Pam Shaw, one of a few thousand Eves, called it “paradise,” and speaks of the “blind faith” with which she believed in the Prime Mover of her bliss. Yes, of course — Disney Corp.
In today’s New York Times, Abby Goodnough reports on Disney’s plan to sell Celebration, its now aborted-attempt to create a more sustainable utopia (as opposed to the screaming kid, giant mouse, amusement park kind), an actual town with actual houses lived in by actual people, who are cued to the seasons of the Perfect Place (which Florida, apparently, is not), by artificial leaves and snow blown onto the street in October and December.
The religious language with which Disney sold its Celebration and with which buyers bought it isn’t coincidental. The town was — is — the most stunning example of civic religion aestheticized, an extreme-case scenario of gated communities and “new urbanism” throughout the country, the realization the impulse to create through quaint, storybook settings the community once provided by more stringent faiths.
But all good things must come to an end, and so Disney embraces evolution rather than creationism by putting its Garden of Eden on the block and announcing plans to build elsewhere. Perhaps, though, its inhabitants bit the apple first. In his book on the community,The Celebration Chronicles, scholar Andrew Ross reported on a year he spent living in Celebration, during which he became something of a believer — in the other inhabitants of the town, who rebelled against the cookie cutter world Disney had made (and enforced) around them. Joe Moran, a scholar who teaches a course on Disney at Liverpool John Moores University, discusses Ross and his town in American Studies Online — a journal that always provides an intriguing perspective on our ongoing American dream/really big utopian experiment.
The religion of Celebration is beneath the surface and the better for it, a surprisingly subtle theological exercise from a corporation that, with its themepark fireworks displays, embraces an exuberant vision of the Rapture on a nightly basis.
For the god of suburbia in all His glory, one must turn to Hiddenbrooke, “A Thomas KinkadePainter of Light™ Community” in northern California. A “vision of simpler times,” Hiddenbrooke is the earthly manifestation of the art of the bestselling painter of all time. Kinkade is also something of an evangelist, using his mass-produced pictures — and now his bricks-and-mortar town — to promote an oddly sanitized version of the Gospel as a kind of guide to good living in quaint cottages.
The religion is explicit; the “light” is, um, bold; and the town, whether it’s successful as a business venture or not, is indeed a vision, of a time that may not be simpler but is surely more religiously uniform, with all the messiness of scripture and God and community gone missing.Janelle Brown tells more, in Salon.
Other resources: The Revealer on utopian communities.
A graduate student at San Jose University has built a site with a wide array of Celebration theology.
John Humphrey Noyes, American utopianist of another age.
Finally, don’t just read about Celebration — live it. Realtor Jaisen J. Stango is happy to rent you a piece of the Garden.