Disney's Utopia

Disney's Utopia

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To create a perfect society. That was the dream that Walt Disney had in the 1960’s when he dreamt up the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (1). Today, this is better known as Disney’s theme park, EPCOT. In 1995, however, the Disney people established their own town, making another of Walt’s dreams come true. Simply named Celebration, it is located in central Florida. In order to live in the utopian community, there are strict guidelines that each and every citizen must follow, known in the legal world as a “covenant”. Disney’s covenant to live in Celebration is known as Celebration’s Declaration of Covenants. It is an extensive 166-page document that has both its positives and negatives for citizens living in this “perfect” little town.
The covenant signed by the citizens of Celebration has many positives to it. One of them is that it does not allow an established church or government in the town (4). This is a positive because there cannot be a division of the citizens by any type of local politics or religious affiliations. It keeps everyone on an equal level and no one is looked at differently. Another positive that is a direct effect of the covenant is the sense of unity that is found in Celebration, Florida. Certain specifications found in the 166-page Celebration’s Declaration of Covenants include certain shrubs that can be planted in yards, each house is a certain number of feet away from the street, and fences can only be a certain height (1). Other specifications include: the positioning of garden gnomes and birdbaths, and only one campaign poster is allowed during election season and can only be displayed for forty-five days (3). This sense of unity makes people feel equal to everyone else, and allows for people to not worry about physical appearances as they do in the real world.
The layout of the town, which is specified in the covenant, is also something that positively affects the town. Ridding the town of cul-de-sacs and having narrow streets helps to slow down traffic and encourages people to walk to different places (2). Downtown is conveniently located very closely to all of the original houses built in the town (2). This makes the citizens of this utopian town interact in a way in which almost every single other town has forgotten.

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Most American towns are so fast-paced and spread out, while Celebration is more slowed-down, representing a more 1950’s and 60’s lifestyle. A very strong sense of community can be found here, thanks to the layout and little details of the town. Also, purchasing one of the houses or properties in Celebration is an excellent investment for anyone; the long-term home equity that is built on this property is large (2). Land is something that (almost) never decreases in value, and this prime and exclusive location provides an excellent means to gain wealth in property.
Each of these houses has to follow very strict exterior specifications; however, the interior can be completely customized (4). This is a positive aspect because it adds some individuality to what seems to be a “cookie cutter” house. A family may furnish their house as they wish, as long as it is something that is reasonable.
A utopia is only something that can be conceived through theory, because of the idea that is “perfect”. Celebration is one of the few utopian societies that exist today in the United States. However, because of its corporate backing, Celebration is the most famous of these “perfect” societies. The human race is constantly looking for improvement and perfection with the formation of this town, and with such detail and care taken into account; this could be the foundation for future trials of an entire utopian society. Having a large universal covenant is something needed for a utopia, and there is no better place to test this than within the Disney Corporation. With their attention to perfection, it is the closest thing that we have today to being an equal and perfect society. Disney could have started something with laying the foundation for a future “perfect society”, all with the dreams of one man.
Although the positives are plenty, there are just as many negatives about Celebration’s Declaration of Covenants, and this is where many of the potential legal issues may stem from. A large negative is the citizen’s loss of their freedom of speech. With issues such as the schooling in Celebration, where specially trained teachers, who do not teach using grades, or textbooks, teach students, there is a severe lack in freedom of speech (2). Many parents are skeptical of the schools and their teaching methods, and they have no say in the policies that are being taught to their children (2). Another example of the citizen’s lack of free speech is the unity that is forced upon them, and the covenants that must be followed by all. With every house having to follow specific color schemes, and rules such as only being able to have one political sign in your yard for a specified period of time, where is the sense of individualism? How can a citizen freely express their political opinions by one sign? Basic rights, rights that our country is based on, are taken away by signing this 166-page document. Even sleeping arrangements are discussed in this document, “restrictions that only allow two people to sleep in one bedroom.” (3). An interesting quote from a filmmaker, who made a promotional film on Celebration said, “…everyone in Celebration has the same ideals and goals. Democracy operates as a dialogue involving disparate voices.” (2). What he is saying is that, since everyone thinks, acts, and believes in the same things, how can this be a democracy? Living in Celebration loses individual rights, and surely your freedom of speech is severely affected.
This brings us to the next point - that Celebration, along with other utopian societies, are run much like a dictatorship, and in this case, the Celebration Company is the dictator. “The Celebration Company also has the right to dispose of any pets which causes complaint, without consulting the owner” (3). Other ridiculous things such as not being able to complain about mosquitoes can also be found in the covenant (4). Being told what you can and cannot do, such as voicing your opinion about insects, is not what our country is based upon. Our country is all about being able to make your own choices and have your own opinions. When you sign this covenant, you lose almost all of these rights. While you may be able to have an opinion, if you want something changed, you must get it okayed by the Celebration Company (4). The Celebration Company has complete dominance on all of its citizens.
Living in Celebration is a very expensive way to live. Celebration’s residents pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in this community (2). They have distinctly set themselves apart from the rest of the country economically, and obviously physically. “Prices range from 20 to 30 percent higher than they do at other comparable developments, and the average starting cost for the lower end housing is about $160,000.” (1). Due to these steep prices, it is almost hard to consider the people living in the town “citizens”, because it seems that Disney is “…portraying Celebrationites more as customers or consumers than citizens of a democracy,” (2). These “citizens” are paying very large sums of money to live in a place where they are told what to do, how to do it, and not given a reason why. They are also paying top dollar because of the name associated with their town, Disney. Continued investigation keeps pointing that this is less and less an “ideal” community, but more of a business venture to help improve Disney’s bottom line and reputation.
On a final note regarding the negativity that is surrounded by the Declaration of Covenants, the liability held by the Celebration Company is almost none. A tiny excerpt from the 166-page document reads, “The Celebration Company, The Association, its officers, the Board, any committee, and member of the foregoing shall not be liable for (a) soil conditions, drainage, or other general site work; (b) any defects in plans revised or approved hereunder…” (4). If anything is done not in accordance to their specifications, they will not be held liable. If one violates a restriction, they first receive a written warning (4). If the violation continues, the Celebration Company will remove the object themselves, at the owner’s expense (4). When living in Celebration, a citizen must follow the entire covenant exactly; however, when something is in violation, or if something goes wrong, it is not the Celebration Company’s fault; this does not seem very democratic. Although they are trying to make everyone equal, they are taking away basic rights that all U.S. citizens have, such as freedom of speech.
Walt Disney’s dream of a perfect society may have come partially true; however, we most likely will never see a perfect utopian society. Although on paper, and through a covenant, the idea looks and sounds good, in reality the idea is nearly impossible. Basic human rights are taken away, and there is no sense of individualism. Covenants are powerful, and filled with both positives and negatives. They control what people do and how they do it, which is okay – however, when taken to an extreme, it can provide some pretty disturbing outcomes and results.

Work Cited

1.) Hogan, Kathleen M. "Celebration." 2007. University of Virginia. 17 Apr. 2008 .

2.) Frantz, Douglas. "Celebrate Good Times." 21 Apr. 2001. 17 Apr. 2008 .

3.) "Christiania and Celebration." Citizens Required. 2006. 17 Apr. 2008 .

4.) Hyall, Wayne S. "Amended and Restated Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions for Celebration Residential Properties." 15 Sept. 2003. 17 Apr. 2008 .
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