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New Left Review 10, July-August 2001


From the zoological garden, via the nature reserve and the theme-town, to the TV reality-show—sequences from the evolution of ‘parklife’. Disney and Waco, Sloterdijk and Deleuze, Spielberg and Smithson, as prisms for the fate of postmodern space.

SVEN LUTTICKEN

PARKLIFE

Contemporary space is rapidly growing less homogeneous. Fenced-in spaces, such as American ‘gated communities’, proliferate. The tendency towards enclosure is reflected in the symptomatic fiction of Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show: the protagonist lives in the little town of Seahaven which is, in fact, a huge, domed TV studio—a simulation of life. The Seahaven scenes were filmed in a real Florida resort, Seaside, a neo-Victorian fantasy for the wealthy. Built between 1984 and 1991, Seaside also inspired Disney’s new urban development project, Celebration—a settlement completely controlled by the Walt Disney Corporation, where anything that might be a blemish on ‘small-town America’ is banned. Celebration, like Seaside, defines the good life in terms of a secession from the rest of society—the big bad world has to be kept at bay. A theme-park town such as this shows that real and fictional fenced-in spaces cannot be neatly kept apart: Celebration is a phantasmagorical reality. If The Truman Show is ‘just’ fiction, and gated communities ‘just’ social and political reality, they all function nonetheless within the symbolic register of contemporary culture.

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