So if I told you someone was using century-old hand-crafted artisanal methods to adapt traditional folk tales into a quaintly obsolete art form from the American Golden Age that would sound like the most twee, precious, non-normie thing ever and I just described Disney animation.
Disney’s pretty weird like that. Like, take the parks. They’re combinations of Coney Island and World’s Fairs with this undisguisable midcentury earnestness. These are places that get seriously psyched about the potential of noveltransitmodalities.
And the theming - “Let’s look forward to the wonderful future of space exploration, celebrate our roots in farm towns and the frontier west, AND enjoy the exotic charm of the South Pacific and Old Dixie!”
THERE IS A PAGEANT WHERE ROBOTS PAY TRIBUTE TO EXECUTIVE-DRIVEN WHIG HISTORY.
Oh. Oh. And. “The rides aren’t very thrilling, but your kids will love the chance to explore the worlds of all their favorite authors - A.A. Milne, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, Mark Twain, AND Lewis Carroll - while you’ll marvel at the exquisite background design.”
(Sun-dappled Edwardian neoteny and obsessive set decoration. Wes Anderson makes movies like Walt Disney made parks.)
And we’d recognize this all as a weird thing to exist in 2015 if we weren’t just used to it as the background noise of America. Like, I don’t really watch TV so I don’t see commercials much these days.
Oh man, they’re a trip in their own right if you’ve stopped taking them for granted. Like, “oh hey, for the next 30 seconds some of our best artists are going to use all their techniques and leverage all your emotions and desires and every social value in a masterful, unapologetic, and unforgettable bid for you to give us money, and then everyone will move on and no one will acknowledge this even happened.”
But the Disney World commercials in particular - you notice they don’t really make a case for going to Disney World, or even really explain what Disney World is. Because they’re not pitching Disney World, they’re reminding you of Disney World. It’s not “hey, Disney World is a thing you could go to”, it’s “hey, maybe it’s time for this generation’s pilgrimage”.
Disney’s weird. It’s kind of a company, but it’s also of custodian of some of the cultic functions of American culture, something like the priestly colleges of ancient Rome.
Like, they maintain sites of pilgrimage. I’m not saying that as a joke. Back of the envelope calculation, Americans go to Disney parks at a rate 7 times higher than Muslims go to Mecca. (The line between “tourist trap” and “religious site” has always been thin.)
And they’re custodians of the national narrative. Like I’ve said, they pitch “continuity with midcentury small town and earlier frontier culture” as a fundamental, almost taken-for-granted aspect of Americanness with a confidence and charm you don’t often see these days. And I mean, hell, the Disney animated canon itself basically is to America what Grimm’s was to Germany.
And as custodians, they curate that narrative - like, we joke about “you know your identity group’s made it in America when you get your own Disney princess”, and laugh at the people reediting Disney character designs to look like their specific subgroup, but that only works because it’s fucking true, your identity group’s made it in America when you get your own Disney princess. I’ve worked with Disney Channel casting, and they mix ethnicities with the same care, precision, and scale that Pfizer mixes drugs.
And that robot pageant, the Hall of Presidents? Look at this history. It started out in the ‘70s as a celebration of consensus history and popular triumph, with character actors playing great men and Civil War tensions understood as a challenge to national unity. In 1993 it was reworked by Eric Foner to be narrated by Maya Angelou, use “regular people” unknowns to portray more vulnerable takes on historic figures and re-frame the Civil War in terms of slavery as a moral challenge. In 2009 they redid it again, mostly keeping the changes but bringing back some of the old Hollywood charm and putting Morgan Freeman as the voice of civic authority.
And like, as a representation of how America understands itself and its history, correct. That is absolutely, in every way, 100% correct.
(In the other direction, Walt Disney originally wanted to call it “One Nation Under God”, which yikes)
They say American copyright terms keep getting extended under pressure from Disney who wants to keep hold of all their founding properties, I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be less of a corruption of the civic system to just carve out special protections for Disney in recognition of their distinct role in America.
I used to be a lot more libertarian than I am now, and one of their tribal boogiemen, the idea of “Ministry of Culture” - a government that sees the national culture as its domain, to shape as it will, “as it will” meaning as it always does with governments “through the instrument of bureaucracy” - that still rankles.
But what’s the alternative, though? You think about it and you realize it’s this - the national mythos rests in the hands of a publicly traded corporation.
(And then you maybe start to appreciate WHY having your king as the head of your church once made sense as a symbol of liberty and self-determination.)
You are only supposed to visit Mecca once in your lifetime. So this is probably just a tongue in cheek way of saying that they found some statistic that found that people in the US visit a Disney park an average of 7 times in their lifetime.
@duerig If you click through the "has always been thin" link, the statistic is that 10% of Muslims make hajj at least once in their lives whereas 70% of Americans visit at least one Disney park at least once in their lives. As anecdata this is fine, but it needs controls for all _sorts_ of things to be more than that.
I’ve always loved the visitor maps you get when you visit a national park. I’ve got little stashes of them tucked into the seat back pockets of my car and hidden away in closets. I can never bring myself to toss the maps when I get home from a trip. With their combination of photos, maps and text they bring back memories of where I’ve been and inspire me to think of adventures still waiting to be had.
Tom Patterson is one of the people who makes those maps. He’s visited more than 100 national parks, including some of the most far-flung and least visited. As a senior cartographer for the National Park Service, it’s Patterson’s job to make sure the maps visitors see at U.S. national parks, monuments, battlefields, and other sites are up to date and easy to use, even for people who aren’t cartographically inclined.
