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Recently Sparrow visited Disney World, in Florida, USA, with his wife, daughter, and another family. This is his report about one exhibit at the Epcot Center.

by Sparrow 

 

A black man in a tall hat stood outside a tunnel smoking with vapor. “Step inside! See Ice Station Cool!” he invited passersby. 

 

“We want to go!” Sylvia and Sophie shouted, in childish unison. “Can we enter?” I asked Ivonne and Steve. “Sure,” Steve agreed, and we wandered through the high, igloo-like entrance, into Ice Station Cool. A brass plaque explained that coolologists had discovered a remarkable specimen of an Early Human, which they dubbed Refreshus Maximus. Our tunnel, smoking with vapor, led to a glass case in which a bearded man with a low forehead reclined, frozen into ice. His hand, uplifted, aimed toward... a bottle of Coca-Cola, also embedded in ice. “This gesture raises the question: ‘Which came first, man or refreshment?’” a wall text observed. 

Suddenly the passage opened into a large cave decorated with soda machines—all free! “Learn how the world refreshes itself!” a banner exulted. The spouts were labeled with international drink-names: ‘Brazil Guarana Tai Diet,’ ‘China’s Smart Watermelon,’ ‘Mozambique’s Rocket Ginger,’ etc. (Of course, Coca-Cola itself was also profuse.)

I drank nothing, as I avoid refined sugar. The fat Americans rushed to the gratuitous soft drinks. 

Leaving Ice Station Cool, we adults felt hoodwinked. The girls were pleased, however. And I found myself puzzling over Refreshus Maximus. 

Why that name? Of course, scientific names are in Latin, but Refreshus Maximus could be a Roman. His surname suggests the Circus Maximus, where gladiators amused the populace, often by dying (as Refreshus Maximus did). “Refreshus” also is a complete sentence squeezed into a word, and the Orwellian use of “refreshment” throughout the exhibit suggests that Coke is a necessity, like sleep and a shower, which are truly refreshing—not an addictive brew of sugar, caffeine and enigmatic cola nuts.

Refreshus Maximus’ close resemblance to a hippie—in fact, he looks like me—suggests the message “We have murdered the Counterculture, packed it in ice, and transformed it into advertising”—which is true. Every hit song of 1969 is now a TV commercial for some car. 

Of course, this exhibit also suggests ‘The Iceman,’ a 5,300 year old corpse discovered Sept. 19,1991 on the border of Italy and Austria (in the Alps). This nameless man had been buried in ice since the Neolithic Era. He is the oldest completely preserved person. (Some Egyptian mummies are older, but their brains and liver are absent.) This tattooed man carried a wood-handled dagger, a copper axe and a quiver of viburnum dogwood arrows, two fitted with feathers. 

Everyone is curious about this fellow. (An Internet rumor said semen was found in his rectum.) Refreshus Maximus thus assumes the dignity of a hoax. For a third of a second, we believe we are seeing the Ice Man.

Also, a visual pun is present. People are packed in ice just like sodas are. And the Classic Coke bottle that Refreshus reaches for is shaped like a person—an armless Victorian woman. 

Epcot derives from the tradition of the grand Expositions, and later ‘World Fairs,’ which extolled inventions, and a cult of the Future. Ice Station Cool violates this cult, by depicting an ancient past in which technology flourished. A Neolithic Coca-Cola bottle suggests that progress is untrue. “We need not move forward in time; we may move back, too,” this exhibit says. “Classic Coke is a perennial presence, like God or mathematics—it neither improves nor degrades.” 

Replacing the hope of progress is the amusement of a joke. 

Tantalus also leaps to mind, in Ice Station Cool. This king of Lydia killed his son Pelops and served him to the gods as food. In punishment, Tantalus stood up to his chin in water, in Hades. When he attempted to drink, the water dissolved. When he reached for a fruit dangling over him, winds whirled the branches out of reach. Homo Refreshus is a frozen Tantalus. 

So many tragic ideas surround Ice Station Cool: the death of Hippie, the illusion of Progress, the fathomlessness of human thirst and hunger. The Coca-Cola architects who designed it found themselves against a blank wall. Their only solution, finally, was to offer each patron a free drink. 

 


Sparrow’s new book, Yes, You Are A Revolutionary! is available at www.softskull.com.  His recent interview about the history of Punk is at www.sanderhicks.com


This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 11, No. 2, issue 37, Summer, 2002  Copyright © 2002 by Renaissance Universal, all rights reserved.  Posted on the web on August 1,  2002.