The Simpsons Ride: 21st century panarodiorama

Posted: 05/09/2010 in ARIN6903 Exploring Digital Cultures, Uncategorized

“The elevator was a mechanical aid to mobility; the gaze at the end of this ‘lift’ was virtual”.  -Anne Friedberg

Constructed in Universal Studios, Florida and California, The Simpsons Ride is an immersive 3D experience in which the spectator embarks in a roller coaster adventure without moving. The cart stays in the same place and only jerks around on its own axis, creating the sensation of movement. The Simpsons Ride is revolutionary in the sense that is changes the equation not only of amusement park entertainment, but of the way in which it is possible to experience extreme situations like flying or bursting into flames: in Friedberg’s terme (2008) it modifies and gives new meaning to our mobilized gaze. Although my example may seem banal at first, it is interesting to draw a comparison to the viewing/experiencing devices identified by Friedberg as exemplars of a new way of seeing, a mobilised, immersive, virtual way of experiencing the world, of experiencing simulacra of the world.

To the left, we can see a “moving panorama”, a device designed to let people move without moving. It is a primitive form of the virtual reality that is taken to a whole new level with The Simpsons Ride. Contrary to other rides in Universal Studios or Disney (behold the oligopoly of simulacra!), this ride (for a POV rendition, watch the video above) calls for the sense of awe and curiosity that the spectators of the diorama and the panorama had. “[…] the lure of these entertainments was not in their verisimilitude with reality [people are not yellow, Mr. Burns does not exist], but rather in their deceptive skills, their very artificiality [Look, mom, it really looks like Bart is here!].”, writes Friedberg (1998: 259) in relation to Sternberg. Human nature does not change regardless the technological tools that define an era. Just as the spectators of the diorama and the panorama were fascinated by the combination of a physical space and a virtual experience, the thousands of tourists (dare I say millions?) who pay to experience The Simpsons Ride do so to experience something that not only replicates a concrete reality (the one configured by the tropes, complex narratives and hundreds of characters in the show), but creates the illusion of movement. People are fascinated by the technical savvy that makes it possible to combine Imax-scale digital imagery and mechanical-sensorial technology at once. We want to be deceived.

What will be our future dioramas?


Friedberg, Anne (1998) ‘The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flaneur/Flaneuse’ in Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.), Visual Culture Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 253-278.

For ARIN6903, Exploring Digital Cultures, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).


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