Main Street, USA

We went to Disney World last week— that’s the big one with four parks in Florida, not two smallish ones in California. Almost everyone gets into the park and then walks up Main Street USA.

I suppose Main Street is intended as a throwback to the last turn of the century, when the cultural center of the American psyche was Main Street, a broad, leaf-lined, pedestrian-friendly old-timey thoroughfare. Of course Disney’s Main Street is hardly any of those, except perhaps pedestrian-friendly. It’s also filled with hordes of people, nearly all of whom are playing tourist, and thus dressed in tourist-wear. That’s not something you get in a typical Main Street, even in a tourist town.

It’s also a great example of the hypperreal. This, from wikipedia: “Most aspects of hyperreality can be thought of as ‘reality by proxy.’ For example, a viewer watching pornography begins to live in the non-existent world of the pornography, and even though pornography is not an accurate depiction of sex, for the viewer, the reality of “sex” becomes something non-existent.”

So, Main Street is only a halfhearted nod to an actual Main Street, since (as it’s lined with nothing but Disney shops) was never meant to faithfully recreate a Victorian-era boulevard. And there’s the not-so-small matter of the castle that’s looming at the end. Which kind of queers the effect.

Besides, the quintessential experience of American urban life isn’t even represented here: the car. I’d say that if you were going to to represent a modern Main Street USA, it would have to include two things:

A big box store, and

A strip mall. In Disney’s antiseptic, conservative (i.e., hearkening back to an earlier, “more innocent” time), there are no cars. Or for that matter, Wal-Marts or chain stores.

But there are shops. Of course there are shops! On one side of the street is an emporium. One storefront says as much, but if you wander in, you’ll notice that the store runs parallel to the street, and stretches for almost as long, with the building facade creating the illusion of small mom-and-pop stores. And this is entirely appropriate, since what do we have as the hypperreal modern equivalent of Main Street USA?

The shopping mall. In other words, the ideal version of America doesn’t have cars (take that, Detroit and Big Oil!), but it is something we’re supposed to eat and shop.


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