Disney/Disnature and the End of the Organic
When Italian philosopher Umberto Eco travelled the United States in the 1970s, he visited two versions of New Orleans. One constructed over hundreds of years by white colonists and black slaves. The other constructed in a few months by Walt Disney Imagineers. Part of the entertainment landscape of California’s Disneyland, the hyperreal, cartoonised New Orleans impressed Eco far more than the authentic, historic city of the South. Seeing animatronic alligators on the Disney Mississippi but no live specimens near New Orleans, Eco imparted: ‘Disneyland tells us that technology can give us more reality than nature can’.1
Americans have always manipulated and simulated nature. Even national parks, venerated ‘wilderness landscapes’, amounted to spectacularly constructed nature experiences in the early 1900s, marked by predator-control campaigns, superabundant prey numbers and elaborate tourist provisions. Historic simulations of nature include Carl Hagenbeck’s zoo dioramas of the 1890s and ‘nature faker’ fiction by William J. Long and Ernest Thompson Seton, authors who granted their fictive animals decidedly human characteristics.
In the late twentieth century, the scale of this simulation shifted a gear. Scientists played with life on a fundamental level. Genetic engineering produced modified crops and Dolly the Sheep. In selfcontained laboratories, white-coated researchers tampered with the building blocks of the world outside. Divorced from any tangible link with the great outdoors, computer technology created cyborgs,