After reading the first three chapters of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I find myself both horrified by the future of humanity presented and questioning the logical progression of technical advancement in the novel.
First of all, the inhuman qualities and unanswered questions of the first fifty-eight pages leave a lot of room for speculation. After being sized up by Jules’ internal computer in the Prologue, Keep-A-Movin’ Dan later directly addresses the lack of individuality and difference in society by noting the statement substantiated by the “Hope” designer face and the incredible amount of “teenage” girls who choose to sport it. Also, aside from a lack of individuality, the amount of “humanness” lost with each death and rejuvenation is not adequately addressed. Debra, having perished multiple times, lives for the “synthetic clarity of it all.” (58). With each uploading of memories from a body and subsequent downloading into a new body, are there any bits of information that are lost? Any signals that are not adequately converted from one body to another and therefore lost, such as the specific emotions, for example? In general, this is what frightened me about the world depicted by this novel, the utter lack of emotions. For brief moments, Jules reveals his inner thoughts and feelings for Lil, but so far the secondary characters of the book, at least those of the ad-hocracy, seem to be devoid of most emotions—fear, regret, hope, and other feelings are simply thrown away and have no place in the digitized central processing units that are the conscience of the people. Dan mentions early in the prologue the sense of fear and hardship necessary to feel true accomplishment; thus far, the book has eliminated this necessity (at least within the aggressors of Disney World and those fully assimilated into the Bitchun Society) and left its readers questioning the outcome of a world without emotions and a real sense of accomplishment (Jules does not seem particular proud about his multiple symphonies and degrees, but rather seems to have pursued them at his leisure during a boundless lifetime).
In addition, the use of the “Whuffie” and the ability of one another to instantly search people seem unnerving (although not too unfamiliar—a la facebook “stalking”). Using a number as an immediate way of a judging someone seems rather off-base, especially when Dan is initially judged by Lil—“I knew she was pinging his Whuffie and I caught her look of surprised disapproval. Us oldsters who predate Whuffie know that it’s important; but to the kids, it’s the world.” (22) Just as many people on facebook try to accrue as many friends as possible, the “brownie” points associated the “Whuffie” system seem like another way for people to immediately judge one another. Keep-A-Movin’ Dan is a perfect example, a book should not be judged by its cover; and a points system propagates a society of judgement and externalized self-worth.
Finally, a list of my more looming questions:
1) Why does Disney World remain untainted by technological advancements for so long? My momma used to tell me stories of her trip to the Magic Kingdom as a child, and as far as I could tell, it had not changed too much between roughly 1970 and 2000, the year we took a family vacation to just the Magic Kingdom. “It’s a Small World,” for example, had perhaps a few more dolls and some additional length to the ride, but overall was comprised of the same glass eye’d, eerily singing, ethnically diverse children that had endeared themselves to my momma so many years before. Perhaps the magic of Disney World is at once its technological marvels and uncanny ability to evoke the nostalgic past, but it still seems as if the theme parks in the world Doctorow described would have been one of the first things to change, a glimpse at tomorrow (such as Tomorrowland) in which young amuse park guests would first envision the future and one day help to reach it. Disneyworld’s “archaic” technology appears odd in a world of “deadheading,” “cloning” and “refreshing.” It seems as if the Imagineers may have sought to expand the park or include rides and technologies that predicted this future long before it became a reality.
2) This question does not relate exactly to the texts, but rather the graphics surrounding the chapters and adorning the front cover. Do you think the odd two-headed man chasing a smirking plug has an special significance (or could the two heads actually be two hears of an oddly shaped Mickey Mouse (his appearance has morphed significantly since the early days of the 20th century)?
3) The Ad-hocs are upset that new technologies will undermine the original artistic nature of Disney World, and it is a real marvel if you consider the life-like presidents, the lavish buildings, and devout attention to detail (especially for the time period in which it was constructed). Do you feel that technological innovation/renovation is indeed an impurity or rather a completely different form of art? Considering the societal context in which these alterations to the rides of the Magic Kingdom are occurring, which is more relevant? Is Disney’s initial goal of nostalgia and timelessness completely outdated in a world where one may expect to live thousands of years?