One of my many gripes has been that for quite awhile now real places have been slowly turned into “family friendly theme parks.” Las Vegas, the ultimate adult getaway spot, one day decided to remake itself into a family vacation destination. As it turned out, it didn’t work and now the Vegas city fathers are trying to change it back. Other cities, however, have been — and continue to be — homogenized.
New York’s Broadway theater district and mid-town Fifth Avenue have gone the theme park route as well. What was once gritty, grimy Times Square has been sanitized for your protection. On Fifth, where classy upscale stores used to line the avenue, you now have tourist/child friendly shops like The Disney Store, Coca-Cola and NBA. A city needs a bit of grit and character to be authentic. Who wants the whole world to be a giant Disneyland? And even historical places are now getting the theme park treatment.
The following announcement was printed recently on the web site for “The District, the Tourist’s Guide to Washington, D.C.”
Mount Vernon, Va. – Historic Mount Vernon celebrates George Washington’s 279th Birthday with a “Surprise Birthday Party” for the general! Daily from Feb. 19 through Feb. 21, the party features “General Washington” receiving surprise birthday cheers, 18th century music and birthday gifts presented from his 18th century friends. On Saturday, Feb. 19, and Sunday, Feb. 20, have a taste of Washington’s favorite breakfast: hoecakes swimming in butter and honey with “the general” himself! The weekend leads up to a grand holiday party for the first president on Monday, Feb. 21, with free admission, spirited military demonstrations, the new “Surprise Birthday Party” celebration and a moving wreath-laying ceremony at Washington’s tomb.
Schedule for Saturday, Feb. 19, and Sunday, Feb. 20, from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.: Join “George Washington” for breakfast as he enjoys his favorite morning meal, “hoecakes swimming in butter and honey,” cooked over an open fire (while supplies last). Pull up a hay bale and chat with the Father of Our Country about politics, farming, the Revolutionary War and life in the 18th century.
1:30 p.m. — “George Washington’s Surprise Birthday Party”: Join characters from the 18th century as they help visitors surprise General Washington with rousing birthday cheers and a serenade! After the birthday surprise, Washington will be presented with gifts which he will describe and react to during a speech to his birthday visitors. The surprise is reminiscent of Washington’s Birthday in 1778 during which the Continental Artillery Band serenaded Washington at Valley Forge.
All day — New this year: the cavalry comes to town! The Second Continental Light Dragoons will ride throughout the estate on horseback.
A surprise birthday party for the General? General Washington will receive birthday cheers and gifts presented from his 18th century friends? Pull up a bale of hay and chat with the Father of Our Country? Join George Washington for breakfast? That’s right, come early and have a pancake breakfast with your favorite costumed character, George Washington. Wow, that beats Goofy any day; doesn’t it? Maybe it isn’t quite as thrilling as breakfast with, say, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but it comes pretty darn close. Yeah, and sit right down there beside ol’ George and ask him anything you want.
Well, I cannot tell a lie, I hate it. It trivializes George Washington by turning him into some sort of cartoonish cross between a costumed character and Santa Claus. I can just see the impersonator walking around in the powdered wig and white stockings answering moronic questions such as, “How come you dress like this?” and “How do you eat with wooden teeth?”
I’m sure there are millions who think this is wonderful; I think it is insulting, idiotic and shows once again how we as a people can’t appreciate anything unless we manage to turn it into some sort of amusement park or childish game. Doesn’t anyone else see that this sort of stuff blurs the line between fact and fantasy? Or is that the whole idea? Does everything have to be interactive for “the kids?” Can’t “the kids” learn to appreciate history without having some kind of “entertainment” experience?
To mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum has undergone a facelift too, to the tune of $15 million. The place has become more “hands-on” as they say. Whenever I hear the expression “hands-on,” I know that something has been dumbed-down. Yes, now you too can stand at a podium and give the same inaugural address that President Reagan gave. Amateur impersonators should have a field day with that.
One room is dedicated to Reagan’s ranch and everything in it relates to President Reagan’s cowboy side, including a full size stuffed horse that kids can climb all over. The critter is true in every detail of a real horse with one exception: the thing has no legs. I guess the idea was to make it easy for young kids to get on it, but I’m sorry, it just looks like a horse with its legs cut off — which it is.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that next year visitors to the library can actually have breakfast with President Reagan and chat with him while going horseback riding…but how do you go riding on legless horses?
History by definition is interesting and fascinating as it is, you don’t have to make it “a fun experience.” Taking American history seriously is more important than ever today given the fact that our public schools do such a lousy job of teaching it — if it’s taught at all. Honor the memory of our great past presidents by giving them the dignity that they deserve. Let’s not turn them into costumed characters. Keep the hands-on experiences and goofy impersonations in theme parks where they belong.