Monday, May 24, 2010

Theme, Setting and Subject

I've recently been tackling an interesting issue in theme park theory - the very notion of theme itself. Theme is what separates the theme park from the amusement park, and yet there are a number of issues surrounding it.

Most people think of theme as place and time; so Frontierland's theme is the Wild West, in the mid 19th century, whilst Fantasyland's theme is fairytale Europe, during medieval times. And yet Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde takes the viewpoint that Theme shares a definition with the literary idea of theme - the unifying subject or idea of a work, timeless and unifying ideas such as 'man versus nature', 'moral ambiguity' or 'perseverance'.

And yet despite Joe's arguement that you cannot 'theme' something (it isn't a verb), the popular consciousness has taken it very much that way. If someone holds a 'theme party', you're unlikely to spot costumes representing 'ambition', 'loyalty' or 'suffering' in favor of Superman, Fred Flintstone and a Jedi Knight.

So what word should be used to describe what is currently called theming? Perhaps setting? Main Street is set in a turn of the century American small town, rather than themed to it?

Does that mean it should be called a Setting Park?

3 comments:

  1. >> Theme shares a definition with the literary idea of theme - the unifying subject or idea of a work, timeless and unifying ideas such as 'man versus nature', 'moral ambiguity' or 'perseverance'. <<

    Doesn't the term still work within Joe Rohde's definition? "Subject" is more relevant in this cans than "idea". I suppose you could use an idea as the theme of an entertainment venue, but subjects like "old west" or "the future" work pretty well as themes.

    Great blog by the way. I found it from a link on the Eddie Sotto thread on WDWMagic board.

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  2. Yeah, I think that term does still work with Joe Rohde's definition, but I think that's more a failing of my attempt to define theme. From my impression of Joe's thoughts, he very clearly seperates literary theme from setting/subject theme. Setting/subject themes are definately used for most themed establishments, but I think that's something Joe dislikes ("you can't theme a box"). I'm wrestling with the idea myself - it certainly has potential, but I actually think the number of people in the industry that use that mode of thinking is limited (certainly Walt didn't - the term theme park didn't even arrise until a few years after Disneyland opened).

    The best way I've found to ponder it is; what was the purpose of Tomorrowland? Was it to create an optimism for the future (the literary theme), or was it a place to present a science fiction city (the setting/subject theme).

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  3. Oh, and thank you for the kind words! I really appreciate it!

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