“When you grow up in America you are inculcated from the earliest age that America is the richest and most powerful nation on earth because God likes us best. It has the most perfect form of government, the most exciting sporting events, the tastiest food and the amplest portions, the largest cars, the most abundant natural resources, the most productive farms and the friendliest, most decent and most patriotic folk on earth” – Bill Bryson, ‘The Lost Continent’
Some time ago I wrote a post about a visit to Florida and a day at Walt Disney Epcot and an hour or two in the World Showcase. I called it “Around the World in Eighty Minutes” and I took a look at the eleven countries represented there – USA, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Norway, France and Morocco.
In the course of writing, dragging up memories and doing some research I started to think more deeply about World Showcase and became intrigued by the rationale behind the concept, design and construction and in particular the reasons why these eleven countries in particular were chosen for inclusion in the park.
This is partly explained by the fact that at the time of construction the Walt Disney Corporation was at a watershed moment. Walt Disney had recently died and with him passed the inspirational concept of the whole park. The accountants had taken over and with mounting costs of construction and seriously strapped for cash, tried to find sponsors for the showcased countries and failed in all but one attempt – Morocco.
The bottom line is that selection and inclusion was based on simple economics.
This also explains why some of the Pavilions are so disappointing, the absence of rides and attractions and the over reliance on shops and restaurants all designed to get visitors to part with their money.
But the failure to attract government sponsorship or private sector investment still leaves us with almost a dozen countries and no explanation why these eleven so I have been giving the matter some thought and whilst at first the inclusion appears to be rather random I think there is a credible reason for almost all of them.
The United States is of course obvious and requires no explanation for its inclusion or for the fact that it occupies the prime position on the World Showcase Lagoon and is the biggest and the most lavish and expensive of all the Pavilions.
Canada and Mexico are also easily explained. It would be rude I suppose not to have your nearest neighbours ( it would be like EPCOT World Showcase in England without Wales and Scotland) but there are some important statistics that reveal that it is not just about being neighbourly.
In terms of tourism by international visitors these two countries make up over half of all travellers visiting the United States and according to official data Canada with almost twenty-three million visitors provided 33% of all international visitors and Mexico with seventeen and a half million contributed 24%. Way behind in third place was United Kingdom with only 5%.
The inclusion of Mexico is even more easily explained by looking at population statistics that reveal that the second highest number of foreign born residents in the United States (by a very long way) is Mexican.
It is easy to see therefore that the inclusion of these two countries makes obvious commercial sense. Strange however, and this is just a personal view, that the two Pavilions provide the contrast between the best (Mexico) and one of the worst (Canada).
And so we move on to Europe with five of the eleven Pavilions coming from the second smallest continent – but why these five? Why not Spain or Greece, Poland or Sweden and once again I am rather easily convinced that it is based on US ethnic heritage and visitor numbers.
In terms of ancestry the top ten European nationalities (in this order) are Germany, Ireland, England, Italy, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Sweden. Germany (at 17%) genuinely surprised me and explained immediately why it is at World Showcase but (at almost 11%) why no Ireland? Why Norway and not Sweden? I suppose Poland, at the time of construction, was part of the Warsaw Pact alliance and that might have ruled it out but why not Holland because surely all of those windmills and canals would have made a great attraction.
Visitor numbers also explain why these countries are here because four of the five (but not Norway) are in the top ten of international visitors to the United States.
Japan and China must surely also be explained by visitor numbers. After Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom Japan contributes the fourth most visitors to the United States and China is also firmly in the top ten. Conversely, in the top ten but not represented at EPCOT are Brazil, India and Australia.
Of all the countries at the EPCOT World Showcase I suppose the easiest to explain is Morocco and this is in part due to the fact that the Pavilion was the only one in which the country’s government aided in the construction and they did this so that they could retain some measure of Islamist control over the design of the mosaics and to ensure that everything was as authentic as possible in the representation of the Muslim faith. So authentic in fact that there is a story that it was deliberately constructed with deliberate errors because Muslims believe that only God is perfect (might be true, might not).
So who is missing? Well, there is nothing from South America but the United Kingdom itself provides more visitors to the USA than the whole of Latin America combined so perhaps there is a clue there? Apart from state funded Morocco there is nothing from Africa which might be considered surprising when 13% of the US population are of African descent but (and here is the crucial commercial factor) visitor numbers from the African continent are the smallest of all at only three hundred and twenty-seven thousand in 2014.
There is a small African Trading Post and Disney excuses the omission by pointing out that there is an entire African themed park at the nearby Animal Kingdom.
Finally, I have been giving some consideration to an alternative World Showcase and here are my suggestions:
First, Australia with an IMAX film narrated by Mel Gibson and Kylie Minogue and a ride based on the theme of the World’s deadliest snakes.
Then Russia because now the Cold War is ended there must surely be space for Red Square and the Kremlin and a Moscow Metro ride.
Next, Brazil, with a ride based on the Rio Carnival and then Peru because Machu Picchu would be a good replacement for the Mexico Aztec pyramid.
After that, Egypt with a Nile Cruise ride; India and a train journey ride to visit the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple of Amritsar and perhaps Equatorial Africa, which was once suggested but abandoned.
And from Europe: Greece with a visit to Mount Olympus to meet the mythical gods in an animatronic show, each one popping up in turn to introduce themselves; Spain and the legend of El Cid and the Conquistadors and the Netherlands with a cruise of the Amsterdam canals (leaving out the red light district as not being entirely appropriate for children).
And finally, wouldn’t it be fun to include the World’s smallest sovereign state – The Vatican where Disney cast members would be dressed as priests and nuns and with a roller coaster ride around St Peter’s Basilica!
Whoops, Sorry, I nearly forgot Ireland, lets have twelve countries (it’s my list and my rules) and let’s have a visit to the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway (sponsored by Guinness).
Please let me know your suggestions, I would be interested in your suggestions…