Thursday, December 12, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #184 - Line Culture

Joe and Nick are joined by Alex and Danny to discuss the biggest opening in Orlando in years... plus Rise of the Resistance! We go into SPOILERS as we discuss the queue, pre-shows, and ride experience of Rise of the Experience.

Monday, December 9, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space," by Miodrag Mitrasinovic

Published by Ashgate (an academic book/journal publisher, now since absorbed into Informa) in 2007, Professor Mitrasinovic's book lets you know the ground rules of what it will and will not cover very early on and how. This is a book intended for an academic audience; it is a book about theme parks, theming, and public space, it is about the concept of "Total Landscape", and it is not about solutions, alternatives, etc. It is meant to be a novel criticism different from Vinyl Leaves in that it expands on not just looking at the impact of theme parks in and of themselves within their own corporate structures and pop culture, but the way in which the "theme park model" has become inexorably linked with public space development post Reagan/Thatcher neoliberalism.

Dr. Mitrasinovic is not a sociologist, but rather an architect and urbanist who has studied in his native Serbia, the Netherlands, and ultimately the US. Today he has a lab at the Parsons School of Design, which is pretty much as close to peaking in the context of that academic field as you can possibly get. Should you have not heard of Parsons, take a look at this list of famous alumni on Wikipedia: Hitchens, Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Shimon Peres, Norman Rockwell, Marc Jacobs, Marlon Brando, just, you know, some of the most important artists in modern history. Past faculty isn't any less impressive: W.E.B. Dubois, Derrida, John Cage, Robert Frost, John Maynard Keanes, Bertrand Russell, Frank Lloyd Wright. That second list is the group in which Dr. Mitrasinovic winds up being placed. When you are in a role that has previously been filled with titans of their space like a Charles Tilly or Slavoj Zizek, it is fair to say that this not going to be a picture book, nor is it some sort of Mitch Albom-like aw shucks fluff.

I wouldn't call this a "theory" book though it most certainly is as much of the book is also review of the subject. The theory brought to the table is "Total Landscape"; which was the original title of the book long before theme parks were even intended to be the target. Total Landscape refers to the definition of totalizing; comprehend in an all-encompassing way. Theme parks, especially Disneyland, sell reassurance rather than escapism as Imagineer John Hench is famed for saying. Mitrasinovic suggests that they sell far more than that: they so alter psychology that they relate socially conservative concepts about family and relationship to the state with consumption and social activity simultaneously. The author effectively uses the first three chapters to state his case relating "themeparking" and "theming" as separate things before doing an enormously indepth autopsy of how precisely theme parks are framed to do what he says vis-a-vis Japan's massive Huis Ten Bosch. No writer in history that I have seen, even among the imagineering books out there, is so detailed in breakdown and analysis of the exterior design and landscaping of a theme park as Dr. Mitrasinovic is in Chapter 4 of this book. Chapter 5 then discusses how theme parks were then used as the basis for reforming public spaces from the 1970s and forwards: Bryant Park receives a similarly in depth review.

Do I Want This: If Judith Adams' book was too much reading for you, you might as well not even try to obtain a copy of this book.

How does it read?: Phew. Buddy. Pal. It isn't a narrative or a story. It's kinda like a 200 page essay where the beginning and conclusion kinda sorta say the same thing and the middle is just establishing the case for why this is true. Every term in here is defined. Everything. You can't just breeze through this fucker and think you'll get 100% of what he's saying. You're gonna have to sit down and read this for comprehension. There's like, no humor here. None.

Will I learn anything?: At the very least, I learned a significant amount about the Japanese theme/amusement park industry and how it effectively parallels the development of the American outdoor amusement industry. And about some individual parks - Huis Ten Bosch for sure. It's a major focus of the book because that specific park had the most significant planning of any in history. Original plans had 20,000 residents living inside and around the park, though ultimately they fell way, way short of that due to completely misreading the real estate market and the viability of living at a theme park resort built on reclaimed land/former industrial space.

In greater detail, however, this book provides opinions - well defended opinions with an enormous amount of citations to back them both empirical and theoretical - about the privatization of public space. According to Mitrasinovic, to understand the expansion of private leisure space is to understand capitalism and to understand the underlying desire for both control and social conservative attitudes that are inherent to capitalism and liberalism. This is traced back to the 19th century and the Crystal Palace; a fine starting point for modern outdoor recreation influenced by the West. He claims that at the very root of this is the application of military theory - gathering of demographic information, topography, determinations about ease of transporting people in and out, supply chain management, and so on. Inherently militaristic, there are natural appeals to traditionalist family values, ruralism, agriarian life, and so on. Ultimately these are ploys to eliminate/prevent diversity through the guise of meritocracy, enforce class division, and inevitably merge back with the state & police structure as the "theme park model" becomes standardized for all public space while parks welcome surveillance apparatus onto their guests.

This is a very, very rough read of what he spends many thousands of words to say and is lacking in much nuance, so I would recommend that one actually take the time to read the book or at least some excerpts rather than merely take on my review of the book as the entirety of the argument. I am dubious of much of what is said here knowing full well the amusement and theme parks are not merely a western liberal construct, but as the author himself recognizes, follow traditions and models passed down through the centuries long before Adam Smith or Malthus. In addition, recreational spaces including amusement rides were prevalent in every reasonably developed socialist nation during the Cold War period: we know now increasingly how many public amusement parks existed in Russia, but there is clear and indisputable evidence of their existence in pre-Deng China, in Castro's Cuba, and certainly even Juche-era North Korea. To some degree this is acknowledged but it is also pointed out as to not be relevant as it is not the subject of the book. So be it. I am dubious of other things stated, particularly the relationship of military theory and liberalism; I find it hard to believe that amusement facilities and public space were built primarily upon developments made by generals still fighting in ordered rows exclusively in open fields rather than innovations primarily generated by mercantilism (European, Middle Eastern, Indian, or other).

