Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Superbowl XLIV: Real v. Unreal

When I first came to Disney World, sometime in middle school, I was dazzled by the bright lights, the mountains of cotton candy, the 50-foot plunges and the sheer amount of people. I did not give a second thought to any of it. Disney is what Disney does, and to a twelve year old, Disney does roller coasters. However, coming to Disney a second time has changed my perspective on this vacation destination. Now, all I can think about is how unreal everything seems. As a group, we found ourselves questioning everything: “Are the space cadets in Space Mountain real?” (answer: yes). “Is the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse built on a real tree?” (answer: no). Of course, by trial and error, it is simple to distinguish the real from the unreal. However, what happens when we can’t touch things or ask questions to determine the “realness” of something?

Walking through Disney World, and earlier that day, in The Holy Land Experience, I couldn’t help but think about this question. It brought me back to my eleventh grade English class, where we spent the year analyzing texts around a central theme of reality and truth: when can lies (or something unreal) seem more true than the actual truth (or reality)? In the Holy Land, it was easy to tell that everything was fake- it was an attraction park. The reenactments were done by professional actors, the marketplace was full of plastic fruits and vegetables, and the animals couldn’t move. However, when we began to talk to the cashier at the Scriptorium, she informed us that the Holy Land had recently undergone a facelift that de-authenticized the original vision of the park. The flower gardens, statues, and costumes were all added to beautify the park, and as a result, deducted from its original authenticity. I was taken aback by this- what authenticity?

The Holy Land was a beautiful replication of the description of Jerusalem, the Red Sea, the Burning Bush and other religious areas found in the Bible, but I don’t think I could call it authentic. The Holy Land presented a sampling of Bible stories packaged in such a way to appeal to as many consumers as possible. Jerusalem was not always sunny, nor did it always smell like honeysuckles, and probably not everyone smiled and waved at you when you walked through the market, greeting you with a friendly “Shalom!” Actual reality has been forgone in favor of what people want: pretty, safe things. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the Holy Land quite as much if it was exactly like the Bible’s Jerusalem. Half the fun was just soaking in the sheer beauty of those gardens and statues. Have I fallen prey to this eleventh grade English class theme? I didn’t find the Holy Land real, by any stretch of the imagination, but I also didn’t realize the full extent of its fakeness, especially after what the cashier told us. I also enjoyed the unreality of the park, and accepted it much more quickly than I would have the real version of these events.

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