The Book Club

The Uses of Adversity

Ah, Witold,

You are a gentleman, and have generously let me get away with a couple of whoppers, which I must address before we get started on this next round. In my zeal to defend our Andrew Ross, I’ve given myself the necessity of defending Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins–from myself. One of the only luxuries of traditional long-form prose is the chance to read over in the morning what one thought brilliant at 3 a.m. and chuck it. But now we have the Send key, that great enabler of the slipshod thought, and verily I have not mastered the button, because as soon as the coffee kicked in this morning, I cringed at what I saw. For anyone misled by my first garbled posting (quickly corrected), Frantz and Collins did interview Eisner and Stern, and if their conversation did not widen to encompass the far corners of the solar system then that is no affront to their book, which is subtitled, after all, “Living in Disney’s Brave New Town,” and not “Theorizing About Creation in Its Enormity!”

But my notes also remind me that Frantz and Collins have themselves leapt the White Vinyl Fence when they felt the urge, and have, for instance, documented elegantly the plight of Disney workers unable to afford Celebration, who must rely on impact fees to help with their mortgages. Mea dammit culpa. It is said it is the luxury of the Internet that what the Send key giveth, the Send key can taketh away, but I still regret the error, especially in a missive declaring the requirement to respect the literary endeavor.

The chapters on the schools in both these books fascinated me, especially insofar as the schools, though technically under the aegis of Osceola County, Fla., were such centerpieces of Disney’s design and Disney’s pitch. In fact, Disney considered Celebration a campus before it considered it a town, at one point planning to situate the Disney Institute there. Also, Disney may be a hard-core, bottom-line business with a wealth of real estate and construction experience, but because the company has been an entertainment medium for so many generations of children, and been that before all else, I believe the Disney fathers would locate the company’s heart closer to education than town building. The school should conceivably have been the town’s one ironclad asset.

And in a curious way, it has turned out to be just that. The question that in a real way motivates both Celebration, U.S.A. and The Celebration Chronicles is this: How does an idealized place built by a dream factory and marketed as a utopia become real? The Celebration Company planners wanted their artificial creation to rise up off the gurney, but didn’t know what kind of lightning bolt might galvanize their Frankenstein. Frantz and Collins recount Celebration’s efforts to create “new traditions” through Disney-sponsored sock hops, pumpkin carvings, parades, and crafts fairs. But in the long run, what has worked best is what the company could not at all provide, except inadvertently: conflict and difficulty. You ask if the Celebration’s first committed crime was a setback or a victory, and your point is well taken. Were I deputized by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office to look into the matter, my primary suspect would be some Disney “cast member” in a company-supplied burglar’s mask, so deftly did the crime advance the town’s necessary maturation. The school kerfuffle did the same. Ross reports, “Celebrationites encountered obstacles to happiness that compelled them to forge community bonds … The strong community its creators had hoped for would come into being as much in response to adversity as to the conveniences and advantages built in the town’s design.”

It’s an encouraging irony that a creation as poster-pretty and perfectly controlled as Celebration would be sparked into real vitality by the inevitability of a little discord, and that error would favor it so. (Would that the errors of reviewers shone so well to their credit.)