May 9, 2012

Tomorrow is Stark's Today

I wrote the following as a post on MiceChat over a year ago (Apr 19, 2011) when the rumor that the Stark Expo would be coming to Disneyland was fresh. Given the huge success of the Avengers over the past two weeks - $744 million so far - it was only a matter of time before Disney announced plans for putting Marvel things in the parks. I'll bet there were quite a lot of phone calls between executives and teams all over the Disney company over the weekend. Indeed, yesterday, CEO Robert Iger announced that a sequel is being planned and made mention that Avengers based attractions are being worked on for the parks. In light of that news I thought it would be good to post this again. At the time I was writing specifically about the Stark Expo, but the sentiments are applicable to all of the Avengers.

Why the Stark Expo Belongs in Tomorrowland
The more I think about this, the more it makes real and actual sense... and I'm talking "Walt" sense here.
"A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man's achievements... A step into the future with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure, and ideals, the atomic age, the challenge of outer space and the hope for a peaceful and unified world."
~Tomorrowland Dedication Speech
"Now it is time for a preview of the world of tomorrow. We step into the future and find fantastic atomic-powered machines working for us. The world is unified and peaceful, outer space is the New Frontier. We walk for a time among the strange mechanical wonders of tomorrow, and then blast off on a Rocket to the Moon."
~Walt Disney, 1958 Audio Tour of Disneyland
At first glance, some of this stuff may sound antiquated and old, but in all reality, we're not really there with most of it. Sure, we have nuclear power plants, but I would hardly call this the "atomic age" as many people are afraid of nuclear power and there are plenty of not so peaceful uses for it. Our use of atomic energy is not very mature and there is a lot of room for growth and development to a point where our devices are atomic powered.

The world is far from unified or peaceful; and though since 1958 we have made some pretty amazing progress towards that goal we are far from fully achieving it. We're still Europeans, and Americans, and etc... rather than Humanity. Idealistic? Maybe, but that was Walt's stated and intended purpose for Tomorrowland. "New frontiers in science, adventure, and ideals" are the exact words he used. I don't think he meant anything like a Utopian Society, but one in which we all at least get along and have worked out the issues between us. That is an attainable goal and one that would have far ranging benefits for everyone.

The challenge of outer space has also not really been met either. Yup, man has walked on the Moon. Of the billions of people who have lived on this Earth, of the nearly 7 billion currently living, only 24 have ever set foot on the moon. I would hardly consider that meeting the challenge of outer space. That's a brave first step, after which we fell down and crawled around on the floor for the next 40 years. In ten years we went from no space program at all, to walking on the Moon. In the 4 decades since then, we haven't left low Earth orbit. It's like we stepped out into the darkness and were frightened by what we saw and now we won't leave the warm comfort of our own planet. Since when has humanity feared things? We are driven by our desire to explore and discover. That is what humanity does best. We look at the impossible and we find ways to make it happen anyway. We see the moon and we decide we want to go there, so we do. We have set foot on a small stone a skip away from the shore. There is a whole ocean out there to explore and we've barely left our sandy little beach. It would be like Columbus, Magellan and de Gama being scared to leave port. They pushed the boundaries of what people thought was possible. They set out into the unknown facing incredible danger and very probably death. Look what they discovered. Whole continents and wondrous new things. We have the same opportunity. The push out into space has incalculable benefits to all of humanity. The technology it takes, the science, the bravery and leadership... all of it benefits us all and ties into the other goals of Tomorrowland: uniting humanity, truly harnessing and using the power of the atom, advancing science, setting out on the grandest adventure human kind can imagine, strengthening our ideals.

