The Modern and the Postmodern – university assignment from 2006

The Modern and the Postmodern

Selected Sites: Alma Park Zoo and Warner Bros. Movie World

There are major differences between the experience of attending a zoo and a theme park.  A visit to a zoo, like Alma Park Zoo, is to find a business conducted with a Modern style and environment, while Warner Bros. Movie World is a Postmodern venture in all its social, cultural, architectural and economic aspects.  A comparison of these two sites shows how they both function divergently within the entertainment service industry.

It must be remembered that the Postmodern arose as a rebellion against the perceived difficulties of the Modern Movement, and as one derives from the other, there is considerable overlap between the two ideologies; Table One supplies a very basic overview.

Modern

 

Postmodern
Form follows function, serious

 

Conservative, rational, simple technology

 

Replaces aesthetic criteria with social criteria

 

Nationalistic Capitalism, durable consumer goods

 

Playful, ironic, satirical, humorous – fun into function

 

Ornamental, richness of meaning, complex technology

 

Eclectic, Pluralism, Semiotic

 

Hybrid Consumerism, Globalisation, Service economy

Table One: Some Differences between Ideologies of Modern & Postmodern.

We live in an ‘experience economy’(Bryman) 94-95.  Our Western society is more concerned with spending money on entertainment and services rather than on durable and non-durable consumer goods (Southgate)  88-92, (Lewis and Lewis) P184. This means that places like zoos and theme parks will play an increasingly important role within our society, as they compete for the consumer dollar with other entertainment industries.

An overview into the background and history provides insights into why Alma Park Zoo is mainly a Modern phenomenon and why Movie World is Postmodern.

Public Zoos and travelling animal exhibitions appeared just as animals were disappearing from the day-to-day life of the average person, in the 1800s (Rothfels) 10-11.  Before that, most animal collections were private menageries owned by the elite, as a symbol of their wealth and power (Rothfels) 13, (Cherfas) 16.   These private collections started a fad of zoological gardens in cities to increase their prestige, with the animals housed in cages.  Modern Zoos came into existence at the start of the Twentieth century with the ‘Hagenback Revolution’ in zoo construction, which was occurring at the same time as discovery of new technologies and the Modern arts and architecture; these developments played a major role in the design of Modern zoos (Rothfels) 200.  Carl Hagenback designed zoos with enclosures surrounded by hidden moats, not cages with bars, but they were still primarily places to provide entertainment, though they did provide a healthier environment for the animal occupants (Rothfels) 8 & 9; (Cherfas) 39 .

Alma Park Zoo, even though it only became a registered zoo in 1973, is the classic Modern zoo.  It displays the animals, and the only ‘shows’ are the feeding of  the various ‘star’ animals, and photo opportunities (StarBug).  It has one café which also supplies a limited range of souvenirs.  This basic and simple approach is what defines the Modern zoo (Rothfels) 7.

The theme park is a “combination of the transformation of themed attractions into one of themed environments with the transformation of the world’s fair/expo concept into a permanent site” (Bryman) 23.  A theme park is run on the principles that “amusement is a business” (Marling) 21, where entertainment has become a science and an industry in its own right. First real theme park was Disneyland, first opening in 1955, with Main Street USA as shopping funnel and the other themed parks branching off it (Bryman) 3.

Warner Bros. Movie World opened on the 3rd June, 1991.  It contains a wide range of technologically advanced rides, spectacular shows, displays, restaurants and shops, all themed with characters and settings from Warner Brothers’ films and animations (Warner Brothers).  It is an excellent example of the pluralism, intertextuality, hyper-realities and hybrid consumerism that are the hallmarks of Postmodernism.

In relation to the cultural and social aspects the Postmodern society, most zoos are trying to achieve recognition for their contributions to conservation and education.  This creates a conflict of ideology, as the animals must be displayed, even if this isn’t beneficial to individual animals (Woodroffe) 38.  Alma Park Zoo is still very much a Modern zoo as they have only one real attraction, the animals, and make no real claim to conserving animals or providing public education.

Movie World has a wide range of entertainment opportunities: rides, displays, a theatre, multiple shopping and food outlets; all of them are themed upon Warner Brother movies and cartoon characters.  Where Alma Park Zoo is conservative, Movie World displays the classic characteristics of Postmodern Hyper-reality and Pluralism (Marling) 79.

Movie World is multithemed, which occurs on three levels (Bryman) 19-20.  There is the Overarching Narrative Unity, such as being a zoo or a theme park.  Then there is a second level of theming, with the division into isolated themed areas within site.  Zoos might group animals with similar types or from similar environments.  Movie World is broken into several distinct areas, each with its own internal coherence and integrity, such as Looney Tunes Land and the Wild West arena.  There are also themed events, where a special function or day has its own overall individual discourse, such as ‘A Night at Moulin Rouge’ and ‘The Moroccan Bazaar’.  Theme Parks are ‘more real than real’ – and can depict fantasy environments that have only existed on screens or in imaginations (Marling) 27.

Movie World has the added advantage of a third level of theming, from its corporate image, so using its own reputation and stable of characters to create further resonance.  This is an additional layer of theming that the Alma Park Zoo can’t compete with.

Zoos are not profitable unless animas welfare is compromised (Cherfas) 44, as the display of the animals for entertainment may create a conflict with the provision of an ideal environment.

As well, Alma Park Zoo has only one canteen/store; this the classic Modern economic structure where the services provided are not diversified (Lewis and Lewis) 184-185.

