This past week I’ve spent time side by side in two of the most iconic American places (can’t really call them cities) in the world. And for the first time ever, I visited them by myself, which I must admit wasn’t the best option but it did let me appreciate more of my surroundings, the cities, the attractions and the people that inhabit them. To the rest of the world, these places are the definition of America. Usually you don’t get any praise to “All-American” things from non-americans. But I would like to talk about a very specific kind of art that is native in the US and I am not sure if it is treated like that amongst art historians, but we can’t ignore the what I decided to call the Art of Environment Entertainment. We cannot simply ignore how brilliant and highly creative close to genius these places are.
I will start with Disneyland, being I think the first place on earth to portray such art so specifically. Throughout the years there are many things I’ve heard about the story of Disneyland. And it doesn’t take much research to confirm it. One of the most important ones is the one that Disney had the dream that once you crossed the tunnel under the railroad you should feel transported to a different time, then a different reality. A plaque reads “Here is where you leave today and arrive in the land of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy”. To craft to such full extension a whole habitable environment is surely a piece of art. Yes its all fake, but that is what makes it so specifically artistic, it has a purpose, a message and a for of aesthetics to follow, and that my friends is for many the definition of art.
Its taking a fairly old concept as a park with rides but extend those experiences beyond the coasters themselves. Take SpaceMountain for example. It is a roller coaster with bobsleds as many other being built at the time (mid-70´s), however the idea to put it inside a sound studio totally blocked from daylight and enhanced with sound effects, lights and decoration. Not only that, while you are in line to ride the roller coaster you are surrounded by fake intergalactic props (an
d lots of air conditioning) to amaze you and put your brain to work. You can travel from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, to Mainstreet USA and all things you probably already know.
The other one is Vegas. This place I think it has a different path to achieve the same result, given it wasn’t set to start as this mentioned-earlier-by-me Art of Environment Entertainment. Vegas started as a regular Casino village (different to Disneyland that didn’t start as a regular theme park). But with its growth the latest Casinos and tendencies are to build different environments within the different casinos: New York, Paris, Venetian, Excalibur, Luxor, they all reflect the big apple, the french lifestyle (or at least from an american point of view), the italians, medieval times, the egiptians, etc.
I have heard many people (specially the Europeans) that hate this kind of “architecture” because it is not real, it is fake, its made of plastic and foam. But my whole point of this post is to express that even though that is true, we cannot deny the genius behind it. It is set design blown up to extraordinary proportions, and no country beats the US in doing that. We usually criticize America for its consumerism, and we know there are plenty of down points with that, but we need to appreciate also some good results of it, like this kind of art that it never seizes to amaze me and makes me come back to enjoy it over and over again.