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Exit ArchiveArchive for November 21st, 2004

We had a friend of Jeff’s over for dinner tonight, a guy in his late 40s who incited some fascinating and inconclusive conversation. So, I pose to you, the readers of the illustrious and world-renowned Wren Forum, the same questions we pondered while dining on ham, sweet potatoes and homemade (yes, homemade — in this home by these hands) apple pie.

We started by talking about Disney, not surprisingly, and Jim (Jeff’s friend) asked what I thought about the state of the company. (As an aside, it’s amazing to me that for a company that is doing well financially, even people who don’t follow it closely sense there’s something still wrong there.) I said that I thought the company had lost its way and that when Walt Disney died, it was on the brink of becoming, in many ways, the first “new-technology” company. Disney invested all of the profits from movies, TV shows and theme parks into things like the PeopleMover and the Monorail and Imagineering, and was always looking for third-party companies whose technology showed promise for the future. He was fascinated by “the future.”

That got us talking about how in the 1950s, ’60s and even through the ’70s and ’80s, Americans still had a sense of awe and excitement. Whether it was the Iran hostages or the wonders of space flight or the Challenger’s accident or “Who Shot J.R.?” or the mysteries of the “atomic age,” we had a “collective conscious” that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

We seem to have lost the ability to be fascinated by things, to be excited about the future, to celebrate ourselves (think of the 1984 Olympics). Maybe, we said, that is a positive sign — it means we’re not engaging in “group think” and that we are individuals who just happen to be together rather than a collective society that just happens to be made up of individuals. After all, the argument went, there was perhaps too much homogeneity when everyone watched the same TV shows, bought the same cars and relied on the same companies.

On the other hand … there’s something lost when our society no longer has a collective goal — whether it’s getting man on the moon or freeing the Iranian hostages or getting ourselves out of an energy crisis or all going to Disneyland. For all we talk about movies being “blockbusters,” for instance, “Titanic” proved that a $600 million gross is only the low end of what could be possible if a film seized the popular consciousness.

We began wondering if our society is better or worse off for not having the ability to be awed by concepts. Remember World’s Fairs, for instance? They were held to showcase all of the marvelous things and people that we had yet to discover and explore. (The 1970s concept of EPCOT Center was, you’ll recall, a “permanent world’s fair” — and perhaps the reason Epcot today suffers as a theme park is that we’re not able to get the masses properly excited about our place in the world and the prospects of the future.)

I began wondering if the election was a sign of exactly this problem (if it actually is a problem) — we’re so fractionalized, so marginalized, so divided, that there is no commonality anymore. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is something we weren’t able to conclude …