Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's in a Name?


It looks so tiny, doesn't it?

Next to the evocative moniker of "The Magic Kingdom," the pared-down-but-still-wordy "Disney's Hollywood Studios" or the routine-yet-still-interesting "Disney's Animal Kingdom."

Well, thank goodness for tiny miracles, like the fact that they have resisted (thus far) the marketing-driven desire to change the name to "Disney's Epcot." That in itself is something for which we can be a little grateful.

Still ... it's just Epcot. Five letters that no longer even mean anything -- just a nonsense word that is neither descriptive nor explanatory. It's been stripped of any context whatsoever.

The good news, of course, is that even when the full name was EPCOT Center, most everyone simply called it "EPCOT." Then again, I know no one who uses the full "Disney's Animal Kingdom" name, or ever referred to the Studios as anything but "the Studios" or, more likely, "MGM." (Yes, Disney marketers -- we tend to drop the "Disney" moniker ... we know where we are already, and who's taken those four thousand bucks from our bank account!)

Back to little Epcot.

There are many of us who've argued for a return to the name EPCOT Center -- and, based on recent Internet buzz, that may be happening soon, thanks to Jim MacPhee.

For those Disney folks who shake their head and wonder what the big deal is ... it matters. A lot.

"Epcot" doesn't just fail to be evocative or meaningful, isn't just lacking in context or offering any clues about its theme at all (and, remember, these are supposed to be "theme" parks) -- it isn't just desultory. It's disparaging to every concept that resulted in the park's creation.

It doesn't take very much effort at all to watch the original film Walt Disney created about the Florida parks. I'd suggest Disney folks take the time to bother to watch it. Granted, nowhere does Walt refer to the project overall as "EPCOT" -- it's clearly "Disney World."

But when Walt Disney died, the decision was made to move ahead with EPCOT, which was to be the "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow." There was no way, without his guidance, that the "city" concept could actually be created. But what resulted was no less ambitious, grand and revolutionary.

The name EPCOT Center was chosen because, the history goes, this was to be the literal and figurative center of the entire EPCOT project. With its various developments, its infrastructure, its hotels, its parks, its recreation, its operations all enormous in scale and impressive in scope, Disney realized that, though there would never be residents here, Walt Disney World itself really was "EPCOT" come to life. Not quite in the same way, but still ... it was a living, breathing community. The parks were part of it ... and EPCOT the theme park was at the center.

Thus, EPCOT Center.

That's the literal context as I've come to understand it. On a less literal level, those of us who grew up with the EPCOT Center name came to think of the "Center" extension as a wonderful addition -- it added a sense of place and purpose. It wasn't just "EPCOT" the theme park, it was "EPCOT Center" -- the center of all of the grand, glorious ideas of The Walt Disney Company and American (now global) industry. Calling it EPCOT Center added a rich conception of the place as a place. It was a destination.

"EPCOT Center" means so much more than "Epcot."

If indeed the executives at Disney are contemplating a return to the park's original name, it won't be as much an admission that simply "Epcot" (or, worse, "Epcot '94," "Epcot '95," etc.) didn't work as an acknowledgment of something that perhaps Disney is finally learning in small increments:

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

In its execution and in its determination to always be changing, adding, refining and growing, EPCOT Center might not have quite been perfect, but its very dedication and explanation of itself granted it the right to be always improving and exploring itself.

EPCOT Center was glorious in a way lower-case Epcot has never quite managed.

I hope fervently for the return of that strangely antiseptic yet somehow exciting name. EPCOT Center. Funny how much one word matters, isn't it?
A quick P.S.: Although Disney's Tom Staggs now seems hellbent on selling off the "extra" land around Walt Disney World (land that was so hard won 40 years ago), until recently EPCOT Center was also the literal center of the Walt Disney World Resort (a name that also seems to be falling out of fashion in favor of "Disney World"). On the south side of the Fountain of Nations is an original EPCOT Center symbol laid into the ground. Stand in the middle of this symbol and you were once in EPCOT Center at the center of the entire complex.


Jeffrey Pepper said...

In all my own writings about EPCOT Center, I've always done my best to use the appropriate name in the proper context. Kudos for doing an excellent job of explaining why it is so important to do so, and especially quantifying the importance of EPCOT Center.

And welcome back. You were missed.

Epcot82 said...

Thanks, Jeff!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautifully articulated argument for bringing back the word "Center" (not to mention capitalizing EPCOT). It seems that most WDW fans who are on the fence about returning to the park's goold old days can justify things like the old aesthetic or the old songs, but many have a hard time understanding why changing the name back to "EPCOT Center" has any value other than nostalgia and symbolism (it's "Center" that seems to be the biggest sticking point).

But you're absolutely right about the old name conveying a sense of place and context that the new name miserably fails to do. When EPCOT "purists" say that lower-case Epcot means nothing, they're not just talking about the fact that the literal letters no longer (officially) stand for words. They're talking about how the name truly means nothing--it offers no clue about what the park is, no feeling for what it's about. Even looking at the word printed on a page, you can get a sense of how utterly unfit it is for its purpose as the name of such a unique park. It's a hard concept to put into words, but I think you've done it.

Josh said...

Once again, I'm in absolute agreement. SOOO glad to have you back!

You've been missed.

Anonymous said...

I could swear that Walt did refer to the whole "Florida Project" as EPCOT, but I'll have to watch the video again and double-check.

Speaking of video: In the EPCOT Center opening celebration TV special (which is floating around the web somewhere, digitized from a Vault Disney broadcast), Danny Kaye does explain that "Walt Disney World" is synonymous with "EPCOT," so it certainly was the official line, at least in 1982.

Erica said...

Glad to have you back. :D

I enjoy reading your articles every week! Keep 'em comin'.

Thanks for completely describing why we should have EPCOT Center's full name back.

Anonymous said...

I never bought the story that the Walt Disney World property was indeed EPCOT and that EPCOT Center was it's heart. But that doesn't invalidate Epcot82's argument for the importance of the original moniker since the concept of "community" has evolved past the physical realm. Perhaps now more than ever we are living in our own "experimental prototype community" by the very means in which we interact on this blog site. It represents an untapped promise for the EPCOT brand that is so eloquently discussed in other posts on this blog. Disney should be looking beyond a mere entertaining theme park and towards possibilities that Walt Disney himself would most likely be pursuing if he were alive today.

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Anonymous said...

I agree with the sentiment, and you reasoned well the importance of "Center." But for me I would just like to see E.P.C.O.T. The lower case offends me.