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Episode Info: s. Fundamentally, I see themed attractions as engineered to create a specific emotional response in visitors — and through that, they offer an escape from the real world. They are a chance for us to enter a fictional world. “Frontierland”, an “old west”-themed land in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, never actually existed, but clever trick is to make it feel like a lived-in space that has a history. When I am in a fictional world, even the smallest thing that reminds me of the real world takes me out of the illusion. And hilariously, sometimes a theme park will go so far as to put up up fake historical markers and even museums that describe people and events that never happened, but nevertheless lead to what the environment looks like today. But when learning about the real world, I’m not so sure the same strategies apply. The real world is messy, and the study of history, for example, is not fun, and not amusing. In episode 17 of Museum Archipelago, I cover the spectacular failure of a Disney theme park concept called Disney’s America in the early nineties. Disney’s misguided idea would have put a park showcasing [quote] “the sweep of American History” — including the institution of Slavery and the Civil War — within a fun theme park environment just outside Washington, DC. Courtland Milloy, writing in a series of Washington Post editorials about the then planned Disney’s America around 1993, brought out the inherent contradiction of the project merging a fun day out with a view into American history. He writes, “Against a backdrop of a continuing distortion of African American history, which includes awful textbooks and self-induced amnesia about the legacy of slavery, a slave exhibit by Disney doesn’t even sound right.” By contrast the U.S. space program happens to an example of a much less problematic history that, as a result, works displayed in a themed attraction setting -- and one on US. Government property not at Disney World. Being a shuttle astronaut was extremely risky -- of the five shuttle orbiters that have gone to space -- only three of them are still around to display in museums. But nobody become a shuttle astronaut by accident. And since the failed Disney’s America concept, the big theme parks have stayed out of attractions based on real-life histories, or at least relatively recent real life histories. Instead, they have blurred the lines between various destination types by switching modes. Both Owen and Lochner see a world where competition for visitors leads museums to focus more on creating that specific emotional response you find in themed attractions. Diane Lochner: I think that museums are beginning to investigate other attractions relative to continuing to capture more visitors, at least certainly the ones that we're talking to in the most recent projects. They are really beginning to understand that they might have to do some things that are a little more out of their norm relative to appealing to visitors because they still want to make sure that obviously they are achieving their goals relative to educational standards and things like that. But certainly the competition for time has really increased. And so I think, in general, museums are starting to think about different ways of curating the experience for individuals and really beginning to connect to visitors' emotions in different ways. Tom Owen: And even though the objective of Disney may not be for visitors to come and learn something, or at least not to be able to go down a list of facts that they learned about a certain topic, which some of the museum might say is their objective. I think people learn things going to theme parks. For example, if a kid is at a certain age where they've been fearful of roller coasters but they get brave and they decide to get on a roller coaster. They're learning something important about themselves and the fact that they're put into an experience that's really special and over the top and different from their everyday experience, it inspires them and it opens up their world of thinking. .........
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