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My First Thoughts on Paleo-Futurism (or how I learned to stop worrying and love Disney)

Me and Goofy (circa 1989)I've visited Walt Disney World about 20 times.

Now, for an elderly woman living in Orlando, Florida, this might seem like an appropriate number. But for a 26-year-old man who's lived his entire life in the Midwest, that number is fairly absurd. My parents got me hooked at a young age, and while my perspective on the Disney brand and favorite activities in Disney World have both drastically changed over the years, I keep going back.

It was in EPCOT Center that I first started thinking about paleo-futurism. By the mid-1990s, EPCOT was looking stale; a future frozen in the early 1980s. The park was almost a monument to a historical future, rather than a hopeful tomorrow, and even young children could sense this. Though an extreme comparison, it was somewhat like visiting Flushing Meadows to see the decaying remnants of New York's 1964 World's Fair.

EPCOT as a theme park sparked my interest in this concept -- a concept for which I didn't yet have a name -- but one ride in particular stands out as the most reflective, yet forward-thinking. Horizons was opened in 1983 and featured both a history of the future, represented by an animatronic Jules Verne, and the future as imagined in 1983. Disney and this ride have so invaded my thoughts that any time I smell oranges I still imagine the "farm of the future," as was briefly depicted during this ride.

Though the ride closed in 1999, I can still play through every scene of Horizons in my head. The ride stands out as an experience that introduced me to thinking about histories of the future, and got me to thinking about what futures survive in our collective imagination. Like movies forever lost to history because of negligence and poor archiving, I feel a special sense of loss that most will never get to experience this ride in person.

Oh well, at least Epcot still sells booze. Pour some out on the curb for Horizons. Or don't. That alcohol ain't cheap.

The clip below is from the 1991 souvenir video, A Day at EPCOT Center.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

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Reader Comments (8)

I'm a 30-year-old midwesterner who's been to Disney World about 20 times, but then I lived in Florida until I was ten or so, and I've always had family there. It's been at least a decade since I've been back, and I was bummed (but not at all surprised) to hear that Horizons was gone. That ride has stayed with me ever since I first saw it probably twenty years ago, and probably had everything to do with my current fascination with futures past. Thanks for reminding me, and for posting that video.

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCermo

For me, "EPCOT Center" (not "Epcot") was like stepping into what the future was going to be. I had relatives down in Florida so, for my family, a trip to the relatives & a trip to Walt Disney World was literally synonymous.

I can remember going down to WDW about a year before EPCOT Center opened. Spaceship Earth was still being built & all you could do was stand on this platform next to the monorails & look out at the progress. That was cool. You were watching the future being built... Today.

I am so saddened to see what the Disney Corporation has turned EPCOT Center into today. People who go to "Epcot" today simply don't know what they missed out on. EPCOT Center was probably the last best hope we had for a mature science-oriented theme park.

As I always like to tell people who ask me... "When's the best time to go to Epcot?" "1989."

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Wow "anonymous", hand-correct any newspaper articles or billboards lately?

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWutzke

@Wutzke, in 1994 Disney started calling "EPCOT Center" just "Epcot." I don't think Anonymous was trying to be a jerk.

September 1, 2009 | Registered CommenterMatt Novak

Anyone interested in Epcot should read this book:

Check out especially the comments in the thread linked above.

I too love Walt Disney and WDW. I grew up on it and when I visited WDW
I was compelled to seek out info on the good old days on the Net and came
across Paleo Future. Sadly I am now starting to see why Disney's visions
of the future did not come to pass and even more sadly why that may have
been a good thing in the end. Human nature just cannot be supressed.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Jetson

I was just thinking about Horizons earlier today, specifically the orange farm. We went to EPCOT Center when I was 13, less than a year after it opened. My sister and I went through there at least 10 times over the three days we were at the parks.

That's one of my very best memories and it pleases me immensely that others loved it as much as I did.

September 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Thank you for this! I have never been to EPCOT nor WDW, nor do I plan to be, but I appreciate the confession of being a Disneyphile. After the Disney buyout of Marvel, the Interwebs have been awash with a fresh flood of complaints about by Disney is evil because it's not hip. As a Disneyphile myself - and who hasn't thought a Marvel comic has been worth picking up since the early 90's - it's been really pretty annoying. I'm happy to see someone else chime in with how Disney actually does some cool and thought-provoking stuff.

September 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCory

Go check out turns out there was no real security on the ride. These guys got out and took pics and videos of all sorts of stuff.

September 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersdfgsdfg

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