EDITORIAL: It’s Time to Close The Hall of Presidents
Editor’s Note: This editorial contains the opinions of the author, Nathan Hartman. These opinions may or may not align with those of WDWNT LLC. Please feel free to voice your own thoughts in the comments section below.
Boom. Fingers have flown to keyboards. Some grit their teeth while others grin.
“He couldn’t be more right!”
“He’s just envious of who’s headlining the show!”
Rest assured that the idea of closing down The Hall of Presidents has little to do with who gets their moment to shine in the show, even if some will accuse of such bias anyway (without even reading the article possibly). But that politically sided gut reaction, to a Disney ride no less, is precisely why it’s time to say goodbye to this opening day attraction.
Downhill from the Start
There are few people in American history that exemplify the post-war boom of American innovation and culture like Walt Disney and he embraced the red, white, and blue every step of the way. There was never a question what side Walt was on. In 1947 he met with Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee and testified that Communists were the ones behind a strike at his studio.
While 80 of the “Hollywood elite” would denounce the hearings, friend and future Hall of President figure himself, Ronald Reagan also testified against the “red menace.” Reagan would go on to be one of the hosts of the opening of Disneyland in ‘55 and though the whole theme park was a gamble, families now flush with new jobs and GI bills embraced Walt’s new form of park entertainment.
From Main St. USA, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and even concepts like Liberty St. that never got off the ground, Disney always found ways to honor and evangelize the boot-straps American ideals that got him from a warehouse in Kansas City to the center of Hollywood. As the Carousel of Progress would later say…
”He himself was probably as American as anyone could possibly be.”
But as Disney reached his final years, America’s perception of itself had already begun to sour. By 1964, over 16,000 Americans had been deployed to Vietnam and, according to the Pew Research Center, the public’s trust in the government was taking a nosedive. In ‘66, Disney found himself in a hospital bed, working on an experimental city that he hoped could fix the ills of a country that no longer looked like the main thoroughfare of his park. He’d never see it through.
By 1971, the Magic Kingdom opened and, with it, one of Walt’s last patriotic dreams – the Hall of Presidents. Basically a more robust “Mr. Lincoln,” the show concluded with a roll call of all presidents past and present, ending with Richard M. Nixon. In two years, this president would find himself embattled in Watergate and, from inside the Contemporary Hotel of all places, infamously told America he wasn’t the crook he’d turn out to be. It’s amazing to think that almost fifty years ago, there’s a good chance that somebody booed the animatronic of Nixon as his name was announced.
For a long time, that was as much as one could do, but then Imagineering came up with an idea that rubbed their shoulders too close to those in power and blurred the lines between educational entertainment and pandering. In 1993, Bill Clinton was the first current president to give a speech in the show and the tradition continues to this day to the enjoyment of the party in power and the disgust of the other side.
Why is this so polarizing? One could say because the person who occupies the most powerful position in the world may have yet to prove his worth, but still gets to have the final say in a show featuring giants already deemed great by history. Current moods toward Presidents could be at all time lows and yet they get to be the show’s closer several times a day like clockwork.
But there are other reasons beyond a slipping of American morale and current show structure that mark this attraction as a thing best left to the past.
It’s a Bigger World After All
When the Hall of Presidents opened in ’71, the world was a much smaller place and, for the majority of Americans, access to the history of these men was regulated to the library. But in this digital era, the magnifying glass on the lives and decisions of these men is far greater and modern audiences have a much harder time accepting a show that honors them for simply holding a seat of power, their actions aside.
Some might go as far as to say there is an element of deification to the whole concept and certainly other artforms (especially the video game Bioshock: Infinite) have recognized this for satirization.
Beyond changing views of history, we must also remember that The Hall of Presidents came before the entirety of EPCOT and its take on history with “The American Adventure” – a show the features animatronics representing all walks of life, including those laid low by American expansion. The Hall of Presidents operated as edutainment before there was a whole park dedicated to such a thing and now, surrounded by a haunted mansion and some Muppets, it’s an odd fit for the park it now finds itself in.
That’s a bad state of affairs and, while the show’s presence can be justified by some even with the hostile environment, from Disney’s perspective they must ask if this is all really worth it. Would anyone not go to the Magic Kingdom because their favorite show is gone? Probably not. Is it worth the press if an incident occurs? Probably not. Is it even the best of the two American history shows at Disney World? Probably not. Following in the steps of one of America’s greatest capitalists, they must ask what Walt would have done.
Never a Good Time
There is little doubt that the closing of the Hall of Presidents would make for another uproar. Another set of grit teeth and grins. Sure one could suggest reworking the show to once again not include the current president, but there lies the entire problem – from its origins onward, The Hall of Presidents has slowly grown out of sync with the public’s opinion of the office it showcases and the polarizing culture surrounding it. Instead why not provide entertainment that does what Disney does best – bringing people together? It’s time to close the attraction, not because of who’s at the White House, but because of what could be in Liberty Square.