The noted cultural theorist Andrew Ross – from NYU’s Cultural and Social Analysis Department – joined us to do a FEED about his time living in Celebration, Florida. Celebration is the town that The Disney Corporation founded that most resembles Walt Disney’s original vision of EPCOT. Ross is most famous for his now seminal book The Celebration Chronicles (Ballantine Books, 2000). Take a look at his fascinating slide lecture below.
In The Celebration Chronicles, Andrew Ross has written a moving and subtle account of his yearlong stay at Disney’s glistening suburban development in Celebration, Florida. Readers might expect that Ross, a devoted urbanite, would contribute to both the fashionable sport of Disney bashing and the tired genre of suburban reproof. But, like an anthropologist gone native, Ross immersed himself in the community, interviewing dozens of the 20,000 residents, volunteering at the local school, and finding himself pleasantly surprised when his subjects had christened him an honorary Celebrationite. Celebration, Ross argues, is the latest in a long line of utopian communities built to realize the American dream. Many wealthy and eager romantics flocked to the town with a faith that Disney magic would fulfill their hopes for a perfect community (and increase their property values). When the majority of these people found their dreams dashed against the corporation’s bottom line, however, they engaged in grass roots activism that did more to bring their community together than any of the schemes from Disney “imagineers.” Moving from a cogent analysis of the town to a multifaceted consideration of the environmental implications of American liberty, The Celebration Chronicles is a masterpiece of American studies scholarship. As astute as it is readable, Ross’s book shows how Celebration’s high-octane pursuit of happiness resulted in a limited civic culture and contributed to an overall ecological catastrophe that continues to worsen with each new drive toward the American dream.
Andrew Ross (born 1956) is a professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. A writer for The New York Times, Artforum, The Nation, Newsweek and The Village Voice, he is also the author and/or editor of numerous books. Much of his writing focuses on labor, the urban environment, and the organization of work, from the Western world of business and high-technology to conditions of offshore labor in the Global South. Making use of social theory as well as ethnography, his writing questions the human and environmental cost of economic growth, has an activist, alternative globalization approach, and emphasizes principles of sustainability.