However, having said that, there is certainly merit to many arguments and in some ways it seems prescient. Universal Beijing has announced that they will be using facial recognition for their park's entry: without a doubt this should be considered part of a large scale test of that same software for the purposes of the police and military in China and ultimately any nation desiring access to the software/hardware down the line. Theme parks as we know them are absolutely, unequivocally spaces that exclude persons, especially on the grounds of economic class. Much of the discussion about how theme parks increasingly seem to be exclusionary does so because of price increases to passes that make it more difficult than ever for local persons of middle class economic distinction to attend in lieu of a global audience traveling to see Disney and Universal. Alternately, discussion of Cedar Fair's new pricing options that helped drive massive increases in attendance over the Halloween season at parks like Cedar Point is frequently seen as not excluding enough persons.

Ultimately, reading this led me to request another book from the library which he contributed to and edited titled Concurrent Urbanities. Unlike Total Landscape..., this book is prescriptive and seeks to look at how design can be used to create spaces that are more conducive to community building and inclusion. These are things which Dr. Mitrasinovic sees as being the result of neoliberal policy and the commodification of the state, which are intrinsically negative and necessarily lead to establishing obstacles to upward mobility and an increase in policing. That having been said, the book won't be part of the Theme Park book series (after all, Prof. Mitrosinovic is not a fan of theme parks by and large!) as it simply doesn't deal with that topic.







Friday, December 6, 2019

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast - Alex's European Vacation

Alex spent over a month in Europe and he's here to talk about it. Find all the podcasts and videos on this trip here.

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, December 2, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "County Fairs: Where America Meets" by John McCarby & Randy Olsen

Finally! Light reading and lots of pictures - the sorts of coffee table books this hobby is known for and ones for which I can tear through the contents in about a day or two.

This book was produced by the National Geographic Society in 1997, and my copy was acquired through a name you'll come to see frequently here in this feature: John K. King Books, the largest used book seller in Michigan and among the largest in the world. The former glove factory contains a reputed million books, which is entirely believable given the size and sheer volume of items inside. I go roughly 3-4 times a year on average, and I almost always bring back a variety of rarities and common books. This trends more to the common end.

Monday, November 25, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Walt Disney and the Quest for Community" by Steve Mannheim

This is not my first attempt at reading this - I did some time ago long before Distwitter as I was barrelling through literature during my tenure at MSU. However, now I've picked up on even more than I did then about the history of EPCOT Center, the subsequent theme park, and of course Walt's vision having done my own extensive research through the years, aging, and so on. You have not come here to read a review of me, though. You came for a review of the book.

It's a short book - only about 120 pages with a huge section of footnotes and a biographical essay at the end. It's classic academic text from a historian: little in the way of opinion, citations for everything that isn't, little to no speculation that's unwarranted. That immediately puts a damper on where the book could have gone, but leaves it lean, mean, and packed with facts. By the time you're done digesting it, you should feel fairly comfortable understanding where Walt's beliefs were on why he was doing EPCOT, what inspired him to make the decisions he did about it's early design, and how incredibly far he was from actually achieving any of the intended goals related to the project. In fact, if there is any conclusion that you can take from this book, it is that Walt and no one but Walt really had any individual vision for EPCOT. He gave people ideas and took feedback. He certainly had people draw sketches of the layouts and planning and greenspace. He approved models. He allowed for input, but the entirety of the project was truly Walt's.

Monday, November 18, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: “The Great American Amusement Parks: A Pictoral History” by Gary Kyriazi

Going back to the 1970s, the next book reviewed is Gary Kyriazi’s tome, “The Great American Amusement Parks.” The 1970s were really the first period which sees multiple books on the industry published, and Kyriazi’s is an example of a book that isn’t particularly heavy on text. If you’ve read the first couple primers I’ve brought up in prior reviews, you know most of the background information that Kyriazi is going to reveal already. Anyways, Citadel Press put this book out in 1978, and it is nice and chunky, filled with glossy black and white shots of rides from bygone eras.

Monday, November 11, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: The American Amusement Park Industry… by Judith A. Adams

I opened the blog up with a review of the first history told of the Amusement industry from William Mangels, and this, the second review, is essentially of the spiritual successor. Released in 1991, Adams book is still the closest thing we have to a contemporary analysis of the industry over 20 years onward. The timing of her book was fortuitous: arriving at the death of many traditional parks and at the point in which the regional themers were becoming entrenched and maturing, she writes of an industry much different from that seen in the 50s. Also, because her book is more recent, it is easier to point out flaws or inconsistencies, something that Mangels’ text and its near biblical importance to future researchers doesn’t have.

Adams’ preface describes the book’s three most formative themes: the importance of the 1893 Columbian Expo in Chicago, the reliance on the “future utopian” ideal, and the effect of societal change on the industry. Theme one and two are effectively tied at the hip given the “White City” of the Columbian Expo. The third part, while it is touched on at times, does not get to heavily leaned on. If anything, Adams is more open to looking at social critique rather than change either enacted by or affecting amusements.