Services are now the largest part of the composition of the contemporary economy.  Hybrid consumption is the hall mark of Postmodern expenditure; hybrid consumption is where different forms of consumption – eating, purchasing souvenirs, visiting displays – become interlinked with each other (Bryman) 59.  An example of this is the purchase of a drink in a Movie World container: there is the actual provision of the drink for immediate consumption; the container becomes a souvenir of the park visit; and the shop and container are also part of the ‘setting’ of the park’s theme.

Theme Parks make enormous profits by providing more than one type of entertainment and a wide variety of shopping and eating outlets. In Movie World, each themed area has its own souvenir stands & restaurants.  This puts the shopping in the same area where the theme park guests want to linger, and a direct link to time spent at location to increase the buying urge of customers (Bryman) 58.

Merchandising is a Postmodern phenomenon. It is the promotion of consumer goods bearing a logo or copyrighted image (Bryman) 79; the use of the Warner Brothers name and trademarked characters to increase desirability of consumer items.  During 2002 and 2003, Warner Brothers turned most of their children films, such as ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ and ‘Scooby Doo’,  into brand names (Bryman) 89.  Merchandising is so prevalent at Movie World that the customers expect it and are disappointed if it isn’t available, so there are always crowds in the Looney Tunes shop; the Harry Potter-themed Diagon Alley shop; and the rest of the shopping outlets.

Alma Park Zoo simply can’t compete with the merchandise as stuffed animals are available at most department stores, while Movie World items are only available at the park.  The theme park has bigger profits because of its diversity of retail and service outlets, provided in a destination that retains the guests for longer (Bryman)57-58.

The construction of a zoo is dictated by its function, but developments in Modern art and architecture directly affected the way the enclosures are built and the animals are displayed (Rothfels) 199-200.  Postmodernism has had little to do with the displays of Alma Park Zoo, which are still in the style Hagenbeck’s naturalistic enclosures, where the main motivation for getting rid of the bars was that they interfered with the public viewing the animals.

Movie World, by comparison, is a cluster of hyper-realities, where the street landscape is both a set and a toy, is over-the-top on purpose, and the ornate architecture seems more real than reality (Marling) 27, 79-81.  The specialised landscapes are constructed to optimise the commercial potential of the site, with hidden lines that promote the illusion of progress while guests wait in a queue, and with the assimilation of the merchandising as part of the themed scenery/setting (Fjellman) 157 & 206-207.  This is a rebellion against the conservative and restrictive architecture of Modernism (Fjellman) 317; this is the Postmodern landscape with a sense of fun, but still applying “Amusement is a Business” principles (Marling) 21.

 

Alma Park Zoo Warner Bros. Movie World
Historical Hagenbeck revolution at the start of the 20th Century

 

The first real Theme Park, Disneyland, opens 1955
Social/Cultural Animals exhibited

 

Some ‘feeding the animal shows

 

No true emphasis on education or conservation

 

No theming

 

Diverse attractions that  are updated constantly

 

Multi-Theming; areas, overarching theme and corporate theming.

 

Special Events

 

Entertainment as a science

 

Economic Conservative

 

Simple Café/Sales Outlet

 

No/little merchandising

 

Diverse

 

Hybrid consumption

 

Merchandising

 

Profitable

 

Architectural Conservative

 

Structural design following the requirements for displaying animals for entertainment.

Highly ornamented

 

Themed areas

 

Hyper realities

 

Sense of humour

 

Table Two: Summary of Alma Park Zoo & Movie World Comparison.

 

“Money to preserve work of art is much easier to raise than money to preserve the animals they depict.” (Cherfas) 236.  If Alma Park zoo is to survive in the entertainment market against the competitive pressure placed on it by sites like Movie World, it must increase and diversify its displays and shows, and offer more facilities for guests other than a vague promise that a zoo visit will help conservation efforts.  It has to supply a real reason for guests to visit, and return for multiple visits; Australia Zoo, Home of the Crocodile Hunter, is better positioned for long term profitability, as it capitalises on the media image of Steve Irwin.  Movie World has too much going on to experience it all in one day, and it encourages return visits by constantly updating its rides and displays in line with the current Warner Brother movies that are running at the cinemas.

In conclusion, Alma Park Zoo is essentially Modern and unprofitable in the current social climate.  Alma Park Zoo is simple and functional when compared to the diverse attractions of the Postmodern theme park, Warner Bros. Movie World.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Bryman, Alan. The Disneyization of Society. London ; Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2004.

Cherfas, Jeremy. Zoo 2000 : A Look Beyond the Bars. London: B.B.C., 1984.

Fjellman, Stephen M. Vinyl Leaves : Walt Disney World and America. Institutional Structures of Feeling. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992.

Lewis, Philip E. T., and Philip E. T. Lewis. Issues, Indicators and Ideas : A Guide to the Australian Economy. 2nd ed. Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998.

Marling, Karal Ann. Designing Disney’s Theme Parks : The Architecture of Reassurance. Montréal Paris ;: Centre canadien d’architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture ; New York : Flammarion, 1997.

Rothfels, Nigel. Savages and Beasts : The Birth of the Modern Zoo. Animals, History, Culture. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Southgate, Beverley. History, What and Why? : Ancient, Modern, and Postmodern Perspectives. London ; New York: Routledge, 1996.

StarBug, Pty Ltd “Brisbane’s Alma Park Zoo.” 1999-2002.

Warner Brothers. “Movie World, Hollywood on the Gold Coast.”  (2006).

Woodroffe, Gordon. Wildlife Conservation and the Modern Zoo. Hindhead, England: Saigo Pub., 1981.

 

 

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