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.