Muse #2: The Question of Main Street, U.S.A.

“Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century—the crossroads of an era. The gas lamp and the electric lamp—the horse-drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone’s hometown—the heartline of America.”

~Walt Disney

Main Street, U.S.A., stands first in far more ways than one. Relative to the rest of the themed lands at Disney World, it represents the first stage of Walt’s life, as it is based on his boyhood town of Marceline, Missouri, in the early 1900s. Main Street is the first land guests walk in when they arrive at the Magic Kingdom. It also represents the first thing people think of when they think of America—a land of song and opportunity and of unbridled patriotism, as demonstrated by all the flags that never see retreat ceremonies (don’t worry; they pull it off respectfully). It’s literally meant to be the Fourth of July every day!

What has fascinated me recently about Main Street, though, is the entrance. Magic Kingdom employs a great deal of anticipation-building, as Walt intended. No one simply walks to the park from the parking lot. Typically, one takes a tram to the Ticket and Transportation Center, where you (surprise, surprise) purchase tickets. From there, you take either a tram or a ferry. Then, when you disembark, you wait in a long line to scan your fingerprint and present your ticket to enter the park. The whole process certainly feels like it’s more than enough cause for impatience—but the impatience prepares you for a beautiful storytelling device.

Just as Walt mentioned how the “horse-drawn car” and the “auto car” merge in Main Street, so the level of involvement one expects from a typical theme park versus the undeniably immersive storytelling blend together. As reporter Savannah Sanders notes, “Much like a theater, guests enter under the train station passing by posters previewing the park’s ‘shows’ and are immediately greeted by the smell of popcorn and red pavement as their red carpet. The famous windows on the Main Street buildings credit the Imagineers and those who helped bring the park to life, just like how old movies showed the credits before the film began.”

However, the actual land does everything except encourage you to be a consumer that sits on the sidelines. The red carpet and show posters at the entrance do display the level of service that cast members (Disney employees) should strive for, but they also imply that you are meant to simply watch whatever happens inside. Once you step inside, though, a barbershop quartet and pianist help melodies float into the air alongside trolleys carrying people back and forth and everyday people from the era greeting you and inviting you to take pictures with them in a charmingly old-fashioned manner. It’s as if Walt is saying, “Yes, I am doing something similar to movie-making—but I want to help you more tangibly interact with wonder. It’s up to you to choose.”

Similarly, you can choose to watch a good story without much involvement or care, and you would very likely get very little in return. Or, you can experiment and pursue wonder in the truth that beauty is, indeed, our ultimate reality. You can soak in the complexities and use them to examine the world around you, or you can pursue a life with little deep contemplation.

Main Street, is, above all, an invitation to reimagine the possibilities of beauty. And I don’t know about you, but in an age where the very America portrayed in Main Street is dying a brutal death, we need reminders that God originally designed life to be beautiful, that He will restore it again.

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