Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Peyton Place South

One of the greatest snowjobs of all time is the way that the Walt Disney Company convinced the outside world that Celebration is akin to Stepford. Google the words "celebration, florida" and "stepford" together in the same query, then sift through the myriad websites and blogs that come up. You will quickly discover that people view us as an eerily "perfect" town of picturesque homes and robotic residents.

If only they knew the truth!

In actuality, the longer that I live in Celebration, the more shocked I am at the seamy underbelly of life in our lovely little town. I'm not talking about the public issues, such as battles over parking, school issues, and overdevelopment. Nope, I mean the personal side of particular, the sordid relationships and often very nasty breakups that would rival a trashy bus station novel.

Celebration is a throwback to the small towns of yesteryear, where everyone knew everyone else's business. There were certain things that remained unspoken (at least in public), yet a knowing smile or a wink of the eye acknowledged that everyone knew.

Most of the "good stuff" is passed along the gossip grapevine. The process is enhanced by a liberal application of alcohol. Even the most innocent-seeming gatherings can turn into a wonderful gossip-fest, as I learned at the last "Mickey Mommas" meeting. It started out as a screening of a Dutch documentary about Celebration. The only word that pops into my mind to describe the hour-long show is "bizarre," and that doesn't even begin to convey its surreal essence.

Whenever a couple was interviewed, they were inevitably seated on a couch, poised at either end, sitting as far from each other as possible. Either all of the people in the documentary had intolerable B.O. or all they had a sensory integration disorder that caused them to avoid any human touch. Oddly enough, when one person would be talking, the others in the scene were often flopped about in lifeless poses. It was as though they were all Audioanimatronics, but the cameraman only had one battery. Thus, only one person could be operable and in motion at any given time.

The cameraman should be hired by Disney to produce Circle-Vision movies for Epcot, as his favorite visual "enhancement" was to slowly pan the camera in a circle. A few minutes into the program, I was ready to reach for the Dramamine. Another odd technique involved setting up the camera near one of the downtown boardwalks and allowing it to capture the people walking by. I guess it was supposed to appear spontaneous, but the whole thing screamed "SET UP!!"

Anyone who thinks we have a lack of parking in town needs to watch this show. Virtually every street they showed, including the downtown, was eerily deserted; the Dutch must think that Celebration is a ghost town. As we were watching, somebody commented, "Pretty soon a tumbleweed is going to blow across the screen."

At various points, a narrator read text that sounded like it was lifted directly from The Celebration Company's promotional literature and from various anti-Celebration articles. It was all a rehash of the same old, tired Celebration stereotypes. This was occasionally livened up by business-owning residents interjecting segments that resembled mini-infomercials. The only thing missing was a toll-free number flashing on the screen.

The documentary grew more amusing in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol that we consumed. Being a fan of cheap Publix wine, I was swilling down a bottle of blackberry merlot. It reminds me of the Mogan-David my grandmother used to give me as a child, mixed with 7-Up in a primative forerunner to wine spritzers. Others were indulging in wine, too, or downing Tom Collinses.

By the end of the documentary, we were all yucking it up, comparing the real-life Celebration to the deserted Stepford-gone-terribly-wrong portrayed in the show. Inevitably, this led to gossip about who was doing what with whom. Some of it I knew already, and some of it was news. Even though names were left out of most of the stories, in true small-town fashion everybody knew exactly who was being talked about almost every time.

In my Chicago suburb, I'm sure there was just as much hanky-panky going on, but nobody cared in such a big, impersonal place. Heck, for all I knew, there could have been orgies going on in my condo building and I wouldn't have had a clue. But Celebration is a small, small town...not necessarily in size, but in spirit. It's a throwback to the stereotypical old-fashioned neighborhood where everybody knows everybody else...and everybody else's business.

That's not necessarily a bad thing; for those of us who lead a relatively dull life, there's not much to fear. And I'd rather live in an "involved" town than another vast, impersonal expanse where I never even learned the names of many of the neighbors in the same condo building.

Unlike Celebration and Stepford, you won't find many comparisons with our lovely little town and Peyton Place on Google. But believe me, behind that Stepford exterior, there's a whole lotta shakin' going on.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

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