Sunday, September 20, 2009

In The Hall of Presidents

My final thoughts about our day at Disney relate to my experience in The Hall of Presidents. I’ve been to the production at Disneyland in California, where President Lincoln delivers his Gettysburg Address, and have been moved by it despite the theoretical hokeyness of the entire concept. I mean, how weak do you have to be to get teary-eyed watching an animatronic machine move around to a recorded voice? But, I do. And, the Orlando presentation was even better. Disney just has a knack for pulling out emotions, and their Hall of Presidents production is no different. With a series of photos, clips of speeches, and narration by Morgan Freeman, it’s very effective. President Lincoln stands from his chair and delivers his speech. But the final sequence is the best. Every President of the United States, right up to and including President Obama, shows up all together, some speaking, some not, all making subtle movements, each spotlighted and introduced in turn. T-Bear actually gasped, pointed, and whispered “That’s Obama!” The illusion was so effective, as we left Brother Bear asked me why all those presidents didn’t get tired standing there for the whole show.

But, as cool as it was for me to see my President up there, I was actually kind of anxious during the time leading up to his introduction. And, when it came time for his introduction, there was an additional pause during which President Washington stood, gave a short speech, and then introduced President Obama. I was literally anxious about what the audience would do when his name was spoken, and how my kids would react if anyone in the audience did anything disrespectful. It’s really stupid and unfortunate that I should even have this question in my mind, but the events of the past several weeks, the nastiness of the healthcare debates, the rude, angry people showing up at townhall meetings, topped off by Senator Outburst disrupting President Obama’s speech to Congress, has left me apprehensive and doubtful about the capacity of my fellow citizens to show basic respect and courtesy for one another and for their leaders.

My mother has told me that she and my father were living in Georgia when President Kennedy was assassinated, and how appalled she was when her neighbors threw a party to celebrate. A part of me never wanted to believe that story, that Americans would ever be so horrid as to rejoice in the murder of their own democratically elected leader. But there is a significant part of me now that has been forced to acknowledge that similar parties would be thrown by many Americans, not just in my new home State of Georgia but all over our country, if President Obama were ever killed. It is a very sad thing to have to admit about the country that you love.

In the end, the audience in The Hall of Presidents was courteous and respectful, and we all quietly filed out at the end of the production. I tried to explain to Brother Bear that the presidents were mechanical on the inside, not really people, but I think that was too much for him to grasp. I guess that’s the magic of Disney, isn’t it?

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