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Seeing double: Disney's Wilderness Lodge

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Wilderness Lodge is a hotel in Walt Disney World. It is a simulation of a historic national park lodge (based, in particular, on Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone). The hotel has been attacked as a 'simulacrum', which turns nature into a spectacle for our consumption. In their detailed analysis of the lodge, Eric Higgs and Jennifer Cypher condemn it as a copy with no 'true origin', a bricolage, which cobbles together elements from different sources. But the historic national park lodges were themselves a bricolage of different styles. Old Faithful Inn is designed as a 'temple to nature'; it too could be called a simulacrum, as 'real' (or as 'fake') as Wilderness Lodge. Higgs and Cypher argue that Disney is changing what we think about nature and reality itself. They draw in particular on the theories of Albert Borgmann, who argues that 'mediated' (artificial) experiences of nature can never be as satisfying as 'the real thing'. Borgmann, however, constructs his own image or simulacrum of nature and wilderness, as pristine and 'wholly other than technological civilization'. He ignores both the fact that the wilderness has been shaped over centuries by the 'human hand' and the way that our perception of 'nature' is always/already mediated. He evokes the idea of a 'simple life' close to nature, but this idea is based less in 'reality', than in the archetypal image of 'pioneer life' on the North American frontier. The Disney simulacrum does not, as Cypher and Higgs claim, present us with a false image of reality. Rather, it presents image as image. We are invited to play along with a 'game of reality', and imagine that we are living the 'simple life' close to nature. In this way, it exposes the idea of nature as 'the real thing' as, itself, a fantasy.
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Keywords: Baudrillard; Borgmann; Disney; Wilderness Lodge; nature; simulacrum; wilderness

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Midland Actors Theatre

Publication date: 2012-07-31

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