceship Earth traces human development from the Paleolithic Age to the Future. As you’re leaving “the Future” a camera snaps a picture of you to send to your present day self. This is, apparently, where future Dan lost half his skull. It’s also here where my concerns about Disney’s version of “Tomorrow” really solidified. And it wasn’t just in my head, or missing from my head…whatever.
The ride started out with a diorama of cavemen fighting a mammoth. Of course, all the cavemen were white. Weird, right? But it’s easy to understand when you remember that Ice Ages only happen to white people. Thank God for that because I’d be really cold in an ice age, not being able to grow facial hair or an Austin Powers-like chest rug (it’s all in the genes, or maybe, not in the genes as it were).
Next, we got into the accumulation of world knowledge, which apparently was stored, in its entirety, at the Library of Alexandria. After that, the Renaissance further increased human knowledge, along with the Enlightenment. And from there we were off to industrialization, computerization, and the future.
Apparently no one outside of Europe and North Africa had any influence whatsoever on human history as a whole. Well, that’s not really fair. There were two black guys (or maybe one was Arab) who sorta helped out at Alexandria. But then we actually got to the future. And everyone looked like Lady Gaga?
Somehow, we colored people aren’t in Disney’s version of the future, but white people are. In fact, when it comes to the World of Tomorrow, white people are like cockroaches after a nuclear winter. And that’s a good thing for white people, because, not only do they survive, but they get to inherit the earth, too. Though, I hope white people like white, because in the World of Tomorrow, the upholstery is white, the walls and ceilings are white and you can wear any color of outfit you want as long as it’s white. Disney’s interpretation of culture in the future is necessarily vague (having to be conveyed by mannequins and repetitive animatronics). However, those that do make it to the future seem to enjoy the pastimes of today’s privileged, like sports (value of leisure), not having to drive for themselves (value of autonomy via automation), and instant food extruded from machines (value of time and instant gratification). Bottom line: white folks might like some aspects of Tomorrow, but they should spend today stocking up on all that good “exotic” food, because I’ve been to Disney’s version of the future, and it ain’t servin’ chitlins, sushi, fry bread, or tacos.
So is this a giant diatribe against Disney? No. Disney actually did a very good job of illustrating a dominant culture (in this country) view of the future. And for that I’m grateful. Plus, Test Track was pretty fun. Epcot’s “World of Tomorrow” is a pitch perfect example of what educator Tim Wise refers to as “universal perspectivism,” as in “the way I see it is the way everyone sees it.” Thus, it’s perhaps unintentional, but only natural that, in a theme park devised by white people, only white people would appear in Disney’s version of “The Future.” Unfortunately, this little oversight implies that somewhere on the path to Tomorrow, minorities step off in a big and permanent way.
The very fact that a strong dichotomy exists between the diverse World of Today and the monochromatic World of Tomorrow within Epcot betrays the presence and execution of universal perspectivism. If that viewpoint were true, there’d be no need for The World of Today as part of Epcot. The fact that not everyone sees things the same way, or even wants the same thing, forms the foundation, literally, for half the attractions of Epcot. That, sadly, is something the other half of the park seems to ignore quite successfully.
Consider this: Although China and Morocco were represented in “The World” of today, they had no place in Spaceship Earth’s representation of human development. Where would whites be without their appropriation (perhaps misappropriation) of the Chinese Hu Yao, a.k.a. “gunpowder?” Certainly the vast European empires which began in the 1500s and covered the globe in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and British flags five centuries later were founded in large part on this technological advancement. What about Arabic lettering? I mean, who wants to do long division in Roman numerals? It isn’t just that minorities don’t exist in the future, but apparently they didn’t exist or contribute in the past either. That’s universal perspectivism at work.
Put succinctly, Disney’s futuristic World of Tomorrow without the diverse World of Today is technically competent, and environmentally sound, but bland, boring, repetitive, incomplete, and yes, unbiblical.
Maybe we should take comfort in the message of someone who really has seen the future and brought a little of it back to us. In Revelations 5:9 (TNIV) the Apostle John tells us:
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of tribe and language and people and nation.”
Thank God every tongue and tribe will be represented in the new heaven and new earth and that we all have the privilege of being in this version of the future. Thank God that our Creator’s vision of Tomorrow is both more expansive and more inclusive than Disney’s, because writing this essay has really given me the hankering for a gyro, or maybe some Chinese BBQ pork, or a steak quesadilla. Come to think of it, a nice hot bowl of nabeyaki udon sounds good too…
So, I’d ask you, my readers, to think critically whenever someone talks about “the future” or even “the past.” Whose take on the future are we talking about; whose history? Who’s starring? Who got left off the box office poster? If someone tries to sell you a version of the future that isn’t inclusive of “every tribe and language,” you might want to turn the packaging over and check the expiration date.