Spaceship Earth Literacy Rates Plummet!

There’s an old Seinfeld episode, the meta one, where Jerry and George are discussing the concept for their TV show, which they’re about to pitch to NBC. The famous “show about nothing.” During the scene, they cast about for things which their characters could do on the show. George suggests that they could do normal stuff. They could read. Jerry is incredulous. “They read on screen?”

Spaceship Earth pioneered the idea of reading on screen 8 years before Seinfeld ever hit the airwaves. Think about how much reading goes on in the ride. You’ve got Pharaoh reading his decrees, Roman centurions passing along more decrees, Guttenberg inspecting his Bible, Jewish and Arab scholars debating ancient texts, Andrew Jackson some Renaissance dude studying Shakespeare or something. I guess when you set out to tell the history of public communication, it involves a lot of pensive thought and silent contemplation of paper. There’s very little emphasis on Toastmasters and imagining your audience naked (except for the Caveman stuff).

Yet for all the grandstanding about the evolution of the printed word (thanks, Phoenicans!) there seems to be a striking number of phonies masquerading as major players in the history of communications. Illiteracy runs rampant in Spaceship Earth, and the sad part is, these poor souls don’t even seem to realize how uneducated they really are.

I’m not even talking about this guy.

Snoring Monk

It’s not like he’s writing a Doctoral dissertation. He’s essentially copying someone else’s homework, and since he probably can’t understand a word it says, no wonder he’s bored. I don’t know Latin either, but I’m pretty sure I could trace it.

But a far bigger offender is this newspaper printer.

Civil War PrinterHe looks all smart with those spectacles. The 19th century equivalent of Guttenberg. But he’s totally faking it. How do I know? The folded newspaper. Based on the orientation of the headline, he’s reading the part that’s known in the business as “below the fold”. Only if you fold up a newspaper and hold it like that, whatever you’re reading is upside down. Sure, we as the audience can clearly understand that the “CIVIL WAR IS OVER.” But it’s all Chinese to this dude.

What’s funny is, I think the ride, with its perfect attention to detail, actually did print that full newspaper, and if you look back over the guy’s shoulder, you can see that it’s upside down. The print is hard to read unless you have big-boy glasses like Mr. Hotshot Printer there, and I had to rely on my wife’s eagle eyes to spot it, but she says it’s there, and it’s upside down, and it says something like “Newspapers will be obsolete in a hundred-and-fifty-years” (I may have made up that last part).

Okay, so maybe he’s not supposed to be the world’s brightest newsman. I mean, he’s a laborer in a Civil-War-era print shop, not Woodward and Bernstein (I still think the glasses are putting on airs). Maybe we can forgive him. Then again, he’s not the only person inside Spaceship Earth who goes around doing this.

Theater Ticket TakerGah! Another upside down reader! That newspaper is once again folded completely incorrectly for checking out articles on the bottom half of page 1. It’s easy to see why she doesn’t care about OWENS WINNING GOLD. It’s running on infinite loop inside the theater where she works. But all those other juicy Nazi Olympic stories are going in one eye and out the other. Something tells me she’s just biding time until her shift ends.

Fortunately, we’re only steps away from the television era, when the mere art of reading will finally be rendered useless. A good thing too. My eyes are killing me.

Photo credits: 
Ticket Taker:




Comments (13)

  1. Ok, I installed the newspaper in the proofreader’s hands 30+ years ago, but eventually left the attraction so don’t know when the newspaper was installed in the ticket booth- it wasn’t there the first few years. This was controversial from the start- it was feared the African-American character would appear illiterate if this was done correctly, as it is, for proofreading typeset is done upside down so that spacing and typeface errors could be readily recognized.

    • That’s an interesting fact, Mark! There’s a big dilemma there, because if it’s upside down, the audience can’t read it very well, but it makes more sense if the guy is “reading the newspaper.” If he’s proofreading, and if they really did proof like that (I’m not sure how it would be any more conducive to spotting errors?) then it is factually accurate and easier on the audience to spot the headline — but requires an in-depth knowledge of 19th century newspaper proofreading techniques in order to make sense. And why isn’t Guttenberg reading his Bible upside down? (oh heck, maybe he is)

  2. Jim Korkis here. As much as I know about Spaceship Earth, as much as I have studied it, as much as I have written about it, I completely missed these two examples of reading upside down newspapers. Wonderful work and an insight I will not forget (and now look for similar things in other attractions). You made me smile today and reminded me that “no one can know everything”. Great work….and yes, the newspapers are actual reproductions even upside down.

    • Thanks Jim! I think that’s the beautiful thing about Disney. The level of detail and the things people notice (or don’t notice) make it so much fun to keep writing about. It’s always fun to find something new!

    • And when that happens, there will be an ambassador post or cabinet position or some other cronyism spot available to you, Dan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *