The Spirit of (Simulated) Place: Travel, Art, and the Theme-Park Aesthetic
The appeal of simulated environments such as Disneyland and Las Vegas has been a major point of inquiry in postmodern theory. These simulated places offer visitors a comforting experience that conforms to their desires and promises escape from the fallen state of society and the self. They offer tourists something that is better than the real, more exciting and beautiful and less disturbing and ambivalent. Like all forms of the spectacular, these pseudo-places don’t just reproduce reality, they improve upon it, making the “absolute fake” — to use Umberto Ecco’s term — more appealing than the original so that eventually people no longer feel the need to experience the real thing.
Ultimately, the origins of this way of seeing is in Hollywood and the movies — where the technological power of the proliferating image suggests a virtual triumph over time and death, where history and culture are picked over and packaged in reassuring forms and the image alone is victorious. British writers and travellers who went to Hollywood in the early decades of the twentieth century presaged that Western art and culture would not be able to withstand the assault of the Hollywood aesthetic and that traditional ideas of history, meaning, and identity would be buried under the collapse of the boundary between reality and illusion.
Beginning with various writers’ responses to the pastiche of European art re-created through film and places like Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood and tracing that phenomenon through EuroDisney, Ceasarland, and the recent Italian Government Tourist Board’s advertising campaign enticing tourists to Italy in order to “live the best movie of your life,” this paper will explore the ways the simulacrum has affected attitudes toward travel and art, and, specifically, how Italy has come to see and market itself.
Keywords: Travel, National Identity, Postmodernity
Dr. Lisa Colletta
Associate Professor of English, Department of Communication and English, The American University of Rome