“We design our maps for a broad cross section of humanity,” Patterson says. “We believe very strongly that to get park visitors to look at a map, the first thing it has to be is pretty.” He and his colleagues try to design maps that draw people in with their good looks and keep them looking long enough to absorb some of the information they need to need to make the most of their visit—the location of trails, viewpoints, lodging, and so on.
National Park visitor maps have a certain look that makes them easy to recognize. That’s very much by design (and we’ll get to how it’s done), but it wasn’t always so.
Before World War II, most visitors arrived by train, Patterson says. Most of the maps in those days were made not by the park service but by railroad companies hoping to inspire people to take the trip. The latter half of the 20th century saw the rise of the automobile, and road maps became increasingly common. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Park Service began to standardize park visitor maps and give them a more uniform appearance. “Up to that point, there was a whole hodgepodge of different styles,” Patterson says.
You can see a pictorial history of National Park visitor maps in the gallery at the bottom of this post—it’s a compilation of vintage park maps photographed by Nancy Haack, a (now retired) Park Service cartographer.
In 1977, the park service hired Massimo Vignelli, the graphic designer who created the iconic map and signage for the New York City subway system, and charged him with creating a more consistent style for the park system’s maps and other publications.
One design element Vignelli introduced is the bold black title band you can see on nearly all park service publications. “It’s become more or less part of the identity of the entire National Park Service,” Patterson says.
The band is part of the “unigrid,” another of Vignelli’s innovations, still in use today. This grid guides the layout of every map, but it’s invisible in the final product (you can see it overlaid on the map of Theodore Roosevelt National Park above). “The maps look very organic butthere is this hidden grid dictating the placement of photographs, text and maps,” Patterson says.
Another feature that distinguishes park service maps is their use of shaded relief to give the maps a 3-dimensional look. This method—using shading to simulate the shadows cast by hills and other features of the terrain—is Patterson’s specialty. He’s invented several techniques for doing shaded relief and even writes a blog about it.
The Park Service prefers shaded relief to contour lines, another way to portray 3D features of the terrain on a flat map. Each line follows a certain elevation—200 feet above sea level, for example. But the lines add “graphical noise” to a map, Patterson says, and many people don’t know how to use them. “Frankly, they look technical and not inviting.” (That said, if you’re hiking off into the backcountry, you will definitely want a topographic map—the visitor maps are just for basic planning).
Many other features of the visitor maps have been standardized as well, from the text (the house font of the National Park Service, and the only one to appear on its maps, is the clean-looking and highly legible Frutiger), to the symbols. There are currently 229 symbols used on Park Service maps to indicate everything from parking lots and campgrounds to various hazards that visitors might encounter.
Most of the symbols are easily recognizable, even if some are a bit anachronistic. Like the boombox. And the tent. “I haven’t seen a tent that looks like that in quite some time,” Patterson says. “It looks like something from World War I.”
Sometimes a park will request a new symbol that tests the cartographers’ creativity, such as a symbol to indicate a zebra mussel decontamination station. Parks have these checkpoints to stop the spread of this invasive species. But Patterson says he couldn’t think of a good symbol for it, especially given the 3.5-millimeter size at which it would appear on a brochure. “Finally I just gave up and put a big Z in there,” he says.
Patterson is always experimenting with ways to make the maps more usable for people who aren’t very experienced at using maps. For some parks, he’s used natural colors from satellite photos so that the colors people see on the map match up with the terrain they see in front of them.
He and colleagues also use aerial photos to make detailed maps of historical sites. For the map of Fort Stanwix National Monument in upstate New York (see below) they hired a helicopter to photograph the site. It cost about $1,200 to hire the helicopter, Patterson says, but it probably saved $20,000 to $30,000 compared to the cost of drawing everything from scratch.
More detail isn’t always better, though. Certain things don’t appear on parks’ visitor maps, including employee housing and parking areas, sensitive habitats, and some archaeological sites. The act of Congress that created the National Park Service 100 years ago specified that the service conserve the natural and historical resources of the parks as well as provide for the enjoyment of them.
Making maps that help fulfill that mission is a never-ending process, especially given the diversity of the parks’ visitors—more than 300 million of them each year—and the diversity of the parks themselves. The Park Service administers 411 units from Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska to the National Park of American Samoa, south of the equator. Every map is custom made, Patterson says. “One-size-fits-all design doesn’t apply.”
In five years time Facebook "will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video," said Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up Facebook's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at a conference in London this morning. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, has already noted that video will be more and more important for the platform. But Mendelsohn went further, suggesting that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech.
"The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video," Mendelsohn said. "It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information."
Maybe this is coming from deep within the literacy bubble,
text is surprisingly resilient. It's cheap, it's flexible, it's discreet. Human brains process it absurdly well considering there's nothing really built-in for it. Plenty of people can deal with text better than they can spoken language, whether as a matter of preference or necessity. And it's endlessly computable -- you can search it, code it, use it to do other things.
In short, all of the same technological advances that enable more and more video, audio, and immersive VR entertainment also enable more and more text. We will see more of all of them as the technological bottlenecks open up.
And text itself will get weirder, its properties less distinct, as it reflects new assumptions and possibilities borrowed from other text and media. It already has!
But nothing has proved as invincible as writing and literacy, because it is just so malleable.