I'm not going to lie. It's been a while. Too long. And I'm not going to go into whether or not that's acceptable (it's not), but I'll admit right now that I was ambitious with this project starting out. Committing to a weekly podcast with new updates, insights, research, music etc. every week proved to be a stressful burden even after two weeks—well not so much a burden as a time overload. You see, If my whole summer was dedicated to just this project, it may have been doable, but I was balancing both a job and rehearsing and putting up a show. Like always, things get in the way. But I didn't want to abandon this idea—especially with the limited remaining time I have left with all of this rare and, quite simply, beautiful material at my disposal. And with the rather dismal bout of Disney park related rumors either coming to fruition or becoming practically confirmed, I just couldn't let Disney history drift away like that (more on this in a bit).
THE SOLUTION: Be more active on this website and with all of you on social media, and only update the podcast and the blog when I feel there is substantial new material to present. Problem solved. This is my promise to you, so keep me to it.
All of that out of the way, there's something else—more personal than anything, but we'll see—that I want to share with you.
If you've listened to my first couple episodes, I (believe) I mention that I currently live in New York as a student (which is how I have access to the Buddy Baker collection). Well, I've just moved back to the city to begin my final year of college and on one beautiful Sunday afternoon, I decided I would go (for the first time, mind you) to none other than...
That's right! Flushing Meadows Park! I went on a bit of a whim, though part of me felt I had to. I don't think I'm alone in this, but this summer has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride in terms of Disney theme park related news.
First came the official announcement that DCA's Tower of Terror would actually be turned into a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. And while the initial rumors suggested it would be a temporary, promotional overlay, the announcement's tone seemed to suggest it would, in fact, be a permanent addition to the park. I was dumbfounded by this news. It just didn't make any sense to me.
"Why would they take away an attraction like that?" I thought, "A living testament to the endless originality, creativity, and artistry of Walt Disney Imagineering. Not to mention it's one of the most well loved, admired and popular attractions in recent Disney history."
Frozen Ever After seemed insane, but at least there was some studio politics that seemed to justify why it happened, but this? This just seemed like an attack on imagination itself.
Then came the blow of blows: the Universe of Energy rumor. This one hit home. Badly. For years, I have felt that Disney had been exhibiting its usual behavior toward the pavilion when they plan on closing an attraction: neglecting it. So it's not that I didn't see this one coming, it's that I didn't expect it to be this... sad. If my initial reaction about Tower of Terror was anger, my initial reaction to this was deep sadness.
Then I looked at how both the social and corporate media were handling it and I was very much unsatisfied. I noticed that the Disney community was pretty much divided between those who were for radical change in the fashion that Iger and Chapek are championing now, those somewhat in the center who were content in accepting that this is simply the way it is now. And then those who were calling for a restoration of Disney's past: a call to bring back great relics of history as nostalgia pieces.
Actual news sources were no help either. They reported the announced changes objectively (as they should), but identified critics of the changes as simple disgruntled fans—totally discrediting any valid arguments they might have. I looked at all of this and felt that nobody was really advocating for... well... for progress. Some want to bring on the demolition of Disney history, philosophy, art, and values at full speed ahead for the sake of quarterly profits, marketing research, and temporary cultural trends; and while that's certainly change, it's not progress. Others seem to just accept that as reality. And then the rest want to go back in time to Disneyland circa 1967 or EPCOT Center circa 1983, and while I would gladly join you in that time machine any day of the year to experience those two golden ages of Walt Disney Imagineering, this, too, is not progress.
What would progress look like? Oh I don't know. I'm not an Imagineer. But I do know that it's full of leaders in the company who take chances, trust the American public, and constantly seek ways to both entertain and enlighten them. That to me is the Disney tradition of progress. And this to me is what attractions like Tower of Terror and Universe of Energy do to children every single day as they did for me when I was growing up—even though Ellen's Energy Adventure isn't perfect and is vastly outdated. But principle matters. Is it outdated? Yes! But how is that justification for dismantling the ideal of creating an informed public? How does that justify replacing it with a mere scratch at a temporary cultural itch? In my mind (and I think in the minds of those reading this as well), this should be exciting! It should mean that Disney has the opportunity and the obligation to the American public to create a new narrative for the twenty-first century: "A dawn for new awareness" as Susan B. Anthony says in The American Adventure. After all, the twenty first century is still very young and we've just begun to dream.
But then again, folks, this is not the reality. There is no enlightened obligation of progress in the minds of the Walt Disney Company today. So what do we do? And what on Earth does the Buddy Baker Project have to do with all this? Well, as I was sitting on a bench in Flushing Meadows Park, right where the original Carousel of Progress stood, I had an epiphany.
Those that know the musical Camelot will follow my obscure analogy ahead. At the end of the musical, the almost utopian, perfect vision of a kingdom (Camelot) is being destroyed by a petty war of ego and self interest and in the camp of the battlefield is a young boy who wants to fight for Camelot's ideals. King Arthur tells the boy that he cannot fight, but the boy insists. Knowing that Camelot will never be the same, King Arthur sees the idealism and optimism in the boy that he once had and tells him to go around telling everyone of what Camelot once was and that it was possible for it to exist. He does this with the hope that its ideals and hopeful vision for a better world will inspire others to be better and create better things.
Well that's what I believe the mission of the Buddy Baker Project is. I believe it is our job to be that messenger of that Disney idealism that has made us all who we are. We are all better dreamers, doers, and thinkers thanks to the Disney theme parks—and Buddy Baker is just one facet of this. We all need to do our part in making sure that not just history is preserved, but that these ideals of progress are passed on and shouted on the street so that maybe just one person will be inspired to do something better in the world. If Disney is truly in decline, this is the best we can do. In the meantime, enjoy another picture of the Unisphere: that enlightening vision of humanity.