Geography of Fantasy

When we experience landscapes of fantasies, these places often become larger (more important) than reality, and we return home to remake our reality to fit these fantasies. We have become the manipulators of our manipulated experiences!


                                                                           Lecture notes for this section

In this course, three places illustrate especially well the geography of fantasy:
1) Hollywood -- where TV and movie directors and actors create places and landscapes
a) Universal Studios   b) Sunset Boulevard   c) Homes of the Movie Stars

2) Disneyland -- where children and adults can "meet" cartoon characters and "play" on real fantasy landscapes:
   over 30 other large-scale theme parks exist in the United States

3) The Wild West and the Cowboy Culture -- where the illusion of American values lives on
a) Tombstone   b) Jerome   c) Dodge City   d) Cowboy Hall of Fame

The Wild West and the Cowboy Culture illustrate particularly well how facts and events are filtered, screened, and interpreted by particular individuals, groups, and institutions to fit certain values and contemporary viewpoints of race and gender relations, nationalism, states' rights, foreign policy, etc. Dominant institutions continually "invent" history and geography to justify and explain "romantic" or "heroic" struggles which manipulate people. In a free society, these fantasies and myths must be continually challenged to get at the "truth"-- the more perspectives from contrasting and often conflicting viewpoints, the more likely that a people can truly think for themselves. Another strange twist in the popularity of the Western Cowboy was created by Karl May, a German fiction writer who had never been to the USA but wrote extremely popular western novels, particularly in Germany -- 100 million copies sold to date, translated into 30 languages!

Creating Western/Cowboy Clothing

Mr. Jack Weil reckoned that a cowboy on a horse, if wearing a shirt with buttons, was liable to get snagged on sagebrush or cactus or, worse than that, get a steerhorn straight through his fancy buttonhole. He was pretty certain, too, that a cowboy losing a button would feel disinclined to sew it on again. The answer to all those difficulties was to make shirts with snap-fasteners. And for 62 years, in a red-brick warehouse in the LoDo district of Denver, Mr. Weil did exactly that.
Until he created his shirts, there was no distinctively western look in American culture. There were cowboys; but they wore dusty working clothes, accessorized with sweaty bandannas and clanking spurs, that no one much cared to copy. Indeed, Mr. Weil early on in his career made work-gear for cowboys, and learnt an important fact: they had no money. If he wanted to make any money himself, he would have to appeal not to the catwalk instincts of cattlemen, which were hard to spot, but to wannabe easterner cowboys who lived in, say, New York. Fortunately, there were plenty of them.

His shirts, sold after 1946 through his company, Rockmount Ranch Wear, became extremely famous. The Premium Blue Flannel Plaid was worn by Ronald Reagan, and the Pink Gabardine by Bob Dylan. Eric Clapton liked the diamond-snap number; Robert Redford in “The Horse Whisperer” wore a rayon plaid. Mr Weil’s company clad Elvis Presley, John Travolta and almost everyone, gay or straight, in “Brokeback Mountain”. It also made the shirts, in red, white, and blue, for the Colorado House delegation at the 2008 Democratic convention.
Source: The Economist, 30 August 2008.

Examine the geographical relationship between where movies are filmed and the subsequent movie tourism that results.
Lone Pine in the Owen's Valley of California was a favorite setting for cowboy movies, over 300 of which were shot here and this does not include the many TV series, such as The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, The Virginian, Wagon Train, and Wild Bill Hickok.

Oddly, Renaissance festivals have become rather popular in the United States! -- read all about them.

Television: "Television is chewing gum for the eyes." -- Frank Lloyd Wright
"Why should people pay good money to go out and see films when they can stay at home and see bad television for nothing?"
-- Samuel Goldwyn

The cowboy myth enshrines general American values:

  • individualism

  • freedom

  • restlessness (mobility and change for its own sake)

    To which Zelinsky, in The Cultural Geography of the United States, adds:

  • mechanistic vision of the world -- love of guns and technology in general

  • messianic perfectionism -- in religious, social, and/or political ("American Way of Life") ways

The Ogden Corporation has opened eight American Wilderness exhibits as part of what they call "shoppertainment." For $10, customers view 60 different animals species in 6 different wilderness settings, traveling through desert, forest, mountain, valley, and seashore ecosystems. Artificial trees and plants have been added as well as hidden canisters that emit natural fragrances. After the tour, customers are returned to their natural habitat, the mall, where they can shop at the Naturally Untamed Boutique or eat at the Wilderness Grill. The experience is ideal, says Ogden VP Johanthan Stern, for "people who prefer nature in small doses." [Source: Wisconsin State Journal, 7/8/1997.]