Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I received a thoughtfully crafted response to one of my recent blogposts suggesting that it may be the concept, not the marketing, that’s causing Epcot to be “spruced up” to appeal to a larger audience.

It made me wonder (as Carrie Bradshaw might): Does Epcot really only appeal to our inner geek?

The thought is cause for a bit of alarm from my perspective, because while I do consider myself a bit of a doofus and goofball, I’ve never thought of myself as a geek – at least, not the kind who the reader implies is the primary audience for Epcot.

I can’t do math. Seriously. I mean, when someone asks me to add or subtract numbers that have more than one digit, I start using my fingers. (If it weren’t for Blogspot.com, I would never have been able to figure out how to create a blog.) In college, I failed chemistry. Twice. I nearly flunked out of biology, and my technical knowledge is limited to the friendly user interfaces of Apple (and, increasingly, Microsoft – yes, I said it).

I saw The Matrix once and didn’t understand it.

That said, I do love traveling, but as readers have pointed out to me in comments and by e-mail, the success or failure of World Showcase at Epcot isn’t what most concerns them (and me). It’s Future World and the entire Epcot concept.

And I don't think that concept is meant for geeks.

My correspondent wrote, "If it is the whole point and nature of Epcot Center to be a park for geeks, and there just are not enough of us geeks, then the business suits have to change it to something that is no longer really Epcot. The satisfaction of Epcot fans does not, in and of itself, necessarily turn a profit if there are not enough Epcot fans."

I think there are enough Epcot fans, the problem is Disney doesn't know how to reach them.

Science centers around the country are seeing record crowds with shows themed to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Touring exhibits of the remains of the Titanic and even exhibits based on the art and engineering of Disney's theme parks attract audiences so large that museums need to time their ticket entries and limit the amount of time people can spend inside.

If 1 million people visit a 50,000-square-foot science museum in Paris in less than a year to see C-3PO, it seems to me there are enough people interested in "educational" concepts to attract them to see Epcot while on vacation at Walt Disney World and keep them engaged in ways that don't require thrill rides equipped with barf bags. Granted, the Museum of Science in Boston, for instance, says its attendance has been falling for the past few years, but it also says that it's exploring ways to keep visitors coming andstay true to its mission. And they don't even have the power of the Disney name and the deep pockets of Disney's Theme Parks & Resorts division to help them along.

Science, exploration, discovery and curiosity aren't just for geeks. Walt Disney knew that -- it's one of the reasons that, until its screwed-up redesign in 1995, Tomorrowland was always one of the most crowded "lands" at Disneyland. People want to be thrilled by the idea that there are new things to learn, new horizons to explore, new possibilities to discover. That's not a "geek" concept; it's a basic human desire.

With due respect to my reader, the suits don't need to change Epcot -- Epcot needs to change the suits. The ideas central to the Epcot philosophy need to be presented in a way they understand; they need to see that, across the board, people are interested in these concepts if done well -- and, to this day, no other major theme park even tries to address them as Epcot is equipped to do (but has stopped doing).

It's conventional wisdom, proved over and over, that if people think something's good for them, they'll stay away. If they think it's junk, they'll show up -- and find it's not junk, but something that sparks their imagination. They'll come away thinking they got a better deal for their money than they thought possible; their expectations will be exceeded. And, perhaps, their minds will be expanded.

It's not "geeky" to think Epcot's philosophies are worth rediscovering. I think it's pretty cool.


Matt Arnold said...

Thanks for your response. Quoting your post on Wednesday, March 8:

"It's tough to be unique.

The computer nerd in high school will tell you that. So will the tuba player in the band and the editor of the newspaper. No doubt the goth girl with heavy pancake makeup would agree. What sets them apart, though, is ultimately what makes them successful. The world has many suntanned, blonde cheerleaders and handsome homecoming kings."

From this passage, I assumed you would embrace geekness as much as I do. I and my community of friends use "geek" to identify ourselves as people who tend to get intensely interested in something-- we "geek out" over science and exploration. Or, over science fiction or fantasy, which you pointed out has become so mainstream these days.

Adult geeks have developed their own subculture in which the computer nerd, the tuba player, the editor and the goth are "the new cool." Geek is another way to talk about removing all inhibitions about our discovery and curiosity, as contrasted with cheerleaders, homecoming kings and jocks, who are boring.

Ever since the dot-com bubble, this is the first time in years I've heard geek used as a derogative.

jahosifatz said...

To play devil's advocate, generally people don't want to be educated while on vacation, and they certainly don't want to pay in excess of $60.00 to hear a bunch of science/geography/history lessons. Main example, the Disney Institute.

Epcot82 said...

Or, more precisely, you're playing "Disney's advocate"! Or is that the same thing? Heheh.

People also didn't want to see a bunch of teenagers shooting lasers in space, then "Star Wars" came along. They didn't want to drive small, strange cars that didn't just use gas, then the Prius came along. They didn't want to see televised talent shows, then "American Idol" came along.

Very often, the public doesn't realize what it wants until it's given to them -- and given to them WELL. Aye, there's the rub.