July 10, 2017

We are the Reason Epcot is Changing

Here are the hard, cold facts: EPCOT Center ceased to exist years ago, and Epcot as we know it is about to change again. 

The character invasion of recent years is now the suits' plan for its future, be it Ratatouille in France, Coco in Mexico, or even more Disney film characters in Future World to go alongside Nemo in the Living Seas. The two true unique characters designed specifically for the park, most interestingly, Dreamfinder and Figment, are being left to rot in the now embarrassing Journey into Imagination with Figment. 

Fans are blaming the suits at the Walt Disney Company for this change, and in many ways, they would be correct in doing so. Always responsible to shareholders of the company to turn a profit, they must act to ensure that should grow much larger year after year. Guest experiences are now added in ways that are designed to extract cash from the buying public, from the lowest end customer who can afford a single day at the theme park of their choice to those on the other end of the spectrum, rich guests needing the ill-advised cabanas in the Magic Kingdom (thankfully now long gone) or the $15k meal at Disneyland in the former Disney Gallery space. 

Satisfying investors is the new bottom line of the last 40 years or so. Altruism no longer exists, at least in the corporate world, unless its to gain favor in the minds of consumers. Granted, Walt Disney himself ran a company as well and had to account for his sound business practices to brother Roy, but he kept the satisfaction of the guest foremost in his mind. Certainly, a respected form of altruism.

Still, the business folk are not the only reason change is coming to Florida's second Disney theme park. In addition to the changes in corporate America, I assert that we primarily have ourselves to blame. 

Yes, it is our fault Epcot is changing. Why? As a people, we've changed. We've wandered from the original vision which was established for the park as inscribed on the dedication plaque:

To all who come to this place of Joy, Hope and Friendship - Welcome.
EPCOT is inspired by Walt Disney's 
creative vision. 
Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise  and concepts 
of a future that promises new 
and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire
 and above all, 
may it instill a new sense of belief and pride 
in man's ability to shape a world
that offers hope to people everywhere.

The EPCOT Center that opened in 1982 was built to educate, inform, and inspire and instill pride in man's ability to shape a hopeful world. What was the inspiration? The wonders of this incredible world. Wonders of exploring not only what could be designed by the most gifted of human minds (Transportation, Energy, Communication) but also of those designed by an even bigger creator, worlds created by one infinite in wisdom and power (The Living Seas, The Land, The Wonders of Life, Space). An exciting world awaiting exploration laid out by the Ultimate Imagineer. A world also given to us to nurture and steward.

Now, bear with me here. Especially those of you who have not explored any world of faith or who have and have rejected the thought of a Creator. (I'm not going into that argument. I'm sticking with my original point that it is because of us that the park must change, so please keep reading.) Here's the logic:

The Disney suits follow the dollar. That's their job. It's what we pay them to do. Yet the changes at Epcot all begin with us. Every time we enter the parks, buy merchandise, or view the latest slice of filmed or live entertainment, we are telling the suits at Disney what we want and how much of it we want. When we stopping buying, they rethink their approach and their products. It really is that simple. And what do we want now? We want to be entertained. 

By and large, we no longer want to be the investors in our world and contributors to making it better. We just want to consume. We have looked away from our intended purpose which began with God in stewarding His beautiful creation. Boy, lest you think I'm pointing fingers, I want you to know I struggle with this! It's way easier to kick back and relax than it is to work hard to make a difference. It goes even deeper.

Since you and I have moved away from giving God the credit for His creation and/or accepting the roles He gave us, we instead look to man for fulfillment and answers. We're no longer fascinated by the fact we can have 1- Infinite worlds to explore, 2- An opportunity for a relationship with the Infinite Creator God, and finally, 3- a responsibility to positively impact the world we live in. This covers the gamut from caring for creation to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable of people. We have shifted our focus, so business has shifted their focus in order to make a profit from us.

We humans (park guests and the Imagineers that create attractions) have moved from being inspired by God's creation and the gifts He has given mankind. Instead, we rely on broken and selfish people to fill us and make us happy. Eventually, this brings us to a place of discouragement and general hopelessness when our plans fail or when the people we look to let us down. 

It's even more of a downward spiral when it comes to purchasing products.  The goal of the advertising agency is to get us to buy and keep buying. Isn't this the true goal of marketing? To make us unhappy without the product they are selling? Then to also make sure that we are never thankful for what we do have, keeping us prone to buy more. It's a vicious cycle.

When people or products fail to create long term fulfillment, we look for something else or for something within ourselves. We begin idolizing our own capabilities, strengths, and seemingly limitless potential, instead of giving the honor to God who created us and the world we live in. The trade off is emptiness because we often disappoint ourselves. Sometimes that is the worst of all to handle.

Due to our self-focus and our humanism, despair engulfs us as we look around and see man's plans fail. Even men with good solid other-centered goals. Why? Because men desire different things. Even good things can be in conflict with each other because priorities are different from person to person.

Rulers of nations view life differently, some good and some evil. Common people have differing values, so my plans may conflict with your plans. The result of all this tension? We get frustrated, angry, and burned out. Or on a global scale, war replaces peace as men strive to get what they want. Everyday there are new battles being fought in the streets among conflicting groups and ideologies. All this tires our souls and damages our spirits.

Sooner or later, we decide we've had enough. Our desire for comfort becomes the primary focus of our lives, bringing with it increasing desire to just be entertained and taken into worlds different than the one we have (talking Cars, magical princesses, Star Wars, etc). The Walt Disney Company has data compiled over generations telling the suits what we want so they can sell it to us. 

You and I can go into a movie theater after a grueling day, and we can walk out a few hours later feeling happy and fulfilled because we've forgotten our real life situation. Isn't this true? I know it is for me. For some of us, we go even further and decide we want to live there full time. It's why we love the theme parks. It's why a place like EPCOT Center has an incredible fan base from folks that experienced its greatness in the early years. We left the park not only happy but hopeful for that great big beautiful tomorrow. Who wouldn't want to experience that again and again?

The problem with this phony lifestyle of entertainment is It only temporarily satisfies us. So we lavish high praise on what man has created and desire to live in that place, keeping the real world safely, quietly, in the background.  When addicted to it, our entertainment becomes our prison because we trade in a very real and exciting world for one that is imaginary. We trade what's best for what is less than what we can have. 

A constant life of fantasy (or Fantasyland) is good for no one.

"On the Tombstone of America, the inscription will read: They Entertained Themselves To Death." - Leonard Ravenhill

Let that sink in. This quote above, by the renowned English pastor, applies not only to America as a nation but us as individuals. 

Back to Epcot. All our love of and addiction to entertainment and imaginary worlds is why the park is changing.  We're no longer enthralled with science and nature and new discoveries. Nor are we fascinated by the God that created it all- which leaves us looking to ourselves and others. The cycle of emptiness continues as looking to others will never fulfill our human hearts. 

It's probably too late for the direction of Epcot, but not for us. When we honor Him and reflect on who He is and what He has done, our world becomes filled with wonder, joy, thankfulness, and hope. The more we look to God, the more we become who we were intended to be- beautiful and unique individuals all reflecting His glory. With this freedom and true self, we become inspired. We want to go deeper with Him, know more about Him and the world He created. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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