Some random observations from my recent trip to Orlando:
Some may call Wal-Mart a monument to crass consumerism, but Orlando is the ultimate paean to Capitalism. It is Adam Smith's magnum opus. There, visitors from the far corners of the Earth descend to partake in the best (and worst) of Americana. The socialist New Internationalist has decried the "Disneyfication" of the world for many of the same reasons that critics have attacked Wal-Mart. I guess that's why I liked it so much. It's certainly better than the monastic, sustainable, organic, collectivist, Luddite Utopia proposed by the left.
Without question, the theme parks in Orlando are schlocky, artificial, and most of all, corporate, despite a generous heaping of more environmentalist propaganda than a Hollywood premiere of An Inconvenient Truth. But they are also a tremendous amount of fun, which is why people come from all over the globe to visit and spend money. And spend money you do. It costs some $3.00 in tolls each time you go back and forth to the airport. Everything costs twice as much as normal. More than anything else though, Orlando demonstrated to me how much more discretionary income families have, not just in America, but around the world. That's a good thing.
I was struck, as I have been previously at the Pentagon and the Wal-Mart Home Office, by how very non-high-tech the Kennedy Space Center is. A few buildings have been added since the Apollo years, but not many. As the tour bus driver explained, NASA comprised 16% of the U.S. budget in the Sixties. Now it's only 7/10 of 1%. It shows. There's a lot of rust and peeling paint. I have newfound respect for the guts of the shuttle astronauts, who face a nearly 2% chance of death on every flight, based on the Challenger and Columbia accidents.
We have definitely become the Stimulation Nation. As a child, I used to go to Florida frequently on vacation. I went to Walt Disney World the first year it opened. Things have definitely changed. Places like Silver Springs, where the main attraction was glass-bottomed boats to gaze at the fish in the crystal clear lake, now seem hopelessly quaint. Today, theme parks feel the need to entertain even as you wait in line for rides. Live shows are multimedia productions that rival Las Vegas or Broadway. Even on our flight back home, I had a chance to experience the new seat back entertainment system. In addition to a wide selection of movies, there were a couple dozen TV channels piped in live from Dish Network, music, flight tracking info, and games, including an onboard participatory trivia game. Our flight was delayed 50 minutes in order to fix an audio component of the system. Lest you think I am condemning all this, I am a member of Generation ADHD and was eagerly channel surfing, building my own music playlist and establishing my dominance as undefeated trivia champion of Delta Flight 574, until the newly-minted Dr. Forbes popped in and gave me my comeuppance. Plus, it made the 5 hour flight from Atlanta to Seattle go by much more quickly.