Why Are We Here?
Epcot Center celebrates human achievements and innovation born from imagination. It is a showplace dedicated to entertain we hope, with a purpose. Our goals for EPCOT Center are quite clear, we want to first entertain, then inform and inspire all who come here and above all, to instill in our guests a new sense of belief and pride in mankind’s ability to shape a world that offers real hope to people everywhere in the world.
- E. Cardon Walker
The words Card Walker spoke at Epcot Center’s dedication in the fall of 1982 established a public purpose for the company’s latest monumental endeavor. Epcot Center was a new concept in theme parks, but not completely unfamiliar to the world or even to Disney. Unlike the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland before it, which were predominantly designed to immerse visitors in the absolute fantasy of fairy tales and flying elephants, Epcot’s intent was to feed into the feeling of a world’s fair. Since the 1850s fairs and expositions were used as a method of garnering support for new technology, promoting tourism and creating a public face for corporations and countries. Without taking anything away from their impact on human culture, world’s fairs were basically monumental advertisements.
Walt Disney’s original vision for Epcot was a technological utopia. It would be clean, bright, efficient and was a direct output of the marketing tone of the New York World’s Fair which Disney played a large role in shaping. In contrast to the Fair, Epcot would be a real functioning city with sleek transportation, clean air and a culture that fostered learning and advancement. Walt’s death in the last days of 1966 ended whatever slim chance Epcot had of existing in his image. Fast forward thirteen years through Vietnam, the counterculture movement, disco and we arrive in the late 1970’s and the end product of the idea of Epcot. In the months preceding and during the three years that had passed since Walt Disney Productions had broken ground on the project, the world had experienced upheavals that ran across the gain of the optimistic message that the park intended to communicate. In the summer of 1979, just months before the first shovel was turned on the Epcot project, Three Mile Island rocked the world’s collective faith in emerging energy. During construction, the Iran hostage crisis began and ended, “Imagine” songwriter John Lennon was gunned down in New York, and attempts were made on the lives of President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In 1981, AIDS was first observed in the United States and later led to a worldwide fear of a viral pandemic. These were problems no theme park could ever tackle head on.
In the midst of these events, Epcot Center, now a park themed to technology and culture, opened with celebration and Walker delivered his ambitious mission statement. The dedication speech jived well with the corporate sponsored attractions and exhibits that made up Epcot Center. The Universe of Energy backed by Exxon and World of Motion from General Motors entertained with a history of oil production and celebrated human advances in transportation only three years after the second U.S. oil crisis. The Land spoke of sustainable farming and new methods of agriculture while world hunger became an ever-present subject in the news. Famine had rocked Ethiopia and the West was watching on the news every night. CommuniCore showcased technological innovations that hadn’t really been part of the American thought process since the future home concepts that were popular in post World War II America.
Cyclically, Americans embrace putting on cultural blinders in the years that follow social or economic turmoil. Epcot was conceived at the beginning of an upheaval and became reality near the end. Just as some Epcotesque park would’ve likely been popular in the mid-century as a reaction to the turmoil of the ’40s, it was a solid response to the social climate the baby boomers had grown up in. The park appealed to adults nostalgically before they’d ever seen it. It was positivity and reality suspended in a most artful way. The architecture, music, and message all pointed at a grander tomorrow and promised it was right around the corner. It wasn’t a think tank for ideas or solutions to problems. It was just a warm arm that seemed to imply that great things were already in the works and the children of this generation would inherit technological and social paradise. Epcot actively chose to ignore the negative. There was an implied hope for the future but without any real plans to get there. It felt good and that was good enough.