Looking at it, today, it reads like a strange combination of Postmodern philosophy and something out of the Sunday travel section, full of sardonic descriptions and exaggerated denunciations that focus on the cultural shortcomings of America.In the essay, Eco plays the role of both social critic and tour guide, taking the reader across an American landscape that he says is being re-created in the image of fake history, fake art, fake nature and fake cities.
Looking at it, today, it reads like a strange combination of Postmodern philosophy and something out of the Sunday travel section, full of sardonic descriptions and exaggerated denunciations that focus on the cultural shortcomings of America.
Even the movies, where America's love affair with illusion started, are beginning to surround audiences with electronic images and stage sets, in a new generation of special effects theaters, creating another kind of fantasy environment that is starting to look a lot like fake reality.
The two capitals of this new culture of illusion are Las Vegas and a vastly enlarged Disney World.
Here, he takes a boat ride through artificial caves, where he sees scenes of pirates sacking a city, in the attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, and he travels through a ghost story that appears to have come to life, with transparent, dancing spirits, and skeletal hands lifting gravestones, in the attraction, the Haunted Mansion.
It is in the two Disneys, where he finds the ultimate expression of hyperreality, in which everything is brighter, larger and more entertaining than in everyday life.
He similarly finds in Disney, "An allegory of the consumer society, a place of absolute iconism, Disneyland is also as place of total passivity.
Its visitors must agree to behave like robots."But what is most remarkable about Umberto Eco's essay is that, in the two decades since it was published, many of its more extreme observations, if not all its attacks on America, have been confirmed, and, in some instances, surpassed.
An early description of the way contemporary culture is now full of re-creations and themed environments was provided by Umberto Eco.
In a brilliant essay, Eco saw that we create these realistic fabrications in an effort to come up with something that is better than real -- a description that is true of virtually all fiction and culture, which gives us things that are more exciting, more beautiful, more inspiring, more terrifying, and generally more interesting than what we encounter in everyday life.
He received Italy's highest literary award, the Premio Strega, was named a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government, and is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1942, at the age of ten, I received the First Provincial Award of Ludi Juveniles (a voluntary, compulsory competition for young Italian Fascists—that is, for every young Italian). I spent two of my early years among the SS, Fascists, Republicans, and partisans shooting at one another, and I learned how to dodge bullets. A former maresciallo of the Carabinieri, Mimo joined the supporters of General Badoglio, Mussolini’s successor, and lost a leg during one of the first clashes with Mussolini’s remaining forces. A few days later I saw the first American soldiers. The first Yankee I met was a black man, Joseph, who introduced me to the marvels of Dick Tracy and Li’l Abner.