“…the effect of that huge surface environment, on you, personally, is vast. The effect of the program is incidental.”
– Marshall McLuhan
“The medium is the message” is one of those concepts that sounds too simple considering how big and important it is– kind of like how E = mc2 doesn’t look to be the groundbreaking revolution of 20th century physics that it is. “The medium is the message” is about how the mediums and technologies change our lives in a more immediate and concrete sense than any one idea, even looking across history. Which had more impact, Martin Luther’s 95 theses or Gutenberg’s printing press? Which was more important, the Ford Model T or the assembly line? Which shaped the 20th century more, Einstein’s theory of relativity or the atom bomb? McLuhan focused on the transition of popular media from print (books, magazines, etc.) to electronic (radio and television). His point was that the invention of the television and its use as a commercial home appliance had a more direct and immediate impact on our culture than any individual program televised. It’s not that the programs don’t matter, it’s that the technologies through which those ideas travel are often overlooked in favor of those ideas.
So why am I talking about a theme park?
James Cameron’s Avatar was… not a good movie. I mean, yes, it’s gorgeous and the technology used to create the film is fascinating, but as a movie? Can you name five characters from Avatar? Or describe the plot in a sentence without using the words “Pocahontas” or “FernGully”? Avatar is actually one of the most clear examples of “the medium is the message”, in that the plot and ideas of Avatar matter far less to the world writ large than the impact of the technologies that were used and developed in its filming. Avatar changed the way we make movies far more than it did any particular aspect of storytelling. So when Disney adapted the world to a theme park, it actually made more sense than it seemed. Avatar was always more about immersing the viewer in its environment than its story, which makes it perfect for the medium of theme parks.
But what does that even mean?