Now, what does this have to do with the Stark Expo?
"Stark inventions were first displayed at the World Expo in 1941. In '54, my Father returned to Flushing Meadows, Queens to show off the new tech he used to defeat global tyranny. This was the first ever Stark Expo.
In the decades that followed, my Father invited the world's greatest minds to contribute to the Expo and put to task corporations to create better living for all. When the 1974 Expo closed, we lost that glimpse into humankind's amazing future." ~Excerpt, letter from Tony Stark regarding opening of the 2010 Stark Expo

That sounds remarkably like what Walt wanted for Tomorrowland, doesn't it? Bringing together the best and brightest of humanity to promote peaceful uses of science and technology. To promote our exploration of the frontiers of space, the peaceful uses of atomic power, to shape the future of humanity for the unified and peaceful better living of all people.

Just as the world of Iron Man "lost that glimpse into humankind's amazing future" when the '74 Stark Expoclosed, so to did our world lose that glimpse when Tomorrowland lost its direction.

Tomorrowland's problem has long been one of keeping pace. The future changes so quickly in the short term. You try and predict things out a few years and within months, that has changed. Tomorrowland, since about the mid 70s has stopped dreaming big enough. It became What's-About-to-Happenland. More recently it became In-Stores-Nowland. In order to keep Tomorrowland relevant for quite some time to come, Imagineers must dream big, and then admit that even that isn't big enough. The task they have is to dream crazy, dream insane. They have to push the future out to a point where near term changes in technology won't affect the vision.

They need to portray a world in which we have put aside differences and are working together. It is amazing what we can accomplish when we come together and bring our differing points of view to bear on a problem and compromise to find a solution. The very forces of nature tumble before us when we do. They need to portray a world where we have found ways to solve our energy problems. They need to portray a future where humanity has spread outward from our home planet to conquer our Solar System and maybe even other planetary systems, travelling over vast interstellar spaces.

Just as the fictional character Gustav Tinkerschimidt provides a fictional world in which to build the story of Paradise Pier, the fictional Tony Stark provides an entrance to a place where we can glimpse the fantastic and amazing future of our species.

Science fiction has long been a driving force behind science fact. Many scientists were inspired by Flash Gordon, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. They saw these amazing places and things and wanted to make them real, to discover what was out there. Tomorrowland used to represent this, but in recent years it has become representative of what we ARE doing. Through the fictional world of Tony Stark, it can once again be made to represent our bright future, to inspire adults and young children alike to become the next generation of scientists and leaders.

While Tony Stark may be a comic book character, he resides in a world of science fiction. His character is as flawed as any human. However, as with most comic book heroes, he makes mistakes and learns from them. He grows and attempts to become better. To make right the wrongs he sees in the world around him and leave it a better place than he found it. Comic book heroes are often ordinary people who do extraordinary things because they have to, because they are there at the time and no one else will. These sorts of ideals and drives are represented in Disney (and Pixar) films as well. The hero who makes a mistake and has to rise above themselves to put it right. The one who sacrifices themselves in order to save another. The ordinary doing something extraordinary because they have to.

I think many of the negative comments about this possibility stem from the fear of having Iron Man stomping around Tomorrowland. I don't think Disney would do that. A decade ago this would have been believable. The people in charge now seem to have a much better grasp on brand and how to properly use it. I see the Stark Expo being used as a "world" only. A place in which to set this glimpse of the future of humanity that allows for it to be as fantastical as it is fictional and yet still able to show where our real future may lead us.
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." ~Walt Disney
Tony Stark had the courage to stand up and change the course of his future and by so doing, change the course of many others. His character represents that courage which resides in all of us to change the future and make it better. That courage and joy and enthusiasm within is one of the things Disneyland represents and embodies most strongly. That sense of adventure, exploration, discovery, fantasy, dreams; all of them come together in Disneyland. Nowhere can that be more evident than in Tomorrowland.
"And now, it is an honor to continue the legacy of [dear old Uncle Walt] and re-open the Expo to explore the technological wonders that will enhance lives everywhere. Please join us [...] to experience the exciting world of tomorrow today." ~paraphrased excerpt, letter from Tony Stark regrading opening of the 2010 Stark Expo

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