If you saw or read anything of this year's three presidential debates, or if you've even remotely paid attention to the latest news, you know that there are four issues that loom large in the minds of virtually every American today:
Energy, transportation, the environment and health.
How are we going to fulfill our gigantic and growing energy needs as the country speeds towards 400 million people, and how will we simultaneously manipulate and protect our global environment to do it?
Even if we can figure out solutions to those problems, how do we cope with a society (not just an American society, but a global one, really) that needs clean, efficient, forward-thinking transportation?
And how do we make sure we become healthier, stay healthy and afford health care?
Now, if you've been a regular reader of EPCOT Central, you may recall that Al Gore's Oscar-winning, 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" provided the inspiration for an article called "A Convenient Theme?" EPCOT Central posed the possibility that all Imagineers and theme-park MBAs needed to revitalize EPCOT was to look closely at the movie.
Some wildly derided the proposition. Others found it intriguing.
Perhaps now is a good time to revisit the concept. Because in the last two years, it has become increasingly clear just how prescient, how necessary, EPCOT Center actually was.
We've learned, or perhaps we are learning, that just because something is "boring" does not mean it is not important. That just because "education" involved not only means we shouldn't dismiss it out of hand -- but we can't. We're learning that ignoring the vital issues only leads to ignorance and a lack of certainty over how to address them.
Consider, then, EPCOT Center's original mission. It still stands outside the park for all to see: "May it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere." Politics aside, it doesn't seem like we've really gone a long way toward that goal in the past 26 years. EPCOT Central has often quoted the tagline to "That's Entertainment!" and it seems appropriate to do it again: Boy, do we need it now.
EPCOT Center focused, originally, on five key areas of understanding: communication, energy, transportation, imagination and our environment. A few years after opening, health and the seas were added. The park wanted to enlighten guests about the challenges facing the future in these critical areas.
If the park failed to find exactly the right balance of education and entertainment, if it failed to get it just right in the first decade, it deserved an "A" for effort.
Now, more than a quarter of a century later, we're discovering that the global community, and particularly Americans, need to be informed about the potential and the pitfalls, the challenges and the opportunities, the successes and the failures, of these intensely important subjects. And as the third presidential debate made clear, both sides of American politics agree that we have failed to do that as a society. Our children and teenagers aren't aware, and they are growing up to be ill-informed adults who are asked and required to make vital decisions about our future.
The need to find alternative and safe energy sources, to protect and manipulate our environment, to provide reliable and clean transportation, and to safeguard the health of our people -- those are the very subjects that EPCOT Center explored.
And, sadly, they're the ones that Epcot has most tinkered with.
The park, much like society in general, has become fixated on entertaining and distracting its guests, rather than enlightening them.
All right, a healthy percentage of you are thinking, "I don't want education on my vacation!" Fine. Bypass EPCOT. Don't visit. Don't challenge yourself. Don't expose yourself to new ideas. It's all right. You can find all the Mickey-themed entertainment you need at three theme parks, two water parks, etc., etc., and you'll have a great vacation.
But if it's marketed right, a revitalized EPCOT could be proud of informing a large number of people of the challenges we're facing in these critical areas. Attractions like the "EPCOT Poll," ahead of its time in 1982, could be fed to the ravenously hungry online media and instantly reported. Attractions could be redesigned so they can be easily and frequently updated to reflect new information and ideas.
All it would take is commitment.
Imagine the marketing possibilities for The Walt Disney Company -- which would not only have a fully re-imagined theme park, but the ability to showcase its commitment to our future.
Best of all, unlike the massive (and crazy?) billion-dollar overhaul of Disney's California Adventure, the infrastructure is already there. The show buildings are there. The layout is there. The opportunity is there.
And EPCOT Center, as originally conceived, was always excited about opportunity.
Epcot could become EPCOT again, and show that our world can indeed be a better place.